By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published 7/07/12 in The Madera Tribune
“Who’s praying for me?” she asked us. When none of her fellow choristers responded, she persisted, “Who’s praying for me?”
Indeed, I had been, because I had a crush on her. Though we both attended the same high school, I never saw here there — only at church choir. I had decided that the least I could do for someone I thought I loved would be to pray for her.
No one answered her interrogation that Sunday afternoon but I. Proud yet confused, I responded evasively: “How do you know anyone is praying for you?”
“Because everything is going wrong,” she said angrily. “All of my plans keep messing up. Nothing is going right. I know someone is praying for me!”
A little bit of understanding entered my brain, but not too much. I was, after all, an infatuated teenage boy. The more beautiful a woman seems in my presence the less intelligent I become. So I admitted I had been explicitly praying for her each day of the past week.
“Stop it!” she ordered, repeating her lament and pressing me to surrender.
I meekly agreed, and felt happy that I had been noticed at all. I may have been “in love” with her, but my actions showed that — underneath my emotion — I didn’t really love her. I cared more for her momentary approval than her eternal soul.
Monica of North Africa (A.D. 332-387) had a far truer heart than mine.
In her childhood, she had been an alcoholic, secretly sneaking wine every chance she had in her well-to-do Christian family’s home in Tagaste, Numidia (modern-day Algeria). A rebuke by a slave awakened her to her problem and spurred her to change.
Her parents arranged her marriage to a hot-tempered pagan, Patricius, who was verbally abusive, committed adultery, and attacked Christianity. They had three children: Navigius, Augustine, and Perpetua. While Navigius and Perpetua imitated their mother’s virtue, the brightest child — Augustine — strayed far. His seduction by a waitress ultimately set him on a path devoted to sexual pleasure.
Patricius converted to Christianity when Augustine was 17, and died a year later. By then, Augustine studied in Carthage, hung out with playboys he called the “wreckers,” and had fathered a baby boy, Adeodatus. He abandoned Christianity for Manicheanism, which taught that all material things were evil and thus sin was unavoidable for most.
Monica prayed and wept.
Becoming a teacher of rhetoric, Augustine went to Rome and then Milan in search of wealth and recognition. Monica followed.
Augustine would not return to God until a year before her death. She had never stopped praying.
A week ago, Pope Benedict XVI officially lauded the “heroic virtues” of the first televangelist. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen (1895-1979) won an Emmy award (“Most Outstanding Television Personality”) in 1952 for his prime time series “Life is Worth Living” (1952-1957). It would be watched by as many as 30 million viewers weekly. He had a similar TV show from 1961-1968 and a weekly radio show from 1928-1952.
Comedian Milton Berle explained his TV rival’s success, “He’s got better writers — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John!”
Sheen also wrote 66 books on Christianity and two syndicated columns. He edited several magazines.
He was credited with bringing many to God, including U.S. Communist writer and Soviet espionage agent Louis Francis Budenz (1891-1972). According to Time magazine, 95 percent of those Sheen privately taught Christianity to were baptized. He provided such instruction to any who came.
A Long Island priest once told of his humbling visit with Sheen. Newly ordained, the priest asked the hospitalized archbishop, “I want to be a convert-making priest like you. I’ve already won 15 people to the faith. What is your advice?”
Sheen lifted himself up from his deathbed to look the priest in the eye: “The first thing to do is to stop counting.”
Throughout his years of priestly ministry, Sheen would spend a “Holy Hour” — 60 minutes of meditative worship of God — before preparing for and celebrating daily Mass. Only after Mass would he eat breakfast.
One might say God was Sheen’s most important meal of the day.
"Prayer opens possibilities,” Sheen said. “House plants cannot live without water; the flowers will give us their blossoms only if we give them water. Windows will let in light, if we clean them. Our hearts will let in God, if we purify them. Blessings come to those who put themselves in an environment of love.”