Being a priest who stands 6 feet, 3 inches tall, I almost didn’t see her. Little Liliana, probably 4 or 5 years old, was way shorter than my normal field of vision. It was after the Sunday morning Mass at St. Anthony’s in Westbrook while I was saying “goodbye” to parishioners and shaking hands. Liliana was desperately waving a small envelope in my direction, trying to get my attention, and her father confirmed that she wanted me to take the envelope. And, so I did.
When I got back to the rectory, I noticed that the sealed envelope was addressed not to me but “to Jesus.” Assuming that Liliana entrusted me with the envelope since she knew that Jesus was not only a friend of mine but somebody that I actually work for, I opened it expecting to find a child’s drawing to add to my already crowded rectory refrigerator door. To my surprise, I found a short letter on the back side of her mother’s personalized memo pad, painstakingly written in the kind of unsteadied, yet very focused, penmanship characteristic of a little child who has justrecently learned the art of writing. The letter read: “Dear Jesus, please Bless me. Please Bless the People, and make them [ sad to happy], from Liliana.”
Now, of course, we all know that Liliana didn’t need me to deliver that letter to Jesus. I’m quite certain that He received it the moment it was composed. And I like to think that at least one person that day, somewhere in the world, “went from sad to happy.” But, even more than that, I thought about, actually pondered, Liliana’s brief and simple letter, Liliana’s prayer, long into Sunday evening, and those thoughts were enough to warm a very cold January Sunday evening in Maine.
While we adults are charged with the important responsibility of nurturing the faith of our children, we also can, ourselves, learn from them. Unfortunately, prayer can be hard and difficult for us grownups. I fear that we grownups make a lot of things more complicated than they need to be. But Liliana taught me, teaches us, that prayer, good prayer, redemptive prayer, is really quite simple. Prayer should be primarily from the heart, honest, sincere, and yes, child-like. Most prayer is what we adults call “intercessory,” and that is precisely what little Liliana does when she simply asks our Lord to “bless the People and make them go from sad to happy.” Her friend Jesus said the same thing about prayer when He told us and His disciples not to multiply words when we pray, not to stand on street corners to pray, not to worry about what to say, but simply to pray with childlike trust to our Father in heaven, who already knows what we need even before we ask. The same Jesus who said, unless you become like little children, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God. Now, I don’t take that as a threat by any means. Just a wakeup call. Just a gentle invitation.
Thanks, Liliana. Message delivered. Message received.
By: Father Louis Phillips
Pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Windham; St. Anne Parish in Gorham, and St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Westbrook