“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” – Hebrews 11:1
When I was in first grade, Sister Anita Marie took our class to see the circus. We sat way up in the bleacher seats, and I couldn’t see a thing, not even the elephants. My parents didn’t know it yet, but I was nearsighted. I didn’t tell Mom and Dad about my problem because I thought that maybe God had made the world fuzzy and out of focus. I was 6. What did I know?
Soon after the circus trip, my family visited the Bronx Zoo. Although I still didn’t have eyeglasses, I was able to actually see the elephants, which were right at eye level. But what I really wanted to see was the brand-new zoo exhibit.
It was a small building with large windows through which you could watch zoo employees care for small animals that were sick or injured or simply in need of TLC. Visitors to the exhibit could press an intercom button and ask questions of the zoo employees, who would then respond by intercom.
I remember standing next to my older brother Joe while he asked some prodigious question, which received a thorough reply. Well, I wanted to ask a question, too, so over Joe’s protests I defiantly pressed the intercom button and, in my piping 6-year-old voice asked, “What are you doing?”
It was an honest question, because my poor vision was keeping me from seeing what was happening behind that glass pane. Was a thorn being taken from a paw? Was an animal baby being bottle-fed? Was a fallen hatchling being treated? I never did find out, because for whatever reason, my question was passed over and left unanswered.
Those of us with fallen-away loved ones can be like that nearsighted 6-year-old. We ask Our Lord, “What are you doing? What are you doing, Lord? The ones we love are lost, Lord! How could You let this happen?” When our prayers turn into weeks, months, and years of desperate pleading, and still our prodigals have not returned, it can seem as though our questions are being passed over.
But we are just kids without corrective lenses standing on this side of a glass pane through which everything looks fuzzy. We can’t see that Our Lord is right there in the midst of our loved ones, tenderly caring for them – for the fallen-away son or daughter who is spiritually sick, for the spouse who has left the Church and is hurting, for the prodigal who is alone and despondent and needs healing.
The knowledge, the conviction that God has not abandoned our loved ones – and will not abandon our loved ones – is what the Church calls hope.
St. Monica is a model of hope. The wife of a harsh and philandering pagan named Patritius, and the mother of a wild and wayward son named Augustine, St. Monica never stopped hoping that her loved ones would one day come to the Faith. Her incessant prayers and unflagging confidence in God’s mercy sustained her through decades of disappointment and heartache. Patritius finally did become a Christian, and Augustine returned to the Faith in glorious fashion, becoming the great St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church.
There is no case so desperate that salvation is out of reach. Consider that Our Lord raised a widow’s son from the dead, “and Jesus gave him back to his mother” (Luke 7:15). He took the hand of Jairus’ dead daughter and “said to her, ‘Talitha koum!’ (which means ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up!’). Immediately the girl stood up” (Mark 5:41-42).
Is there anything that God won’t do to give life to our loved ones who are dead in the faith?
God is always with us. God is always with our prodigals. And that gives us reason to hope.
Do you have a family member or friend who has left the Church? Email the St. Monica Ministry at StMonicaMinistry27@gmail.com.
“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” – Romans 12:12.
“The Catholic Storyteller” is a monthly column by Celeste Behe, a parishioner of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, Hellertown. Find her online at www.CelesteBehe.com.