The year was 1988. Georgette and I had four children – Harry, 7; Anna, 5; Maria, 4; and Laura, 1. During the last week in May, I told my three older children that if the weather cooperated, we were going to plant a garden on Saturday. When I told them, they all got excited and started looking forward to the adventure.
Although the weather forecast was for rain, the sun was shining on Saturday morning. I rounded up the children and loaded them into our station wagon for a trip to Sheridan Road Nursery. At the nursery, we purchased some tomato plants, pepper plants, and seeds for sweet corn, green beans, and cucumbers.
The previous week I had borrowed my uncle’s rototiller so I could prepare an area of ground in the back yard for our garden.
When we returned home from the nursery, I drew a rough sketch on a sheet of paper for my children showing them how the garden was going to be laid out. We then grabbed the garden tools from the garage and got started. We used a string line to make sure the rows were straight, a hoe to cut furrows into the ground for the seeds, and a rake to drag the dirt over the seeds that were placed in the furrows.
About mid morning, it got cloudy. Then the sky became dark. It was obvious that a rain storm was coming. After we finished planting the tomato and pepper plants, Harry asked me the obvious question: “Dad, what are we going to do if it starts raining?” Then Anna chimed in: “Yea, it looks like it’s going to rain.”
My response was, “As long as we pray, it’s not going to rain until we’re done planting our garden. But we have to have faith that God will hear our prayers and answer them. We have to believe that He will hold back the rain until we’re done.”
So that’s what we did. While working as fast as we could to get all of the seeds planted, we all spoke the same prayer together, out loud, over and over again: “Hail Mary, full of grace the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, Amen. Hail Mary, full of grace…”
I don’t know how many Hail Mary’s we said while we were planting, but we prayed and planted for more than 20 minutes. As the last furrow of seeds was being covered up with dirt by one of the children, I felt a drop of rain on my arm. Then one of them yelled out, “It’s starting to rain!”
I picked up Laura and shouted, “Let’s hurry up and get in the house!” As we were all running toward the sliding glass door to our kitchen, we felt some large drops of rain. Immediately after we got into the kitchen and closed the door, the sky opened up and there was a huge downpour of rain. I looked down at Harry, Anna, and Maria and they were all just standing there staring out the glass doors with their mouths wide open.
Georgette had been in the kitchen working while we were planting the garden. As we all stood there and watched the rain, Georgette said, “Wow, that’s really neat. God kept it from raining until you were finished with the garden.” The children then excitedly explained to her that the only reason He kept it from raining was because of our prayers.
Our experience with the rain really did happen the way I just described it. The key word here is “experience.” It’s one thing to have a belief based on knowledge you’ve acquired from someone else. It’s another thing when you acquire or confirm a belief through an actual experience.
A belief can be very fragile and unsustainable until it is confirmed and strengthened by an actual experience. A child can be taught that if he stays outside in the hot sun for too long his skin will burn. But unless he actually lives through an experience where he is burned by the sun (or sees for himself how someone else has been burned), the belief itself is unreliable and subject to attack by someone who offers a convincing argument to the contrary, such as, “It’s impossible to get burned by the sun, because it’s thousands of miles away from the earth.”
There are two very important components to instilling beliefs within another person: (1) the teaching of the belief itself by word and example; and (2) the actual experiencing of the belief.
What we experienced that morning in May of 1988 when we stopped the rain with our prayers, was a dramatic event that confirmed and strengthened our belief and faith in God. While most experiences that children have while growing up in a devout Catholic home are more subtle than the halting of a rain storm, any experience that reinforces their beliefs helps them to take personal ownership of the beliefs.
As Catholics, the primary problem we have as a faith community is that the majority of children who are being raised in Catholic homes rarely (if ever) experience their faith in a way that confirms and strengthens their beliefs. Unless children have the opportunity to grow up around (and be influenced by) truly devout Catholics, their faith and belief in God will exist at a surface level and will be extremely vulnerable to attack by outsiders.
Regardless of how well we do in providing the knowledge, example, and experiences required to raise devout Catholic children, there is always a danger that they can (and will) be influenced to abandon their beliefs so they can adopt new beliefs (and behaviors) that are contrary to what they’ve been brought up with.
If you wanted to change or modify a person’s beliefs what would you do? What plan would you put into place? Think about it before you read any further. What would be the most effective way to influence someone to abandon a particular belief?
Here’s what is customarily done to change a person’s beliefs: (1) First he is introduced (or lured) into an environment where he is isolated from his parents, family, and other authority figures; (2) He is then introduced to some new “authority figure” of whom he will perceive as having greater knowledge and experience than him; (3) In his new environment, he will meet new “friends” that he will eventually become attached to; (4) The authority figure and/or his new friends will start planting doubts in his mind about his beliefs and what his parents and other people of influence taught him; (5) The authority figure and/or his friends will appeal to his pride by ridiculing him for not being “open minded” enough to try out and experience new things. He will be made to understand that if he doesn’t change the way he thinks and behaves, he will be rejected as an outcast.
This is exactly what happens in cults, gangs, and some religions. It also takes place in schools, locker rooms, fraternities, sororities, and online venues.
Remember the two students in my high school class that I told you about last week in my article, A Change In Behavior To The Dark Side? There was a point in time when Sue was finally convinced that in order to fit in or be loved and accepted, she needed to experience sex with her boyfriend. Similarly, there was a point in time when Chris was convinced by his “friends” that if he wanted to fit in and avoid being an outcast, he needed to experience the “freedom” and the “high” that comes from the use of illicit drugs.
I can assure you that the first time Sue and Chris participated in those particular activities, their experiences were just as dramatic as the experience my children had when their prayers stopped the rain from falling. As with all dramatic experiences, it didn’t take Sue and Chris very long to accept and embrace their new behaviors. Since all behavior must be congruent with beliefs, their minds went to work modifying their beliefs (about premarital sex and the use of illicit drugs) so that their beliefs would conform to their new behaviors.
Because of the accelerating deterioration of our culture and the explosion of social media, our children and grandchildren are constantly being exposed to new authority figures and “friends” who can and will influence them to accept and embrace “new” destructive, toxic, and sinful beliefs and behaviors. We need to keep them from experiencing the pleasures, feelings, and “freedom” that comes from premarital sex, drugs, alcohol, pornography, inappropriate movies and music videos. Unfortunately, once the genie of experience is out of the bottle, it’s extremely difficult to control it.
Of course, what I’m telling you is impossible without the direct intervention of God which can only come as a result of an intense daily prayer life. How do I know this? From my own personal experiences.