So of you who have read this blog a awhile know that, when I was in 10th Grade my hair was long, down on my shoulders, I listened to hard rock, doubted that God existed, and had devilish “blacklight posters” on my wall that frightened my mother. Today I am a priest.
I have no doubt that I emerged from my agnostic, hippie, rebellious stage as the result of prayer. I know my mother prayed for me. I know my Grandmother prayed for me. They are both in the 1963 photo at the right in the front row. My mother lived to see my ordination and enjoy the fruits of her prayer. My grandmother lived to see it too, but I don’t know how much she understood. For, by then, her dementia was advancing. I remember standing before her shortly after my ordination and she turned to my mother and said, “Nancy, why is Charlie wearing those black clothes?” She did not seem to understand that the fruit of her prayer was standing right before her. But that’s OK, she does now.
Both she and my mother have long since died and I have often reminded God of their prayers for me and requested their happy repose.
Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them. (Rev 14:13)
I also remember how my mother and grandmother teamed up to pray my father back to church. He’s seen in the center of the photo above. He had fallen away from Mass for almost 20 years. But mom and Nana kept praying. And suddenly, one day, Dad just said, “It’s time to go back.” And not only did he go back to Sunday Mass, but he became a penitent of sorts. He went to daily Mass. And prior to Mass he said the rosary, and after every Mass he said the Stations. I remember seeing him pray the Stations one weekday in Eastertide and asked him about it. He just looked at me and said, “Charlie, I’ve committed a lot of sins in my life and I really need to pray…a lot!” And he never missed it. Even when he and my mother traveled, my Father was researching where they could attend daily Mass all through the trip. He had it all mapped out. When they went on a cruise, there had to be a Catholic chaplain on board, it was always the first question before booking passage. Yes, he died a penitent and was the surely the fruit of my mother’s prayer for over twenty years.
You and I have folks that we’re praying for, and it’s easy to despair at times that our prayers are making any difference. But don’t give up. It is my privilege as a priest to receive people at my door who have been away from God for years who are now requesting confession and a return to the Church. Many have been away for decades. But someone prayed for them, witnessed to them, called to them and didn’t give up. Maybe it took 30 years or more. But now they’re back.
Often the person who most prayed for them and desired their return has already died. They had sowed the seeds and I as a priest am reaping the harvest. At moments like these I recall the words of Jesus:
Do you not say, ‘In four months the harvest will be here’? I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest. The reaper is already receiving his payment and gathering crops for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together. For here the saying is verified that ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work.” (John 4:34-38)
Sometimes we sow, sometimes we reap. Sometimes too we have to pull weeds, water and feed. The work of evangelizing and shepherding souls is seldom simple or brief. But don’t give up, don’t be discouraged. You just never know how folks will turn out. Pray, work, witness, and trust. Don’t agonize, evangelize! Never give up, keep praying and working for souls!
Photo Credit: My Grandfather, Dr. Charles Evans Pope II
The following video is not about religious conversion per se but it depicts “losers” who became winners. It shows those who were rejected, who became great leaders. You just never know how things and people might turn out.