The people of Brazil found themselves in a desperate situation.
In 1964, the political establishment of this beautiful South American country was in turmoil. With all the upheaval, the Communist party saw an opportunity to come into power. By March, they were poised to take control of the country bringing it into the sphere of Russia’s influence.
The Catholic people of Brazil were all too aware what a Communist takeover would mean for the practice of their faith. They saw what had happened just twenty years earlier in Eastern Europe when Russia installed totalitarian regimes in Poland, Hungary and Yugoslavia. The Church was brutally persecuted resulting in the imprisonment and murders of thousands of believers. They also saw what was taking place in nearby Cuba which had just undergone a socialist revolution under Fidel Castro. It was clear to them that nothing but persecution would come to them if the Communists took over.
Not willing to stand idly by while their country was taken away from them, the women of Brazil decided to take to the streets. In the city of Sao Paulo, a demonstration was organized. They called it, “The March of the Family with God toward Freedom.” Over six hundred thousand women took to the streets not to shout out slogans, carry banners or threaten violence but to pray the rosary. Reciting this beloved prayer of the Church and singing hymns, they asked God to have mercy on their country, to deliver them from persecution and to make the nation a place where people of faith could worship in peace.
Their prayers were heard. By April 1st, the Communists had fled the country. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind - including the Communists themselves - that it was the power of faith and prayer which had won the victory for freedom in that nation. The people of Brazil were overjoyed. The next day, April 2nd, over one million people marched in the streets of Rio de Janeiro in what was called the “March of Thanksgiving to God” to celebrate what God had done for them. And it was all accomplished not with violence or political wrangling but by peaceful demonstration and prayer.
The people of Brazil discovered through that experience what believers throughout the centuries have known. Prayer makes a difference. Lifting our hands to heaven and calling upon our Father to step in and bring justice for His people has changed so many events in the course of history. As the poet Alfred Tennyson wrote, “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.”
When the apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith, He tells them that even a small amount of faith can make what seems impossible possible. This was the experience of the people of Brazil some fifty years ago. That can be our experience as we face the challenges which our country and our world are dealing with.
Many times we can look at the state of our world and feel despair. We want to make the world a better place. We want to make a difference. However, the issues facing society are so complex that we often do not know where to begin. Even in our personal lives and families making a positive impact can seem impossible. What can we do?
All of us can pray. No matter what our talents or resources may be, we can all lift our hands to heaven and ask God to care for the poor, to bring justice to the oppressed and to bring peace to all nations. Prayer is not “doing nothing”. It is not sitting on our hands and waiting for someone else to take responsibility. Rather the prayer of the people of God is a powerful weapon for good in this world. When people pray with faith real change happens. Just ask the Communists in Brazil.
So when the problems facing the world or the Church seem overwhelming, our first instinct should be to turn to God in prayer. It will not change things overnight. But it will make a powerful difference if we approach our Heavenly Father with the type of expectant, patient faith we hear about in the today’s Old Testament reading: “For the vision still has time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.”
As a Church, we take pride in being the largest charitable institution on the planet. We feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick and educate children better than any other organization in the world. But the most important work of the People of God is our prayer for the world. We can never know this side of heaven what good our prayer has wrought, how many disasters have been averted and how many lives have been saved. There is no scientific way of measuring the power of prayer because it relies on the mysterious work of God who cannot be observed. But there is no doubt that through the prayer of God’s faithful people, the world enjoys much more security, peace and prosperity than would otherwise be possible.
In today’s second reading, Saint Paul encourages young Timothy to “stir into flame the gift of God that you have received...” While he is talking about the gift of Holy Orders in this passage we could also apply it to our baptism and confirmation. Through those powerful sacraments we received the gift of faith. That gift increases and grows through prayer, especially the prayer of expectant, patient faith on behalf of the world. We gather here to stir that gift of faith into a flame rising up among us in power, love and self-control. We pray for our good and the good of our world. In so doing, we are making a powerful difference though we may never see it. And the world is a better place because of the power we are unleashing here as we lift up our hands to our Heavenly Father expecting Him to make the impossible possible.