WASHINGTON — “If you had gone through all I had gone through, you would never again question the Lord.”
Sitting there in his wheelchair, before a gathering of more than a thousand attendees at Thursday’s National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas shared his own witness as to why Catholics must keep the doors open to God through prayer, trusting him in all hardships public and private.
The theme of this year’s breakfast focused on the family. Abbott acknowledged that Catholics face many storms: from the redefinition of marriage in the courts, to religious liberty battles, to the ongoing fight over legal abortion. But the governor drew on his own personal story to emphasize the need to pray and talk with God, and to put the challenges in their proper context.
Abbott shared the crushing disappointment he suffered as a young man who had just graduated law school, been married for two years, and looking forward to the best life had to offer, when a tree came crashing down on his back while jogging.
At the time, Abbott said he was praying God to give him the “best possible outcome.” But God did not answer his prayers in the way that he had wished in the aftermath of the accident. He never regained the use of his legs, but ultimately, Abbott said “God knew better” and he became “tremendously thankful” that God did not grant his every wish.
While he prayed for strength, God did not simply send him “his strength,” but instead “responded by giving me challenges to make me stronger.” The lesson, he said, was instructive.
“I learned that faith doesn’t mean trusting God to stop the storm, instead it means trusting him to strengthen us to pass through the storm.”
Abbott reminded the audience to have confidence from Romans 8:28 that “God works for the good of those who love him and who have been called to his purpose.”
He explained that what matters is not how they were challenged, “but how we respond to the challenges that we encounter in life.”
Given the challenges that Catholics face in the public square today, Abbot said, “There is an urgent need to pray now more than ever, especially for the need to pray for our religious liberties.” He added that they needed to pray that God would bless the country with “righteous leaders.”
Abbott encouraged the audience to take to heart the words of Pope Francis on prayer. Whether it be their own personal lives or for the public good, he urged them to remember the Holy Father’s reminder that “a problem, a difficult situation, or a calamity” is an opportunity to “open the door to the Lord, so that he can come in.”
“Praying is opening the door to the Lord so that he can do something,” Abbott said, quoting Francis. “But if we close the door to the Lord, he can do nothing.”
World’s Darkness or Light Depends on the Encounter With Jesus
Following Abbott’s own testimony about the need for fidelity to God through prayer, Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, N.Y., chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), reminded the gathering that the crises of the family today are rooted in the loss of faith in society, which has lost contact with God through secularism.
“When God is lost from view, a crisis of meaning ensues,” he said.
He noted the observations of Pope Francis that the crisis in the unity between man and woman is feeding into the “crisis of collective trust in God” and the observations by Benedict XVI, and St. John Paul II that the crisis in faith, in belief in God and moral judgments of good and evil, are responsible for the crisis surrounding marriage, and ultimately create sufferings that are passed onto children.
Bishop Malone noted that the battle over the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples “is only the most recent and dramatic challenge” of a crisis from secularism that has traveled a long way.
“Secularism necessarily yields a crisis of meaning: If God is absent, when God is not acknowledged and respected as the Creator of all that is, meaning and truth become primarily a matter of what we make, rather than what we discover.”
The bishop explained that what happens next is that human beings then seek to dominate creation and dispose of Creation as they wish — contrary to their vocation to be stewards of God’s gifts — and consequently nature, the poor, and the vulnerable of society suffer.
But the picture is not doom and gloom.
“Jesus is our hope,” Bishop Malone said. He explained they should take confidence from Pope Francis’ encyclical Lumen Fidei that the “light of faith can illuminate every aspect of human existence,” and respond with continual conversion of heart, and bring the light of evangelization of the world, so that it may encounter Jesus Christ.
“Jesus Christ is the answer to our deepest desires and Jesus is and always will be the answer to the ongoing problems of the world.”