By faith Sarah herself, though barren, received power to conceive, even when she was too old, because she considered him faithful who had promised. (Hebrews 11:11)
It seems to me we are too easily discouraged in prayer. When God does not answer in the way or the time we would prefer, our faith is weakened. We start to wonder if God is really listening. Does he really answer prayers? Then why doesn’t he answer mine?
Let us take the example of Abraham. When Abraham was 75 years old, God promised him that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. But Isaac and Sarah had to wait another 25 years before Isaac was born! Their faith was certainly tested!
St. Paul extols the faith of Abraham:
“Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become ‘the father of many nations’, according to what was said, ‘So numerous shall your descendants be.’ He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore, his faith was reckoned to him as righteousness.” (Rom 4:18-22)
In the book Francis of Assisi: Omnibus of Sources (Volume I, pages 746-763), St. Bonaventure describes some of the astounding miracles worked by St. Francis after his death, most particularly through the grace of his stigmata. St. Francis is the first recorded stigmatic, and after his death many doubted his gift. He took great pains to hide it when he was alive, but many of the friars were witnesses of it, especially after his death. St. Clare, too, was a witness after his death.
One thing that struck me in this section is the confidence that these people placed in the intercession of St. Francis, and the importance that confidence played in the miracles worked.
One story tells of a man named John who was very devoted to St. Francis. Once while travelling he was ambushed by someone who had mistaken him for an enemy. His shoulder was severed almost completely and his chest was pierced. While the wounds did not kill him immediately, the consensus was that there was nothing that could be done.
“His wounds were festering and the smell was so bad that even his wife could hardly stand it. No human remedy could do anything for him and so he had recourse to St. Francis, begging his intercession as fervently as he could. Even while he was being attacked, he had commended himself to him and to the Blessed Virgin. As he lay there alone on his bed of pain, fully conscious and repeating the name Francis continually, a man dressed in the habit of the Friars Minor entered by the window and stood beside him, as it seemed to him. He addressed him by name and said, ‘You had confidence in me, and so God will save you.’ When the dying man asked him who he was, he replied that he was St. Francis and immediately bent over him and unwound his bandages. Then he seemed to anoint all of those holy wounds with ointment. The moment John felt the touch from our Savior’s stigmata, his flesh was renewed and the pus disappeared, so that his wounds closed up and he was completely restored to health.”
In another example, a seven-year-old boy fell out of a high window and was killed instantly. The mother found him and began to scream uncontrollably.
“A friar called Raho, of the Order of Friars Minor, was on his way to the church to preach and he went up to the boy and asked his father confidently, ‘Do you believe that St. Francis can raise your child from the dead because of the love he had for Christ who gave back life to men by his crucifixion?’ The child’s father replied that he did believe and was prepared to profess it faithfully, adding that he would serve the saint for the rest of his life if he were found worthy to receive such a favor from God through his intercession. Then the friar prostrated himself in prayer with his companion and called on the bystanders to join them. At that, the boy began to yawn. Then he opened his eyes and raised his arms and got up.”
Then there was the woman in Rome who had chosen St. Francis as her advocate. She kept a painting of him in her prayer room. The artist of the painting had left out all sign of the stigmata, which surprised and upset the woman tremendously. Then one day the stigmata appeared in the painting. The woman was overjoyed, and discussed it at length with her daughter. But very soon she began to doubt that they had been left out in the first place. St. Bonaventure tells what happened next.
“In order to prevent the miracle which had been performed from being treated lightly, God in his omnipotence now worked another; the marks immediately disappeared and the picture was left shorn of its privileges so that this second miracle proved the first one.”
How tragic that this woman allowed doubt to rob her of a very special miracle!
All of these stories illustrate how necessary the virtues of faith, trust, and complete confidence in God are to prayer. One should also add the virtues of patience and an enduring belief in the infinite goodness, generosity and power of God. No matter what happens we should never doubt God’s goodness. No matter how distant he seems, we must never doubt that he showers us at all times with loving attention. Let us cultivate a sense of wonder and gratitude at the ordinary miracles of daily life, and pray with great confidence to our loving Abba who is always faithful even when we are not.