“What will save the world? My answer is prayer.” —St. Teresa of Calcutta
This past year, there is one memory that keeps coming back to me, and when it does, I feel a tremendous urge to pray with all of my heart.
It is of a conversation I had with my father when I was about 5 years old, when he was telling me one of his many World War II stories. He said something like this:
“A Nazi soldier was harassing me, but he was just a kid, so I took him on. We went at it a little, and he stuck his gun up my back. But then we got talking, and he ended up telling me he didn’t want to be a Nazi soldier at all, but he had been forced into it. In the end, he decided he was just going to leave me alone.”
I still remember being awestruck that my father could laugh about the whole story, as crazy and unbelievable as it seemed to my sheltered little American self. He seemed at peace with it all — not filled with traumatic memories and anger — but instead, with thanksgiving for all the Lord had done for his family and others throughout the war.
You see, my father is an immigrant from the Netherlands, and he lived through the takeover as the Nazi soldiers occupied his village for about four years. They had overtaken the Christian school across the street from his home so that they could use it for their living quarters and field exercises.
Even though my grandfather and grandmother had nine children, they weren’t afraid to be part of the Dutch Resistance effort to fight against Hitler’s regime. They even allowed an underground Resistance soldier to live in their home — a man who would kill Nazi soldiers during the night, and hide in their home during the day. This was especially dangerous for them because the soldiers would commit random searches of their home whenever they pleased.
My grandfather was one of two people in the entire village who still possessed a radio, since the regime had confiscated all of the radios in the village, and it was considered highly punishable “illegal” activity to have one. He would listen to secret messages that Queen Wilhelmina (the exiled queen of the Netherlands who had to flee the country during the Nazi occupation) would put over the radio to inform and encourage her people from afar. He would very quietly share these messages by word of mouth throughout the village.
Along with invoking tremendous fear in the people, the other main way that the Nazi regime was able to accomplish their total takeover of the Netherlands was by censoring everything, and not allowing the Dutch people to hear true news of what was really happening. Instead, they allowed only false news to be reported — news that was, of course, in favor of their agenda. In fact, they had so deceived some of the people in my father's village that he even remembers people willingly lining up to go to the concentration camps because the soldiers had told them Hitler’s regime was going to really help them there.
Furthermore, the Nazis had a particular interest in my grandfather because he owned a saw mill, and they wanted to use it for their construction purposes. Without telling bold lies, my grandfather would do all he could to stall them, such as sending them across the country to abandoned warehouses in search of saws he told them he must have in order to fulfill the work they were demanding of him.
At the time, the regime was starving out those who lived in the larger cities, and not allowing the citizens to travel out of them. Thus, my grandparents would help people who would sneak out of Amsterdam in the middle of the night and bike many miles to their home every couple of weeks. My grandma would feed them plates and plates of beans and potatoes, which was about all the food they had during those years.
Throughout those years, my father’s family had one source of hope, strength and courage, and one alone — Our Lord Jesus Christ. They read the Psalms several times a day, went to church a couple of times every week, and kept Sunday truly holy. They also kept a profound fellowship with the other Christians in their village who were working along with the Dutch Resistance. They never knew what was ahead of them, but they had to trust. Their lives were lived in God’s hands, moment by moment.
Miraculously, my grandparents were never caught for the beautiful deeds of mercy they did for the Dutch Resistance. Their whole family came out of the war unharmed, and filled with an extraordinary faith in the power of God.
Although America may not be facing a World War right now, she is definitely facing many threats to her peace, freedom and security, as well as to her integrity as the “greatest nation” upon the face of the earth. We must “cash in all our chips” and do everything we can to save her. Do we realize what is at stake? Can we honestly look at our precious, innocent children and grandchildren and tell them we have done all we can to pass on a country that is still “one nation under God?” Can we look into our own hearts and see that we have helped raise up a nation that respects the Constitution, is safe, honest, morally sound, dignified and prosperous?
I want to be courageous like my grandfather. I want to pray the Psalms several times a day by being faithful to the offices of my breviary. As written in the Introduction to the 1962 Baronius Edition of the Roman Breviary :
“The breviary is the official prayer book of the Church. The Holy Spirit and the Church have been working on it for more than 3,000 years, and it has become the basic book of prayer, a precious common fund to which the great men of prayer from every age have contributed their thoughts and sentiments.”
When we pray the Psalms, we lift up our souls, the souls of our loved ones, and the souls of our fellow Americans, to God. We lift up our country that much higher. When we pray, we step onto a battlefield, embracing what it means to be the Church militant.
As Mother Teresa once said, “When I was crossing into Gaza, I was asked at the checkpost whether I was carrying any weapons. I replied: ‘Oh yes, my prayer books.’”
When we crack open our prayer books, we crack open the code to courage.
In the next couple weeks, our country is going to need us to go to “battle” as prayer warriors more than ever. By going to Holy Mass more than usual and praying the Rosary more often than we usually do, we can do wonders to help save America. Ultimately, if we want to be the land of the free, we will have to also be the home of the brave, not to mention the prayerful.