A Day of Prayer I Won’t Soon Forget

When you’re feeling helpless, those are the times God is especially calling you to pray.

Fritz von Uhde (1848-1911), “Christ Healing a Sick Child”
Fritz von Uhde (1848-1911), “Christ Healing a Sick Child” (photo: Public Domain)

I had a scare the other day.

One of my neighbor’s kids broke out in hives and a high fever and, in Burma, a foreigner is considered to be the go-to guy, even though I’m only a journalist by training.

I was woken up unceremoniously and through the chatter consisting of my bad Burmese and their bad English, I was given to understand that the little boy next door was sick.

I’ve not been here very long but I now understand what Pope John XXIII said about the Turks when he was the apostolic delegate in that country: “I have fallen in love with them.” I can honestly say, it is true for me with the Burmese. That in mind, I couldn’t just close my door on the people quickly invading my apartment and my slumber.

I went downstairs with the 14-year-old bundled under heavy blankets and flip-flops and into the taxi waiting at the ready. The trip was short as there was literally no one else foolish enough to brave the Burmese communist soldiers and their Chinese sniper allies.

I led the boy into the emergency room of the only hospital still left open in Rangoon — all of the others have been abandoned due to the resident professionals protesting the military coup.

The boy and I were quickly hustled through many sets of double doors and my charge was attended to. But then I had to turn away lest these people see my tears. Guns don’t scare me, but a sick child makes me feel weak and stupid. Being in an undersupplied, understaffed clinic did nothing to assuage me.

And so I took the child’s hand and pretended to be light-hearted and carefree. If I could coax a smile out of him, I’d stop feeling sorry for myself. Perhaps.

Patrick’s hives had spread to his belly, his neck, his leg and one of his wrists. His fever was soaring at 103°F. I, instead, was bottoming out round near freezing. I was worse than useless. I was just getting in the way of a dose of physicians, a roster of nurses and one needling phlebotomist hovering around the boy. I would have walked off but the boy shot me a look that begged me to stay, and so I stayed. As long as I’m aware of my uselessness, I might as well be useful to another.

But when you’re Catholic and feeling worthless, those are the times God is especially calling you to pray. The poet Francis Thompson called him the Great Relentless Hound of Heaven for a reason. God so earnestly desires communion with his creatures that he lies in wait for us to be at our most vulnerable and utterly inutile, standing chin deep in rising waters and against overwhelming odds when he pounces and we are overwhelmed by his loving embrace.

This poor boy was lying on his hospital bed with a fever and hives, dehydrated and afraid, and all I could give him was a constant smile and my assurances. 

Then, in thankfulness and the deep need to beg for Mary’s intercession, I pulled out my rosary beads and sat down next to the boy. Patrick’s family is Catholic and so I’ve prayed with them before. The only curious looks were from the Buddhists. They immediately understood, however, what I was doing and respectfully averted their gazes. They knew what I was going through even though I had no clue whatsoever. 

For two hours, I prayed, and the boy silently kept his eyes closed. I indulged myself in my pathos and all but succumbed to my bathos and begged and pleaded my way to Mary and every other saint I could think of.

At the end of the cycle, I opened my eyes to see the young, attending physician politely keeping his distance, waiting for me to finish my prayers. The Buddhists also use a rosary of 108 beads, so a Catholic Westerner telling his beads over a prone child in a hospital is not beyond their ken. It only made sense.

Apparently, the hives were the result of bedbugs or mites or midges or any of the other bedeviling insects God made. The fever was probably a result of the plethora of tropical worms infesting the young boy’s intestines. I stood in silence and pretended to blow my nose when, in reality, I was wiping away tears of joy. Bugs and worms? I’ll take those over nearly every other ailment that could have ailed the boy.

And so, the evening’s excitement came to an abrupt end. We hailed another taxi, eager to get out of that place of healing and misery, and made our way home. The boy’s family and our neighbors greeted us like conquering heroes. I was inundated with food and many thanks and unnecessary bows. Many hours later, I made my exeunt, stage out-of-there. I locked my door and drew the blinds and had only the energy to thank God for his great mercy for the boy and his great graces he bestowed upon me.