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Prayers for people we may never see again

An unmarried teenager gives her newborn baby up for adoption, and as the years pass, she longs to help this child.

“The worst part was, there was literally nothing I could … do for her, she’d just gone.”

This line is spoken by a character named Hilary, a young researcher working at an institute for brain science, in “The Hard Problem,” a play by Tom Stoppard that was reviewed recently in The Wall Street Journal.

Hilary struggles with the puzzle of human consciousness, which she believes can’t be explained by brain scans and other physical facts.

When asked about her definition of God, she says that, in order to tell right from wrong, “You need something for it to be true, some kind of overall moral intelligence, otherwise we’re just marking our own homework.”

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Her faith helps her stop fretting about the welfare of a child she believes she’ll never meet again.

You see, she discovers there is indeed something she can do — which is praying every night for the little girl, asking God to look after her.

This insight impressed me, since I believe prayer can mysteriously change the hearts of people we haven’t seen in decades.

We can still pray for childhood friends, ex-sweethearts, folks who were once our colleagues at work.

Hilary’s little girl may never know about her mother’s prayers, at least not in this life — but St. Paul reminds us that “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, what God has prepared for those who love him.”

This quote is often interpreted as pointing to the unimaginable beauty and joy awaiting the faithful in heaven.

But it might also mean that in heaven we’ll hear about the many fervent prayers that changed our lives.

As in the case of Hilary’s child, we may learn that people from our past — a former teacher or coach or someone from an old neighborhood — have been putting in a good word with the Lord for us.

Of course, we can also petition God for strangers — someone we see walking down the road who looks downtrodden and sad. Someone we meet on an airplane who’s struggling with a serious health issue.

I have been deeply moved by the many readers who’ve written to me over the past three years to assure me of their prayers.

Often, when I give a talk to a church group, someone will approach me afterward to say she’s been faithfully praying for me. These prayers for healing have made a huge difference for me.

On the day my late husband was received into the Catholic Church, four sisters from the Missionaries of Charity, whom we’d known for years, were so happy for him.

On their simple blackboard in their peaceful chapel in The Gift of Grace Home were the words, “Pray for Jef.”

The sisters are re-assigned every few years, so the ones currently serving in the home are different from those who knew my husband.

However, when I told the sisters he had died, the words “Pray for Jef” returned to the blackboard, which meant prayers for the repose of his soul became part of their daily liturgy.

In the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” and since God is love, he wills whatever is best for each of us.

This doesn’t mean an existence totally free from suffering and sadness, but rather a life that keeps us sharply aware that heaven exists — and is our true destination.

A woman like Hilary may pray her entire life for the baby she gave up for adoption.

And who knows? Since all things are possible with God, perhaps her child will one day start praying for the mom she’s never met on earth — but will meet in heaven.

Lorraine’s latest books include a trilogy of cozy church mysteries set in Decatur. Her email is lorrainevmurray@yahoo.com

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