Prayer Wars Fought on the Home Front

I don't know what to pray for. Our oldest son, Matthew — just 19 years old — is being deployed to the Middle East with the Wisconsin National Guard.

As we spend our last few days together as a family, I find myself swinging from one extreme to the other. At times, I look to the picture of our Blessed Mother and silently scream, “No way! I'm not doing this. The U.S. military can't have him.” At other times, I look into her loving eyes and say, “Of course. You gave your son over to God's will. How I can I not do the same?”

Meanwhile, through all the peaks, troughs and treacherous turns of this emotional roller-coaster ride, I'm surrounded by love. Many people have pledged their prayers and support for Matthew and the rest of the family.

People we've never even met are praying for us. Most offer to pray for his safety. I want to pray for that, too. But each time I begin, I stop. Somehow, it makes me feel selfish. The Blessed Mother didn't spare herself the anguish of surrendering her son to the will of the Father. Why should I think I'm any better?

Another thought creeps into my mind as I try to pray. Our family is abundantly rich with our Catholic faith. It permeates every aspect of our lives. For this we are truly grateful. Often I'll hear one of the children express sympathy for those who have no faith, nothing to hold onto in times like these.

When Matt leaves, his gear trunk will contain a Bible, prayer book, crucifix, picture of our Blessed Mother and other sacramentals that will nurture his attachment to Our Lord and his Church. More than that, wherever he goes, I know he'll carry his faith in his heart.

That's where I get stuck during prayer. If the situation should arise in which it's between my son losing his life and another young man who has yet to find Our Lord, is it right of me to ask God to spare my son? Wouldn't it be better to allow the other young man more time on this earth to discover Jesus' love? The mother's side of my heart wants to keep my son safe always. The disciple's side yearns for the salvation of all souls. How does one formulate that in prayer?

My husband Mark and I think often about Our Lord's agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. As God, he knew the suffering that lay ahead of him. As man, he could feel the fear and angst. Yet, in spite of his human side, he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

I can imagine that the Blessed Mother was going through a similar discourse of her own that night. She couldn't see the coming events as Jesus could, but she must have sensed that he was about to face calamitous suffering. Because she is his mother, she suffered with him. Because she is his chosen daughter, she uttered her perfect Yes to the Father's will.

I'm not so perfect. I'll probably remain on my emotional roller coaster while Matthew completes his tour of duty. The coming months will be difficult, but I'll have the consolation and example of Jesus and the Blessed Mother — neither of whom ever hesitated to say, “Thy will be done.”

Marge Fenelon writes from Cudahy, Wisconsin.

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito says of discerning one’s college choice, ‘There has to be something that tugs at you and makes you want to investigate it further. And then the personal encounter comes in the form of a visit or a chat with a student or alumnus who communicates with the same enthusiasm or energy about the place. And then that love of a place can be a seed which germinates in your own heart through prayer.’

Choose a College With a Discerning Mind and Heart

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito, assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas (UD) and subprior (and former vocations director) of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, drew from his experience as both a student and now monastic religious to help those discerning understand the parallels between religious and college discernment.