Thus says the Lord God: “I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.
The Good Shepherd longs for souls, as Scripture tells us again and again. Our Lady echoes this longing as she asks us to “pray for the conversion of a great many sinners”. St. Faustina recorded in her diary that our Lord told her, “The prayer most pleasing to me is the prayer for conversion.” This theme has been a recurring one in my life recently, and I am forced to admit that my prayers are woefully deficient in this area.
Like most people, there are many things in my life and in the lives of those I love, and in my concern for the world that consume my prayer time. I try to pray daily for souls, but given the emphasis our Lord has placed on this type of prayer, I have to ask myself, “Am I doing enough?” As I pondered this question, the Lord reminded me of Sister “A”.
Sister A was a holy little nun who served our parish for many years. She had a medical condition that caused her to be dizzy most of the time and she had trouble keeping her balance without support. In spite of that, this holy bride of Christ had an apostolate to the dying; countless souls were ushered into heaven by her prayers and her presence in their final hour. She was an instrument of Divine Mercy to the dying for many years.
Not many months before she retired from ministry and moved away, I had the opportunity to get to know her a little better. We shared faith and the occasional cup of tea. Once when we were speaking about her illness, it came out that she never prayed for her own healing. She said she accepted everything that came her way as the will of God. Her prayers were all for others.
To be honest, I thought that was a little odd. After all, didn’t Jesus say that God is a Father who “knows how to give good things to his children”? “Ask and you shall receive.” Right? I didn’t understand why anyone would choose not to pray to God for his or her own needs.
Only recently have I begun to understand the true depth of Sr. A’s faith and the power of her sacrifice. She may not have been Franciscan, but like most holy souls, she had the heart of a true penitent. Knowing the physical limits of daily prayer, she chose not to spend any on herself, but lavished them all on others. She gave up something good for a greater good, trusting God to take care of her every need.
But the story does not end there. There is a miracle to tell of in the story of Sr. A, about a beautiful gift from a Father who knows how to give good things to his children. This holy woman who refused to pray for her own needs, whose prayers were the incense accompanying souls into heaven, this bride of Christ experienced a miraculous healing at a retreat for her order. During mass, right after receiving communion, she got back to her pew and felt power surging through her. As she stood there, she knew she had been healed, and wanted to shout and jump around, but being a good and holy nun, she restrained herself until mass was over.
She positively glowed when she told me what happened, and that she was now able to stand without support, to bend, and to climb stairs without using the handrail. She laughed when she told me what her brother had said when she told him about the stairs: “You may be healed, but you’re still 70 years old! For goodness sake, use the handrail!”
Although this story happened a few years ago, viewing it through the lens of penitence reveals new and deeper levels that challenge me. Perhaps I am being called to follow the example of this holy little nun and “fast” from praying for my own needs? Whenever one of my obsessive worries comes to mind, I might gently lay it at the foot of the cross and pray one Our Father “for the conversion of a great many sinners”. There are some things I have been praying about for years. Could I fast from those prayers in order to pray for souls? Could I, like Sr. A, give up something good for a greater good? I think that might help me to shift my focus from what I desire, to what God desires.
And we know what He desires: the Good Shepherd desires souls. God is thirsty for souls. Jesus said, “I was thirsty and you gave me to drink.” Let me not hesitate to give him to drink, by offering more prayers “for the conversion of a great many sinners”.
Thank you, Sister A.