A man’s daughter had asked a priest to visit her sick father. The priest found the man lying in bed with his head propped up on two pillows. An empty chair sat by the bed. The priest assumed that the old guy knew he was coming.
“I guess you’ve been expecting me,” he said. “No, who are you?” said the father.
The priest told him his name and then remarked,”I saw the empty chair and I figured you knew I was coming.”
“Oh yeah, the chair,” said the the bedridden man. “Would you mind closing the door?”
Puzzled, the priest shut the door.
“I’ve never told anyone this, not even my daughter,” said the man. “But all of my life I have never known how to pray. At church I used to hear priests talk about prayer, but it went right over my head. I abandoned any attempt at prayer until one day four years ago, my best friend said to me, ‘prayer is just having a conversation with Jesus. Here is what I suggest. Sit down in a chair; place an empty chair in front of you, and in faith, see Jesus on the chair. It’s not weird because he promised, ‘I will be with you always’. Then just speak to him in the same way you’re doing with me right now.
“So I tried it and I’ve liked it so much that I do it a couple of hours every day. I’m careful, though. If my daughter saw me talking to an empty chair, she’d either have a nervous breakdown, or send me off to the funny farm.”
The priest was deeply moved by the story and encouraged the old man to continue his practice of prayer. Then he heard his confession, anointed him, and returned to the parish.
Two nights later the daughter called to tell the priest that her dad had died that afternoon.
“Did he die in peace?”, he asked.
“Yes, when I left the house about two o’clock, he called me over to his bedside, told me he loved me and kissed me on the cheek. When I got back from the CVS a half hour later, I found him dead. But there was something strange about his death. Apparently, just before Dad died, he leaned over and rested his head on the chair beside the bed. What do you make of that?”
The priest wiped a tear from his eye and said, “I wish we could all go like that.”
A story about prayer is a good way to begin this season of Lent, and this story connects to a thought-provoking way of looking at sin that I’d like to share with you:
Sin is disobeying God because we don’t trust him. Disobedience from a lack of trust is at the core of most sin. The evil spirit wants to separate us from God, the source of real happiness, so he weakens our trust and lures us onto other paths. Sadly, many of the things that attract us in this wrong direction are actually an illusion—they’re not real.
The old guy in the story learned that prayer is not so much a technique to be mastered, rather, it’s a relationship with Christ—a relationship that we learn to have more and more confidence in as we persevere through life’s experiences. Although he said he didn’t know how to pray, he certainly learned the relationship aspect of prayer, and it saw him through.
For all of us, then, having a relationship with Christ through prayer helps us to be open to the Grace that the Lord offers us. We learn where to turn when we are confronted with temptation and weakness. In the end, we come to realize that we can never conquer our sins on our own, that we need Jesus’ help. That’s why we need to seek a trusting relationship through prayer.
So, as we embark upon this Lenten journey, let’s remember what our ultimate goal in life is: to be united with God in heaven. And when we reach the end of our life journey, perhaps someone will say of us: “I wish I could go like that.”