In this reflection, I want to discuss something that I’ve only recently acquired a clear grasp of. It’s (a very small bit) about how eternity works and the implications this has in our lives--especially in our prayer life. You’ll find “good news” in this meditation. The good news being that it is never too late to pray. It is never too late to pray about anyone or anything!
Well okay, there a few things that it would make no sense to pray for. For example, you can’t pray to God that you’ll win last week’s Lotto Jackpot. For one thing you likely didn’t buy a ticket and besides somebody else has already won. (Doesn’t seem right to yank the jackpot away from them and then give it to you now, would it?) But you can pray for some really important things as if they happened just yesterday or are happening now. I’ll illustrate some examples in the next few paragraphs below.
Tom is 60 years old. An atheist most his life, Tom has only recently come to know God, Jesus, and the love of the Holy Spirit. As Tom looks back on his life, he’s really bummed about all the years of his life that he’s wasted. He’s especially disappointed that he didn’t pray for Aunt Edna when she died over 30 years ago. She was his favorite aunt and Tom wishes he could have prayed for the repose of her soul. Tom now believes that most saved souls spend some time in purgatory prior to their entry into Heaven. He feels pretty certain that Aunt Edna is saved but wishes he could have prayed to lessen her time in purgatory or to have alleviated some of the sufferings while she was there.
Tom, I have good news for you! Go ahead and pray now for your Aunt Edna. Pray for her as if she had just died today! Remember whom you are praying to. You are praying to God who is omnipotent. You are praying to God who is not limited by the linear timeline that all of us here on Earth are subject to. God is infinite. He’s outside of time.
Perhaps a visual image would help. Imagine a timeline—a long timeline showing all the events that have happened or will happen, from the beginning of time to the end of time. Now, imagine God outside of all that, looking at it. He sees it all at once—past, present, and future simultaneously. Everything is now to God. He lives in the Eternal Now. (from “7 Secrets of Divine Mercy” by Vinny Flynn.)
Prayer can potentially “change the past” for events here on Earth as well! While we can’t pray for last week’s Lotto Jackpot, or not to get that flat tire we had last month, we can pray for anything that we do not know the conclusion of. Peter Kreeft, author of several spiritual books, has an excellent example of this from his own life.
When my daughter was misdiagnosed as having a fatal, malignant brain tumor, I asked my friends to pray for her, and the prayers “worked”: the tumor, surprisingly turned out to have been benign. A skeptical friend whom I thanked for his prayers said to me, “You realize, of course, that our prayers couldn’t have changed anything, really; the doctor said the tumor had been in her for years, and was benign from the beginning.” I replied, “Your prayers did change things. God, eternally foreseeing all those prayers, decided to give her a benign tumor instead of a malignant one when He created her. Thank you.” (from “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven” by Peter Kreeft)
We can even pray for the salvation of those who have already died! True, their fate has been sealed but we here on Earth don’t know the conclusion. It’s quite possible that our prayers (past, present, or even future prayers) may have assisted in the salvation of whom we’re praying for. Even for those who may have lived a life that outwardly was non-Christian and never showed any sign of remorse, may be saved. We simply don’t know. Thus we can pray for them today even if their death was many years ago. For at the moment of death, God offers a final enlightenment of the soul providing a final choice to embrace or exclude him. This “final chance” at accepting or rejecting God does not necessarily involve any visible action on the part of the body.
Outwardly, it seems as if everything were lost, but it is not so. The soul, illumined by a ray of God’s powerful final grace, turns to God in the last moment…while outwardly it shows no sign either of repentance or contrition. (from the diary of St. Faustina as quoted from “7 Secrets of Divine Mercy” by Vinny Flynn)
Going back to Tom, he’s also concerned about his Dad who died suddenly two years ago. As far as Tom could tell, Dad lived a pretty good life but he really didn’t believe in God and Dad certainly had no taste for organized religion. Could/should Tom pray for his Dad’s salvation? Absolutely! His Dad may very well be saved and if so, it is quite possible that Tom’s present (and future) prayers made the difference for his Dad’s final acceptance of God.
Even if, in our example above, it turns out that Tom’s Dad wasn’t saved, I’m convinced that such prayers are never wasted. The graces that would have gone to Tom’s Dad will come back to Tom and/or be applied elsewhere. The point to remember is that it is never, ever, too late to pray!
Being “outside of time” is how it was possible for Jesus Christ, two thousand years ago, to die for all the sins of mankind. Though fully human, Jesus was also fully God. Being divine, he knew of every sin that has been or ever will be committed. Being God he knows every one of us personally and intimately. He knew us personally while he was dying on the cross. He even knew us personally as he was being formed in Mary’s womb for he has known of our (future) existence for all eternity!
The sufferings of Jesus that occurred throughout his life and at his Passion were both external and internal. Despite the horrendous external sufferings that we know about, it is the internal sufferings that, by far, were the cause of the greater portion of his agony. Indeed, even prior to being handed over to the Roman torturers, he experienced such agony as to sweat blood in the garden of Gethsemane. It was for all the sins of mankind that caused such intense suffering and for the sins of each one of us in particular. To the extent that we sin, even today, we caused pain for Jesus back then. To the extent that we repent of our sins, resolve to live a good life, and do works of mercy in reparation for our sins, we provide some consolation for Jesus back then!
So let’s resolve to live each day not as a cause for having increased Jesus' sufferings but as a source of consolation during his earthly life. Live each day and pray unceasingly. Pray for the living. Pray for the dead. Pray for the salvation of all mankind! For God wishes to save all souls and our prayers can and do make a difference! It is never too late to pray!
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(This article was first posted September 16, 2017.)