A TRUE STORY: FATHER FRANCIS KELLER
“In 1909 Father Francis Keller took a long trip to Gillette, Wyoming. He had sent a letter to the Catholic settlers there telling them he would celebrate Sunday Mass with them. Many settlers hadn’t seen a priest in years.
After Mass, a man said to Father Keller, ‘Your train doesn’t leave until late tonight. After you’ve made your rounds, let’s take a horseback ride into the hills. They’re beautiful this time of the year.”
Later the two men rode into the hills. After an hour they saw a woman waving in the distance. As they rode up and she saw Father Keller’s collar, a remarkable expression came over her face. She said, ‘Father, my brother is dying.’
Her brother was inside a tent. He was about thirty-five years old and extremely thin. Father Keller heard the man’s confession and anointed him. In those days every priest in the West carried a tiny capsule of holy oil for just such an emergency. As soon as the priest finished, the young man closed his eyes in deep peace. He was dead.
Later the woman said to Father Keller, ‘Nobody told me that you were in Gillette today. But all his life my brother has prayed that a priest would be present at his death. This morning we prayed one last time for this grace.’
That incredible story recalls the words of the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, ‘More things are wrought through prayer than the world dreams of ‘ (From: Challenge: A Daily Meditation Program Based on The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, by Father Mark Link, S.J. (RCL), p.210).”
A PROFOUND REFLECTION ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PROVIDENCE AND PRAYER:
The great Dominican and 20th century theologian, Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, states the following in his book Providence:
“Prayer is not in opposition to the designs of Providence and does not seek to alter them, but actually co-operates in the divine governance, for when we pray we begin to wish in time what God wills for us from all eternity.
When we pray, it may seem that the divine will submits to our own, whereas in reality it is our will that is uplifted and made to harmonize with the divine will. All prayer, so the Fathers say, is an uplifting of the soul to God, whether it; be prayer of petition, of adoration, of praise, or of thanksgiving, or the prayer of reparation which makes honorable amends.
One who prays properly, with humility, confidence, and perseverance, asking for the things necessary for salvation, does undoubtedly cooperate in the divine governance. Instead of one, there are now two who desire these things.It is God of course who converted the sinner for whom we have so long been praying; nevertheless we have been God’s partners in the conversion. It is God who gave to the soul in tribulation that light and strength for which we have so long with our co-operation and as the result of our intercession.
The consequences of this principle are numerous. First, the more prayer is in conformity with the divine intentions, the more closely does it co-operate in the divine governance. That there may be ever more of this conformity in our prayer, let us every day say the Our Father slowly and with great attention; let us meditate upon it, with love accompanying our faith. This loving meditation will become contemplation, which will ensure for us the hallowing and glorifying of God’s name both in ourselves and in those about us, the coming of His kingdom and the fulfillment of His will here on earth as in heaven. It will obtain for us also the forgiveness of our sins and deliverance from evil, as well as our sanctification and salvation.
From this it follows that our prayer will be the purer and more efficacious when we pray in Christ’s name and offer to God, in compensation for the imperfections of our own love and adoration, those acts of love and adoration that spring from His holy soul.
A Christian who says the Our Father day by day with gradually increasing fervor, who says it from the bottom of his heart, for others as well as for himself, undoubtedly cooperates very much in the divine governance. He co-operates far more than the scientists who have discovered the laws governing the stars in their courses or the great physicians who have found cures for some terrible diseases. The prayer of St. Francis, St. Dominic, or, to come nearer to our own times, St. Teresa of the Child Jesus, had an influence certainly not less powerful than that of a Newton or a Pasteur. One who really prays as the saints have prayed, co-operates in the saving not only of bodies but of souls. Every soul, through its higher faculties, opens upon the infinite, and is, as it were, a universe gravitating toward God.
Close attention to these intimate relations between prayer and providence will show that prayer is undoubtedly a more potent force than either wealth or science. No doubt science accomplishes marvelous things; but it is acquired by human means, and its effects are confined within human limits. Prayer, indeed, is a supernatural energy with an efficacy coming from God and the infinite merits of Christ, and from actual grace that leads us on to pray. It is a spiritual energy more potent than all the forces of nature together. It can obtain for us what God alone can bestow, the grace of contrition and of perfect charity, the grace also of eternal life, the very end and purpose of the divine governance, the final manifestation of its goodness.
At a time when so many perils threaten the whole world, we need more to reflect on the necessity and sublimity of true prayer, especially when it is united with the prayer of our Lord and of our Lady. The present widespread disorder must by contrast stimulate us constantly to reflect that we are subject not only to the often unreasoning, imprudent government of men, but also to God’s infinitely wise governance. God never permits evil except in view of some greater good. He wills that we co-operate in this good by a prayer that becomes daily more sincere, more humble, more profound, more confident, more persevering, by a prayer united with action, in order that each succeeding day shall see more perfectly realized in us and in those about us that petition of the Our Father: ‘Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ At a time when [evil forces in the world are] putting forth every effort against God, it behooves us to repeat it again and again with ever deepening sincerity, in action as well as in word, so that as time goes on God’s reign may supersede the reign of greed and pride.
Thus in a concrete, practical way we shall at once see that God permits these present evils only because He has some higher purpose in view, which it will be granted us to see, if not in this world, at any rate after our death” (Providence, pages 210-212, TAN).
Tom Mulcahy (see my personal reflection in the postscript)
P.S. Faith involves trusting in God’s providential care for our lives, while taking positive action to do God’s will. It is a wonderful thought to know that we have always existed or had a “pre-existence” in God’s eternal knowledge. “He has loved us with an everlasting love.” God has willed for us to exist! And God is Infinite Wisdom.
At the moment of death everything that we shall be for all eternity hangs in the balance. This is the moment that will settle everything. We shudder at the thought of losing God. All our life has been but a preparation for this one final moment. God has even shed His own blood to draw us near to Him. Oh what unthinkable ruin, says Faber, if we are not saved.
We need to pray for the grace of a holy death (that is, to die in a state of sanctifying grace). We need to pray for the grace to receive the last sacrament, and to confess our sins and receive Viaticum (Holy Communion given to a dying person). These are things we should pray for on a regular basis.
Father Faber (from whom I have derived the above considerations) points out in detail that the Blessed Virgin Mary has a special office or jurisdiction to help us die a good and holy death. We must have an immense confidence in her intercession. Saint Joseph is the Patron Saint of the dying, and it thus follows that we should pray to him frequently for the grace to die a happy death (that is, to die in a state of grace). Jesus shed His blood to save us from eternal loss. The Precious Blood comes to us through the sacraments. Immense regard and devotion to the sacraments, as Faber points out, is certainly a tell-tale sign that we are advancing towards Heaven. It is not a good thing to be indifferent towards the sacraments.
Recommended reading: Faber’s essay, “Death,” in Spiritual Conferences; The Precious Blood (F.W. Faber); and Preparation for Death (Saint Alphonsus de Liguori)