Nearly every Sunday, I see it happen: During the Sign of Peace, parishioners near me smile and reach over to shake my baby’s hand. They peer at my him, trying to make eye contact and perhaps be rewarded with a toothy baby smile. I continue to see this fascination when I go on walks or run errands with my son. Friends will hold out their fingers and coo at my baby, waiting for him to look their way and touch them. They yearn to feel my son’s fingers on their skin and to see his blue eyes look up at them. Sometimes, he looks over and grabs their fingers. On other occasions, he doesn’t even notice them. He’s a baby still growing in his awareness of others and the world, so this is to be expected.
The way that other people react to my son makes me think of the woman in the Gospels who suffered from hemorrhages.
“She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all that she had. Yet she was not helped but only grew worse. She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak. She said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.'” (Mk 5:26-28)
This woman longed for the touch of Christ two thousand years ago, and we yearn for His touch today. How often do we feel like we’re in a crowd of people, trying to draw close to God so that He will hear our petitions? How many times do we call out to God, hands outstretched, like those who encounter my baby boy? Just as people will make funny faces or noises in trying to attract my son’s attention, we will do anything to make God look over and touch us. We will pray louder, piling on more prayers, penances, and devotions. If we don’t feel His presence in our lives, we can become exasperated. We think that, like a baby distracted by his many surroundings, God is preoccupied with other matters and is not paying attention to us.
However, God does not operate in this way. He does not ignore us from afar while we clamor for our voices to be heard. He is not oblivious to our needs and petitions. He knows what we need, even before we ask Him.
“Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows” (Lk 12:7).
When we call out to God, it can be frustrating when we don’t think that our prayers are being answered. We don’t feel the touch of Christ, and we don’t sense that His gaze is upon us. The beautiful reality, though, is that faith is not about our feelings. Even if we don’t have an emotional experience and feel consolation from God, we need to trust that He loves us, cares for us, and is listening to (and answering) our prayers. As we embark on our Lenten journey, let us remember to focus on having faith in God both when it’s easy to see our prayers being answered and when we can’t see visible fruits of our sacrifices and petitions.