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One of the important truths I have learned about prayer in my years back in the Church has been that prayer comes in all shapes and sizes.
Putting our prayer life into practice looks different for each of us. Some of us may enjoy more formula-based prayer, such as reciting the Rosary or the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Others enjoy praying through the daily Mass readings or the Liturgy of the Hours. Some have a more free-form type of prayer or dialogue with God. We all have to find what works best for us.
It’s amazing to realize, however, that our wonderful, generous, and merciful God hears us and responds to us even when we may not be involved in what we would consider a formal act of prayer. I had this type of experience in Rome a few years ago. It was the first time I was made aware of that enormous and wonderful statue of St. Catherine of Siena along the Tiber in the gardens of Castel Sant’Angelo.
My husband and I were walking near the Vatican. We had just wrapped up another pilgrimage and were going to spend the final night of our trip grabbing a glass of wine in the Piazza Navona and then enjoy a late dinner, or “cena,” as they say in Italy. Often when I travel to Rome, I experience such a mixture of emotions. I feel so blessed to be Catholic with all of the Church’s history, teaching, and, of course, the saints. But at the same time, I often get frustrated. Catholic author, Bible scholar, and convert Dr. Scott Hahn often says that “Catholics are sitting on Fort Knox, and they don’t know it.” Quite frequently we come across folks, even on an organized pilgrimage, who are like we once were. They don’t realize the gift they have in the Church, and they take their faith for granted. Or we hear from many who are disappointed in their pastors and local bishops, past and present, who haven’t done enough, in their opinion, to teach the faith.
These thoughts, as well as thoughts of St. Catherine of Siena, were running through my mind as we were walking that night. I remember standing on the corner at the end of the Via della Conciliazione and thinking to myself, “How did she do it?” How did a young illiterate girl in medieval Italy turn the world upside down? How did she become a great teacher of the faith and a spiritual consultant to Church leaders, all the way up to the pope? And how in the world did she keep her faith and her sanity when there was so much scandal among the Church leadership and the laity in the fourteenth century?
While these thoughts and questions were coming to mind, we began to cross the street. Suddenly I looked up and practically ran right into St. Catherine. I stopped in my tracks, which took my husband by surprise. “I can’t believe this,” I said, holding back tears. “At the exact moment I was thinking about St. Catherine, I literally run right into her. Where in the world did this statue come from, and how have we never seen it before?”
At the time I didn’t consider the questioning in my head to be prayer. It was more like contemplation or reflection with a little bit of annoyance and cynicism thrown in. God, however, in his wisdom was aware of my questions, and this experience was just what I needed to get back on track. Next to this grand statue are four large bas-reliefs depicting scenes from St. Catherine’s life. The large marble figure gives you the feeling that St. Catherine is urgently on the move in search of one more soul in need of Christ. The soul in need that night happened to be yours truly, and the statue of St. Catherine was just what the doctor— of the Church—ordered.
Scripture is filled with reminders that God knows what’s on our heart, and lovingly and sometimes very directly addresses our ponderings. The psalms, for example, are filled with these types of verses; Psalm 34 in particular is a great example:
I sought the Lord, and he answered me,
delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him and be radiant,
and your faces may not blush for shame.
This poor one cried out and the Lord heard,
and from all his distress he saved him. (34:5-7)
. . . Certainly there are times when you were thinking about, say, your brother, sister, or best friend. It might be that you hadn’t spoken to them in a while. Maybe you just missed them and were reminiscing about some good times you shared when, all of a sudden, you receive a text message, or maybe a note or card arrives in the mail from the very person who was on your mind. Or the phone rings, and you say, “I can’t believe I’m talking to you. I was just thinking about you this very minute.”
Whether they walked among us sixty or five hundred years ago, the saints are our companions along our journey of faith. Just like a dear friend, even in our busy, noisy world, we’re still connected. They reach out and touch us. They remind us that they are very much aware of the needs of God’s people, and most important, our need to stay close to God himself.
This selection is from Girlfriends and Other Saints: Companions on My Journey of Faith by Teresa Tomeo (The Word Among Us Press, 2016). Available at wau.org/books