The late John Kavanaugh, a Jesuit at St. Louis University, related an encounter with Mother Theresa while on a visit to her mission serving the poorest of the poor in India.
In a conversation he asked her to pray for him.
“What would you like me to pray for?” she asked.
“Clarity,” he answered.
“No,” she responded.
“No?” he asked in surprise.
“No. I will not pray that you have clarity. I never have clarity. But I will pray for you to have trust. We must pray to fully trust God.”
The story speaks to the psalm of today: “The heart of the just one is firm, trusting in the Lord.”
In our high tech, efficient, North American culture, we are taught from an early age to take the initiative to create a life of comfort and financial security, a life free of worry and full of pleasure and respectability. Put your mind to a task or goal and you will succeed! Plan your work and work your plan!
This culturally formed way of living implies we are capable of achieving anything we set our minds to. The message is clear: we are independent beings with unlimited ability.
The downside comes when we hit a wall, realize our limits and fail. The ultimate boundary on our omnipotence is, of course, death, which is on the list of to-dos for each one of us.
When Mother Theresa told Fr. Kavanaugh she would only pray that he have trust, she was countering his wish for a clarity that would have shown him the way to some goal or project or action he wanted to achieve. She said no.
Instead she offered a prayer for more lasting and important gift: absolute trust in God.
The beauty of the psalmist’s words ring true to Mother Theresa’s insight: “An evil report he shall not fear; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord. His heart is steadfast; he shall not fear…”
This kind of trust in God is possible only by God’s grace. We cannot will it. We must pray for the grace to have it.
But once we experience this total trust, our world’s strong messages of fear of loss of control, the quest to be in charge, and to win no matter the cost or means to victory, are shed to make room for an awesome tranquility that bring peace.
Pope (now also saint) John XXIII wrote in his journal three years into his papacy (1958-1963) of this sure, inner peace:
My experiences during these three years as Pope . . .bears witness to this maxim and is a moving and lasting reason for me to be true to it: absolute trust in God, in all that concerns the present, and perfect tranquility as regards the future. The various initiatives of a pastoral character which mark this first stage of my papal apostolate have all come to me as pure, tranquil, loving, I might even say silent, inspirations from the Lord, speaking to the heart of his poor servant who, through no merit of his own save that that very simple merit of mere acquiescence and obedience, without discussion, has been able to contribute to the honor of Jesus and the edification of souls.(Journal of a Soul, pp 313-314.)
In your quiet moments of conversation with God this day, you might want to discuss your longing for the grace to fully trust.
Jim Wayne is a board member of the Passionist Solidarity Network (PSN), and author of The Unfinished Man. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky.