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An Agnostic Prayer

October 14, 2010

Here’s a touching essay by a lapsed Roman Catholic about his father’s past victory over leukemia (when the writer was a small child)–and his mother’s current struggle with the disease. In the beginning of the essay, the writer describes how his mother led their family’s church to pray fervently for her husband and how their prayers were seemingly answered when his cancer went into remission. At the end of the piece, he describes (in the third person) how he deals with living far away from his mom and not being able to visit her now that she must struggle with leukemia:

It is a Sunday morning. An agnostic walks past coffee shops and bars, along the waste-strewn streets of his fellow sinners. Near the end of a bustling commercial district is an old brownstone church—St. Andrew’s Catholic Church—he walks through its oversized doors. There is a table in the foyer, which has on it the Sunday bulletin. He flips through it, finds his mother’s name listed, then walks through another set of doors into the nave.

This man, this agnostic, sits in a folding chair in the back corner. The service has long since started—he’s arrived late purposefully. His timing surprises him; he’s arrived at the perfect moment, the moment when the congregation prays the Prayers of the Faithful. The priest lists the names of the parish’s sick, his mother’s included—he’s phoned in and asked them to pray. He watches the hundreds of heads bowed, hears the silence of their mental words, feels the force of their faithful wills.

And then, choking up, he gets up from his folding chair and leaves. He knows what happens next in the Catholic Litany: the Kiss of Peace, the moment when the parishioners reach out to the person next to them and wish them well.

He owes them a hand shake of gratitude. But it is not a cross that he can bear.


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