By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published October 19, 2023
My cat bit me last week. I felt simultaneously baffled and betrayed, because he’s been my buddy for six years, and friends don’t sink their fangs into other friends! Why he did it remains a mystery, but my immediate reaction was to be sure his rabies shot was up to date, which it was.
When pain set in, I went to an urgent care facility, where the doctor pronounced the bite infected and prescribed a heavy round of antibiotics. It was past supper time when I drove to the pharmacy at the grocery store to get the prescription filled.
The young woman who took my groceries to the car was from Africa, and we chatted a bit. She came from a very large family, but was hesitant to reveal how many siblings she had. I assumed she was tired of people’s shocked reactions, so I said, “No matter how many, they’re all gifts from God.”
She nodded and said sadly, “I don’t understand why so many Americans don’t have children and grandchildren, and then when they grow older, they’re all alone.” I got into the car, turned on the ignition and burst into tears. After all, she had just described my situation! No children, no grandchildren and living alone.
I drove home, put the groceries away and realized I was too exhausted to fix supper. Images of the old days swept over me, as I recalled how my mother would come to my rescue with a delicious treat on the days when things went wrong at school. A sword of self-pity pierced my heart, as I thought, “There’s no one here to even make me a sandwich!” Suddenly, this was a huge tragedy, along the lines of the sinking of the Titanic.
The next day, I saw a neighbor walking down the street with her dog. She looked tired and downtrodden, and with good reason, as she’d lost her husband, 55, to cancer six months earlier, leaving her alone to raise two teenage sons.
At Mass later, I prayed for her, and my situation began shrinking in gravity. True, there was no one to make me a sandwich, but she had lost the father of her sons, and they missed their beloved Dad. The next day, I heard the horrendous news about the people wounded and killed in the Holy Land.
My prayers began pouring out for the people affected by the war. The ones who had lost children and spouses, the ones whose homes had been bombed, the ones who were panic-stricken. The gravity of my problem suddenly seemed like the size of a pea, rather than the expanse of intergalactic space.
When we look at our friends’ and relatives’ prayer requests, we may gain perspective on our own petitions. Suddenly that promotion at work doesn’t seem all that important, when compared with the prayers of a couple whose teenage boy has cancer. That European trip fades in significance, when compared with a family struggling to pay the rent.
Still, what about those who live alone with no one to make them a sandwich? We can remember to put our suffering at the foot of Christ’s cross. We can ask him to turn our loneliness into prayers to help people who are faced with hunger, disease and the effects of war.
St. Teresa of Avila said, “One must not think that a person who is suffering is not praying. He is offering up his sufferings to God, and many a time he is praying much more truly than one who goes away by himself and meditates his head off, and if he has squeezed out a few tears, thinks that is prayer.”
How can suffering be transformed into a prayer? In the same miraculous way that water became wine at the marriage feast at Cana, in the same way wine turns into Christ’s blood during Mass—and death becomes life for those who faithfully follow the Lord.
Let’s pray to focus less on the bruises and bumps of our own lives, and more on our brothers and sisters around the world connected by the miracle of prayer. As for me, I’m also praying I can learn to make my own sandwiches without a word of complaint—and the cat will remain peaceful.