Fr. Michael Scanlan
By the time you read this, All Saints Day will have come and gone. But, just to extend the feast a few more days, I want to share the story of something that happened to me recently — something that helped give me a fuller understanding of what we’re celebrating, and what we as Catholics believe about the Communion of Saints.
A few weeks ago, I was working on a talk that I was scheduled to give the following week at a women’s conference in my beloved Arlington. I was looking forward to the trip back to my graduate school stomping grounds, as well as the place where this column first began over 25 years ago in the Arlington Catholic Herald. So I wanted the talk to be particularly good.
I remembered a quote from Father Michael Scanlan that I wanted to incorporate into my remarks. Father Mike, who passed away earlier this year, was the president of Franciscan University of Steubenville. He also was a good friend to me and my ministry. I pulled my copy of his (excellent) autobiography Let the Fire Fall from the bookshelf and began thumbing through it, looking for the quote. (“I’ve found that the Lord never calls you to Africa without first putting Africa in your heart.”) As I read, it occurred to me that, since Father Mike’s passing, I had never asked him to pray for me. Of course I have prayed regularly for the repose of his soul. But, as holy a man as Father Mike was, I figured it might be a good idea to add a request for his intercession, if he was indeed enjoying his reward as I suspected he was.
So, sitting in the very spot I am sitting now, I simply said, “Father Mike, please pray for me.” And, because he is not (yet) a canonized saint, I added as I always do, “May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.”
And then I went back to work.
The next week, I traveled to Arlington, enjoyed a lovely reunion with a lot of people, and gave my talk. I didn’t use the Father Mike quote, or talk about him at all, because I had a lot more material than time. But it was a successful talk nonetheless.
After it was over, I returned to my table. There, I had a brief conversation with a religious sister who was attending the conference. We were interrupted by others who were starting to line up to talk to me, as generally happens to a speaker immediately after speaking. A few minutes later, she got up from her chair and walked around the table to where I was sitting. Moving past the others, she said somewhat hesitantly, “I hate to bother you, and I’m not stalking you or anything, but I was praying for you during your talk. And I felt the Lord asking me to deliver a message to you. Here it is.” She handed me her business card, on the back of which she had written the message. It said:
“Father Michael Scanlan TOR is praying for you.”
I immediately burst into tears. I hadn’t mentioned Father Mike to her, nor Steubenville, nor anything else related. I had given no further thought to my brief prayer since I made it. And I certainly hadn’t told anyone about it.
What an incredible gift — especially to me. Like many people, I frequently struggle with the idea that my prayers aren’t heard, that in order to be effective I need to say them a special way, or drag them out for a prolonged period of time, or say them with an air of piety that I can never get right.
But, sitting here at my desk, almost as an aside, I asked for his prayers. And the Lord let me know that my prayer was heard, and that I indeed have at least one friend praying for me in the very presence of God. I tend to keep the personal aspects of my life personal, and this seemed just about as personal as an aspect could be. But I also felt early on that this particular favor was intended not just for me. It seemed clear that God wanted others to hear about it as well. He wanted them to know that their prayers are being heard. And that the Communion of Saints is real, that we are indeed surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses” who intercede for us.
And so, know it. You prayers — even the brief ones — are heard by the God who loves us. And our requests for prayers are heard by the saints in heaven, who do intercede for us.
Notice that the message said that Father Mike is praying for me. It didn’t say that Father Mike is fixing things for me, or doing anything at all other than praying. This is a common misconception — that we Catholics believe that the saints are some kind of minor deities who scurry around organizing our lives and making good things happen.
This is not what we believe. The saints aren’t gods. They’re people like us. But they’re people who have run the race successfully and now enjoy the beatific vision. And they pray. And their prayers, being the prayers of pure, sanctified souls, are powerful before God.
Ask them to pray for you.
Bonacci is a syndicated columnist based in Denver and the author of We’re On a Mission from God and Real Love.