St. Peter's one Sunday and had started watching a football game. But something was on my mind. Fr. Scharff had given a homily about prayer, and some of it didn't make sense to me. I turned to my father who was sitting in his rocker-recliner sipping a Carling Black Label and I asked, "Dad, why does God need us to pray to him?" He took another swallow from his red-and-black can and said, "Now you're thinking, aren't ya."
I thought of that day on a number of occasions, including yesterday, when I finally watched Anderson Cooper's interview with Christopher Hitchens. The avowed atheist is being treated for esophageal cancer and, of course, Cooper's questions seemed to dwell on how he was dealing with his illness in light of his popular beliefs. He looked horrible, as most people will look when they've undertaken immense amounts of chemotherapy. Cooper asked him, "Do you mind if people pray for you?" And Hitchens responded, "No, if it makes them feel better". He added, "I don't think souls or bodies can be changed by incantation".
I'm not an atheist, but I have been re-formulating my views on religion, God, prayer, and my Catholic upbringing. Actually, "re-formulating" makes it sound like I have a predisposed plan and that I'm fomenting an elixir to swallow that will instantly alter the religious landscape for me. In reality, I haven't a clue as to how to organize my views on all of those topics. I can't for the life of me figure out, within the simplistic construct of my feeble brain, how a divine entity profits from our supplications. And I thought LeBron James' ego was massive. Like that conversation with my father so many years ago, I simply don't get it.
I admire Christopher Hitchens. Not necessarily because of his atheism, but because he continues, at least for the time being, to believe what he believes, even in the face of massive adversity. Would I do the same? Is it easy for me to hypothesize and snicker about the existence of the Divine as presented to me by Holy Mother Church while I'm relatively healthy, as opposed to a situation where I might discover I have an inoperable illness? Would I immediately lapse into a litany of ceaseless "Our Father's" and "Hail Mary's"? And would they be heard?
Some would say that maybe the answers lie within the framework of another church, or another religion. Maybe so, but I doubt it. Fear has ruled my belief structure for a long time, and I know that I'm in no mood for a denomination that will instigate more of it. In the meantime, I'll keep searching. I'm also going to look for a case of Carling Black Label. Maybe it's also time to have another chat with Dad.
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