In our churches we often pray “for peace in the world,” seemingly, however, to no avail. History reveals that, with the exception of agriculture, no pursuit has occupied people more than war. Many Americans living today have witnessed their country at war for over half of their lives. Almost three thousand years ago, Homer wrote in the Iliad: “Men grow tired of sleep, love, singing and dancing sooner than war.” A cynic might say it seems people love killing each other. The seeming uselessness of praying for peace in the world surely tests our faith in the power of prayer. C.S. Lewis noted: “Every war is a monument to an unanswered prayer.” The temptation can arise to give up praying for peace.
In the ninth chapter of his gospel (14-25), Mark tells of an occasion when a crowd approached Jesus. A man in the crowd told Jesus of his son, described as an “epileptic demoniac.” The man lamented the fact that Jesus’ disciples were unable to help. The man seemed to challenge Jesus, “But if you can do anything…” Jesus responded with a challenge to faith. “At once the father of the boy cried out: ‘I have faith. Help my lack of faith!’” We would do well to echo those words.
The fact that not every prayer is answered is dramatically illustrated in Matthew’s gospel. (26: 38-40) In Gethsemane the holiest of petitioners prayed three times. “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by.” It did not. Every prayer of petition should end as that prayer did. “Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have it.”
It is also helpful to remind ourselves that prayer of petition is neither the only form
of prayer nor the most important. More important are prayers in which we bring our praise and adoration to God, which express our sorrow for sin, in which we give thanks for God’s merciful love and grace.
Then there is that other prayer for peace that often seems to go unanswered, the prayer for peace in our hearts. Lack of that peace can be discouraging. The source of the discouragement we often experience is twofold. First, as we look to our past, we recall mistakes, failures, and memories of sin. We might well echo the words from Ezekiel: “Our crimes and sins weigh heavily on us. How are we to go on living?”
(33: 10) A second source of discouragement is looking to an uncertain future.
That future may hold little or no significant prospect of security, success or happiness.
Unless an antidote is found, discouragement can lead to pessimism, even to some degree of despair. For the person of faith, the antidote consists in looking to Christ for an answer. St. Paul tells us: “We have then, brothers, complete confidence through the blood of Jesus in entering the sanctuary, by a new way which he has opened for us ….” (Heb. 10: 19-20)
We can learn much from looking at Christ on his way to Calvary. Remember that Jesus fell at least three times. When he fell to the ground it meant his strength was giving out, the burden seemed more than he could bear. There seemed to be limits beyond which even he could not go. Christ showed a human weakness just like we often experience. On the road to Calvary, Christ is a model for us when we feel flattened and helpless. It is then that we can learn to trust, no longer in our own power, but in the power of God. In our helplessness we can learn humility. We learn to recognize our limits and God’s goodness. We can also learn compassion, the need for faith, for hope, and for perseverance,
If we can learn these lessons we will find peace, a peace only God can give. Apart from that peace all happiness is ephemeral, subject to doubt, to fear, or simply to exhaustion. It is primarily through Christ that we can come to know peace, even joy in this valley of tears.