by Father Mark Goldasich
What will you be celebrating this coming Thursday? Hint: It’s May 5.
For a large number of people, the immediate answer will be: Cinco de Mayo! That day recalls the victory of Mexico over French forces at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Especially since the 1980s, though, Cinco de Mayo in the United States has become a time to celebrate Mexican-American culture.
But this year, because May 5 is the first Thursday in that month, there’s another celebration as well here in the United States: the National Day of Prayer. It’s been around since 1952 when it was established by President Harry S Truman, but most years I’m betting it goes by unnoticed. Let’s not let that happen in 2022.
There’s always a two-fold aspect to prayer, however, as this little story conveys:
A student, inclined to laziness, noticed that one of his classmates recited her Spanish lessons with accuracy and enthusiasm. One day, he asked her, “How do you always recite your lessons so perfectly?”
“Before I study,” she told him, “I always pray that I may remember my lessons and repeat them well.”
“Ah,” said the boy, somewhat surprised at her answer. Later, he thought to himself, “So that’s her secret method! Well, then, I’ll pray, too!” That night, he did so, reciting as many prayers as he could recall.
He was totally confused the next day when he couldn’t repeat even one phrase of the Spanish lesson. He hunted down his smart classmate and accused her of being a liar. “I prayed,” he declared, “but I couldn’t repeat a single thing from yesterday’s lesson!”
“Maybe,” she answered, “it’s because you didn’t take pains to learn the lesson.”
“Of course not!” said the boy. “I didn’t study at all. I had no reason to study. You told me to pray that I might remember the lesson.”
“There’s your problem,” answered the girl. “I told you I prayed before, not instead of, studying!” (Story found in Brian Cavanaugh’s “Fresh Packet of Sower’s Seeds: Third Planting.”)
It’s good to remind ourselves that prayer involves both words and actions. This attitude is captured well in this statement, sometimes attributed to St. Ignatius of Loyola: “Pray as if everything depends on God and work as if everything depends on you.”
How often do we blame God for the troubles in our world? For example, we might find ourselves praying for justice and an end to racism, while in our daily lives we regularly demean people “who are not like us” in our attitudes, comments and behavior. Or we may pray fervently for peace, then turn around and engage in road rage or in vicious postings on social media. We expect God to do it all and excuse ourselves from any practical work to bring about justice or peace.
By all means, pray for our country on May 5 — in thanksgiving for all the blessings that we enjoy and so often take for granted here in the United States. But pray as well for the weaknesses and flaws still vividly present in America . . . and for the grace to work diligently, patiently and compassionately to correct them.
This May 5, you don’t have to choose what you will celebrate. Celebrate both! In the morning, make time for the National Day of Prayer; in the afternoon, take some positive and practical action to implement what you prayed for; and in the evening, celebrate wholeheartedly Mexican-American culture.
Prayer and action. God working through us. Now, that’s a team impossible to beat.