In the 1930s a struggling Lebanese-American night-club performer in Detroit, named Amos Jacobs, had a big problem. His wife Rose Marie had just given birth to their first child, a girl named Marlo, at a local hospital—but the family was too poor to pay the $75 in medical bills. Walking by Saints Peter and Paul Church in downtown Detroit, Amos prayed for a sign from his favorite saint: St. Jude, the traditional patron of desperate causes. As an act of trust, Amos entered the church and put all the money he had, $7 and some change, into the poor box, while telling St. Jude, “I need ten times this much back by tomorrow!” The next day Amos was contacted about an opportunity as a radio announcer, which included a $75 cash bonus up front. He accepted the offer, and began a radio career in Detroit. A few years later he had the opportunity to take a job as an onstage performer in Chicago. He took this as another sign from St. Jude, and moved to Chicago—though, in order to keep his relatives from learning he had gone back to performing in night clubs, Amos changed his name to Danny—specifically, Danny Thomas, whom as some of you may remember became a famous and popular actor.
When the owner of the nightclub in Chicago offered Danny the chance to become a partner a few years later, he again went off to church and prayed to St. Jude, promising, “Show me my way in life, and I will build you a shrine.” Glancing around church at that moment, he saw a statue of St. Jude which he had never noticed before. Taking this as another sign, Danny accepted the business offer, and went on to become even more successful. He never forgot his promise to St. Jude, though the idea for a shrine evolved into something more practical. Danny’s dream was to create a hospital that would not discriminate on the basis of race or religion—a research hospital providing services for children suffering from catastrophic diseases, including those children whose families couldn’t afford their medical care, and a hospital dedicated to sharing information and techniques with the international medical community. With help from many friends and other important supporters and donors, the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital opened in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1962. Danny Thomas, a devout Catholic, always claimed to be nothing more than a humble “vehicle” used by God to bring about the hospital (The Marian Observer, October 2015). His story is an important reminder to us: if we trust the Lord enough to share with those in need, our own prayers will be answered.
Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Luke (11:1-13) that God not only loves us so much that He allows us to address Him as “Father”; He also loves us so immensely that He will certainly always respond to all our needs and answer all our prayers, if only we trust in Him. Prayer isn’t a spiritual transaction in which, if we say the magic words or give God enough deference, He’ll bestow some benefit upon us; no, it is—or is supposed to be—a loving conversation in which we open ourselves as much as possible to our Creator’s immeasurable love and mercy. In the Book of Genesis (18:20-32), Abraham’s attempt to bargain with God failed, simply because he didn’t ask enough of the Lord; though Sodom and Gomorrah deserved to be destroyed, the Lord was willing to spare these sinful cities out of love for His servant Abraham. It was this immense love, as St. Paul explains in his Letter to the Colossians (2:12-14), that caused God to raise us to new life through His Son Jesus. Jesus tells us, however, that in order to experience the full measure of this divine love, we must truly trust in God and be persistent in our prayer.
Some of you may remember that Danny Thomas’ daughter Marlo became a successful actress herself; she was best known for the late 1960s comedy That Girl, in which she played a struggling actress in New York City. I remember one episode in which her character Ann Marie was being sued in small claims court for an accident that wasn’t her fault. However, a Catholic priest had witnessed the accident and was willing to testify on her behalf, which led to all the charges being dismissed. Afterwards, Anne Marie went up to the priest and said “Thank you, Father,” and in response he smiled and answered, “Bless you, my child.” This scene was an inside joke shared with the audience, because the role of the priest was in fact played by Danny Thomas.
The immense love a famous actor had for his real-life daughter is but a faint shadow of the love our Heavenly Father has for each one of us. As Jesus says, “For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” It is impossible for God not to respond in a wise and loving way to every sincere prayer. We, of course, are not always wise in what we ask for; the things we desire may actually end up hurting ourselves or other people, or even make it harder for us to reach Heaven. In such a case, as St. Augustine says, “Even though God doesn’t always give us what we want, He gives us what we need for our salvation.” For this reason, St. Paul of the Cross advises us to “Entrust yourself entirely to God. He is a Father and a most loving Father at that, Who would rather let heaven and earth collapse than abandon anyone who trusted in Him.” That’s why, as St. Frances de Sales tells us, “We shall steer safely through every storm, as long as our heart is right, our intention fervent, our courage steadfast, and our trust fixed in God.”
In response to the request of His disciples, Jesus taught them what we call the Our Father, or the Lord’s Prayer. St. Thomas Aquinas called this the best possible prayer, saying, “All prayer requires five excellent qualities, which are found here. A prayer should be confident, ordered, suitable, devout, and humble.” As long as we try to be sincere in our prayer, we will achieve this standard; as long as we remain persistent in prayer, we will be heard; as long as we seek to know and do God’s Will, we will be pleasing to Him, and will certainly receive His blessing. God doesn’t answer prayers grudgingly, as did the homeowner in Our Lord’s parable who was awakened at midnight. No, He is always pleased to respond to the needs of His children—but He wants us to pray not in a selfish and demanding way, but in a manner that’s humble, trusting, and genuinely concerned about the well-being of others. If praying this way is our goal, the Lord will help us succeed, and we will truly experience in an ever-deepening manner the awesome and amazing love of our Heavenly Father.