I can hardly remember a time when I haven’t prayed. It came naturally to me even as a child. Not that I always enjoyed it, mind you, but I was the kind of earnest and obedient child who would bow my head, fold my hands and do as I was told. I just wasn’t the rebellious type. Children don’t have a lot of influence in this world on their own, so it just seemed natural to try to team up with God. Besides, all you had to do was memorize a few chosen lines and poof! Like a magic spell, God would come running to fulfill your every childish wish. Special store is put in children’s prayers because they are so innocent and unabashed.
As the family joke goes, ‘I raised myself Catholic.’ I attended Sunday mass faithfully. Soon after, I added daily mass. I even spent many a school recess in the chapel kneeling before the Virgin, the Crucifix or St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes. Somewhere along the line I had picked up the idea that the oldest child should be set aside for service to God. I was that child. That child’s responsibility was to pray the rest of the family into heaven. Depending on who your family was, that could be a pretty big assignment. As the oldest of four children and the only aspiring Christian in the bunch, I had my work cut out for me… As mom and dad fought, I would count my rosary beads and implore God to make them stop. Sometimes I thought it worked a little, though, generally, I could never be sure. I prayed for good grades, our school team to win the championship, for a cherished pet to love, all the usual things. I had the typical hits and misses. Probably more misses than hits. That kind of thing can be pretty painful and confusing to a child. The whole thing kind of lured us all in, in much the same way that a one-armed bandit in a casino does. You get what you pray for a few times, and then you miss a couple of times, and soon you’re intrigued with how this whole prayer thing works. Before long, you’re hooked.
Something in your mind says “How can I get this right?’ So you try a little harder, pray a few more rosaries, act a little more contrite in hopes of cracking the God code. Failing that, you try out some new prayers, head to the confessional a few more times, put your whole heart and soul into the effort. But God seemed just as elusive, capricious or otherwise occupied as ever. Sometimes you were in his favor and sometimes you weren’t. Of course, if God didn’t come through for you, it was generally your fault. I figured I was not working hard enough as I watched our family situation go from bad to worse. I would have to re-double my efforts and do the hard work of arm twisting required. At times, I wasn’t sure whose arm I was attempting to twist. St. Peters? The angels? Dads? Gods? Or his mothers?