“Pray for me, Father, that I may love God more and that I may be unceasingly conscious of Him. That is the greatest wish I have.” (Joyce Kilmer).
The Catholic poet, Joyce Kilmer, was killed on July 30, 1918, during the Second Battle of the Marne in World War I. He is best known for his beautiful poem, “Trees”…
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
Kilmer – like many soldiers during that war – wrote to a priest asking for prayers. This was not an uncommon occurrence. However, it was the reason for the prayers that has remained fixed in my mind over the last few days. You see, while most other soldiers wrote asking for prayers that their lives would be saved and that they could soon return home to their families in Kilmer’s letter, he wrote, “Pray for me, Father, that I may love God more and that I may be unceasingly conscious of Him. That is the greatest wish I have.”
And I have been thinking about this prayer request and about this experience of this soldier
You see, Saint Josemaría said, “No, sanctity is not the exception, but the usual thing, the normal thing for every baptised person. It does not consist of inimitable heroic deeds but has a thousand forms; it can be achieved everywhere and in every profession. It is normalcy. It consists of this: living your usual life with your sights set on God and shaping it in the spirit of faith.”
And it is this shaping that the soldier was doing when he chose the prayer that he wished to pray. Because that soldier understood the words of Saint Maximillian Kolby, who said, “Hatred is not a creative force. Love alone creates. Suffering will not prevail over us, it will only melt us down and strengthen us.” And he understood that by accepting his suffering he could grow strong.
For there is great strength in understanding the purpose and the implications of suffering – and there is great suffering in war – especially World War II… And there is small (and great) suffering in many of the parts of our every-day lives. And that suffering is of such great use to our souls, because it is “By the power of the Holy Spirit, our suffering refines our charity, just as our charity transforms our suffering into a living sacrifice that allow God to have his way in our lives.” (Scott Hahn, “The Fourth Cup”).
And it occurs to me, as I reflect on the experiences of that soldier during that War, that even in the midst of all our torment and when it feels as though this whole world has turned to ashes for us – as it surely must have felt for that soldier on that day – that Pope Francis is correct… You see, “God searches for you even if you don’t search for Him. God loves you, even if you have forgotten Him. God looks for beauty in you, even if you think you have uselessly squandered all your talents.”
And I give thanks. For my Beloved searches me and finds me – even in all the wars and battles of my life. And knowing that, how could I ever be afraid? How could I ever?
For with prayer, I stand on Holy Ground where everything is clear. Here. At the Foot of the Cross.