To Pray or Not to Pray: Chapter 5
Long ago in my thirties, I was in a Catholic Charismatic (Pentecostal) prayer group that was led by several of the Sisters of Mercy at their convent. I, along with Pat, another woman member, were registered to attend the annual Charismatic Renewal Conference at Notre Dame University. At the prayer meeting two days before the conference, a young woman in her early twenties asked if she could go with us. We had spoken about a priest that led a small group of sisters and nurses in a healing ministry, and Dorothy had curvature of the spine with one leg shorter than the other. This caused her to have to wear an ugly built-up shoe, it also sometimes caused her pain, and she feared that when she married and became pregnant it would cause more problems. It was too late to register her and probably too late to get her a room in the dorms, but we told her to bring a sleeping bag and stay in our room.
So, Dorothy set off with us. We were running a little late and I was worried that we would miss the first large session in the gymnasium, which was the presentation on healing. A couple of weird time changes later we arrived just as it was beginning, but had to sit almost at the very top of the gymnasium. We were supposed to wait until it cleared at the end to find Pat’s sister, who was coming from Pittsburg. As the gym emptied, I prayed nervously about whether to take Dorothy down to the group with the healing ministry. I finally said, “God, if you want them to pray for Dorothy, please bring them up our aisle, and I’ll ask them to pray for her.” The gym was almost empty, but we had not spotted Pat’s sister, so we were still sitting almost at the top on an aisle. Just then, the priest and the others with the healing ministry started up our exact aisle on their way out. As they came near us, I spoke hesitantly, “Father, would you pray for Dorothy here. She has one leg shorter than the other.” He stopped his group and said, “Of course. Let Dorothy sit in your chair here on the aisle.” So, Dorothy moved into my seat and the several prayer team members and Pat and I put our hands on her shoulders and held her hands, while the priest led us in a gentle quiet prayer asking God for healing in Jesus’ name. No frills, no dramatics. Then he stopped abruptly and asked Dorothy, “Did you feel that? I think your leg jumped.” Dorothy with tears flowing, agreed that it had. He then led us in prayers of thanksgiving, smiled, and continued on up the stairs.
As we sat stunned into silence, Pat’s sister appeared next to us. Following her out of the gym, we excitedly recounted our experience with a mixture of laughter and tears of joy. Dorothy suddenly stopped and said in amazement, “I’m limping. My built-up shoe is making me lopsided.” So, she took off her shoes and continued on, literally ‘leaping and dancing and praising God.’
After we got to our dorm room, my inner Twin to Thomas kicked in. It ‘just so happened’ that Pat was a physical therapist. For the next hour, I kept making Pat measure Dorothy’s legs over and over. Pat kept reassuring me that they truly matched. No doubt about it. But there was still some visible curvature of her spine. When, in the wee hours of the morning, we began to tire, Pat went to the communal dorm bathroom to brush her teeth. There she met an older woman and told her of our experience, ending with the curious fact that Dorothy’s spine was still curved. The woman reassured her by telling her that her own husband’s leg, which had been a whole inch shorter than his other one, had been healed the year before at this conference. She said that the leg grew immediately, but it took six months for the atrophied muscles to develop fully back to normal.
We finally all went to sleep exhausted, wonderous, thankful, and at peace.
Over the next several months I, of little faith, looked each time our prayer group met to assure myself that Dorothy was indeed happily wearing sandals, flip flops, or tennis shoes.
And almost ten years later, now married and the mother of two children, Dorothy came to our parish to tell her story to our women’s group. Yes, she was still happily and painlessly wearing sandals.
Father Francis in his books and when speaking before leading prayer for healing always told this story, which to me shows the huge difference between him and the TV “Healers.” He was speaking in a city where an old friend lived. The friend invited him to dinner with his family. While there, one of their children had an asthma attack. He had a scary history of serious attacks, so Fr. Francis offered to pray over him. They agreed and he did. A year or so later he was back in the city and again visited his friend. He asked how the boy was. They smiled and said he was doing very well, but that after Fr. Francis had left that night, the child got so much worse, they had to rush him to the ER. At the ER a doctor told them of a new medicine that was helping someone in his family with asthma. They went to their doctor and asked him to prescribe it and it was working beautifully for their child. An Episcopal woman who had a healing ministry also shared that it was really humbling to do healing prayer ministry when you had allergies and kept sneezing and sniffling the whole time you were speaking and praying for people. God does the healing…..God just uses people and keeps them aware of who is in charge. A chapter on healing that I’ve written recalls praying in a prayer group for a young father on a roller coaster battle with cancer. I, and several others in the group, simultaneously “heard” in our thoughts to trust God and to let him go. So, we prayed a prayer putting him in God’s loving hands trusting in God’s love. Later, we heard he died at that time. Both death and suffering are a reality in this life. This is not heaven, but it is only a blink in comparison to eternity. Early in my spiritual journey, I experienced several healings, but over the years have had to hang onto faith through serious pain and crippling health issues that put me in a wheel chair for several years. It’s a mystery. But it has helped me to know that Jesus has walked this path before me and is with me now as I follow him. And that with grace I can grow closer to him and more like him through the hard times.