The daughter of a good friend of mine died recently of a drug overdose.
I had been praying for her for at least two years.
I keep a list of people I pray for. I always hated the idea of saying, “You are in my prayers” and then it not being so. I started keeping track, and if the person passes away, I keep praying for them.
Praying for the dead, for the souls in purgatory, is a spiritual work of mercy. We don’t pray expecting a certain result, for it is all beyond our vision. We simply pray that God’s mercy will envelop our beloved dead and that, as the prayer says, his perpetual will light shine upon them.
But for my friend’s daughter, I wasn’t praying for the dead but for the living. I knew she was in a serious fight. I barely knew her personally, but I wanted her to come out victorious in this cage match with addiction. I wanted it for her father and her mother, for her siblings.
As a father myself, I could imagine — if but a little — my friend’s pain. No parent is more vulnerable than when it comes to his children. We are wired to protect them, even when it is impossible to do so.
There was so little I could do for him, for her, other than pray. And yet she died. Hearts were broken. An emptiness that will surely last a lifetime opened up in the hearts of her family.
And there was a small, angry part of me that said, “God, I was praying for her. Others were praying for her. She was loved despite all. Couldn’t you have stopped this?”
Jerome Lejeune, the great French Catholic geneticist, once said, “God always forgives, man sometimes forgives, nature never forgives.”
That is one reason we believe desperately in miracles: That even in nature’s remorseless grip — the deep cavity of addiction, the rot of disease, the frightening mercilessness of drought and floods — God’s mercy and healing can triumph.
St. Paul in the stunning 12th chapter of his Letter to the Romans, exhorts us: “Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.” When it is another who is afflicted, our hope resides in prayer, hoping that the Almighty can work miracles.
Jesus healed the leper. Jesus brought Lazarus back to life. Couldn’t he have done the same for this young woman?
The entire fourth pillar or section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is an extended reflection on prayer. In language we don’t often hear, it describes “the battle of prayer,” part of which is against “erroneous notions of prayer.”
One of these notions is when we are disappointed that we have not been heard according to what our will is. In Matthew Kelly’s wonderful line, too often our attitude is “Listen Lord, your servant is speaking.” We want God to do our will, to implement our wishes.
Instead, St. Augustine says it is God’s will “that our desire should be exercised in prayer, that we may be able to receive what he is prepared to give.” And what he is prepared to give is not always what we are asking for.
And so, in a few days we will gather at a funeral liturgy. We will find ourselves praying once again.
We will pray for God’s mercy on this broken daughter of the Lord. We will pray for her grieving family. We will endure this new affliction. We will persevere in prayer.
And our hope will remain in the Lord, knowing even now that he will not abandon us.
Greg Erlandson, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.