A few weeks ago, my husband and I embarked upon a journey to the north in an effort to rediscover my Canadian roots. When we boarded our plane, genuine anticipation replaced my standard travel fears. The truth is that I could hardly wait to begin this trek into my family’s past. As I fastened my seat-belt and settled in for the flight, I thanked God for the generations before me whose impact enticed me to learn more about them.
Throughout our flight, episodes from my family lore flooded my thoughts. In the midst of this deluge, I looked over our itinerary. Though a visit with my Canadian cousins topped our list, our visit to St. Anne de Beaupre struck me as particularly important as well. For as long as I can remember, family members’ visits to Canada included a stop at this church. In spite of the distance from their destinations, every effort was made to visit this basilica which is dedicated to the mother of Mary. It was built to honor St. Anne by grateful sailors who had sought her intervention as they struggled to navigate a horrific storm. Though they might have lost their lives, they miraculously survived the ordeal. They responded with this beautiful building.
In the years since, pilgrims have traveled to St. Anne’s in search of their own miracles. Family members’ photographs of the church’s interior reveal numerous canes and crutches left behind by those who were healed there. I’m unaware of any miracles among my family members. Still, those who visited this place left their worries at St. Anne’s feet and returned home with more peaceful hearts. When my mom shared her experiences regarding St. Anne de Beaupre, she expressed amazement regarding the numerous miracles which those crutches and canes represented. Oddly, she never spoke of disappointment over not experiencing a miracle of her own. It seemed that just being listened to in that holy place was enough for her.
My mom’s contentment with being listened to has taken root within me. I find great consolation in knowing that someone other than me truly understands my worries and concerns. I share this revelation because today’s scripture readings address prayer. Earlier on, Luke’s gospel reminded us to pray persistently with the parable of the widow who pursued a dishonest judge until he ruled justly in her favor. Today, the focus isn’t so much our persistence as it is our attitude when we speak to God. Sirach (35:12-14, 16-18) suggests humility in our prayer. For some of us, humility is a given, though not necessarily our choice, especially when we find ourselves in the face of burdens too heavy to bear. Sirach points out that “The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal…” I suspect that such prayer pierces God’s heart as well. In 2 Timothy (4:6-8, 16-18), Saint Paul prays boastfully. However, he does so not regarding himself, but regarding Jesus. All that Jesus chose to accomplish through him overwhelmed Paul. Though Paul viewed himself as among the lowliest of God’s people, Jesus chose to be at his side in everything. So it was that Paul trusted completely in God. He asks us to have the humility to do the same.
It is Jesus who has the final word regarding prayer in Luke’s gospel (18:9-14) when he tells the parable of two men who went to the temple to pray. The first was a Pharisee and the second, a tax collector. The Pharisee took his place before God and everyone else in the temple to thank God, “…that I am not like the rest of men.” He saw no need to bow in supplication. Unlike Paul, the Pharisee didn’t attribute the good he had accomplished to God; he held himself completely responsible for the marvelous state of affairs in which he found himself. The tax collector stood far behind the Pharisee with his eyes lowered to the floor. He bowed down low and beat his breast, begging for God’s mercy. He prayed as though everything depended on God because indeed it did. Jesus told this story to invite us to do the same.
It seems to me that my mom had good reason to be content with simply being listened to by God. Like Sirach, she turned to God with humility. Like Paul, she fully appreciated God’s presence in her life. Like the tax collector, she stood back and allowed God to handle things for her. A few days into our trip, when I visited St. Anne de Beaupre, I humbly whispered my laundry list of requests. Like my mom, I felt convinced that God had listened carefully to every word. Like my mom, I felt certain that God understood. With that, I basked in the warmth of St. Anne de Beaupre and in the warmth of God’s care just as my family has done for more than a hundred years.
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