Today’s Prayer

For Those in Most Need of Thy Mercy

I pray the same prayers every morning and every evening. I say an Our Father, a Hail Mary, the Fatima Prayer, the Gloria Patri and the Prayer of Eternal Rest.

I’ve been saying these prayers for years every morning and every night since I was a kid. Sister Elinor taught us to memorize these prayers in our first-grade Catholic school class. While I’m sure that each prayer’s meaning was explained to us, they were more of a mantra back then where we would drone on as a group for twenty minutes praying the rosary before school began.

As the years progressed, I continued to say these prayers and I have learned to love them for their meaning and their history, their relationship to scripture. When I say my prayers now, I slow down and focus on each phrase of the prayer and concentrate on exactly what it means. One of those prayers is the Fatima Prayer.

O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy.

According to Roman Catholic tradition, the Fatima Prayer, was revealed by the Blessed Mother of Jesus in 1917 to three shepherd children, Francisco, Jacinta, and Lucia, in Fatima, Portugal. The children were asked to recite this prayer at the end of each decade of the rosary. It was approved for public use in 1930 and has since become a common part of the Rosary.

The origins of the rosary are somewhat paganistic. Prayer beads and the repeated recitation of prayers to aid in meditation stem from the earliest days of many religions including the Catholic Church. Tradition holds that St. Dominic, moved by a vision of our Blessed Mother, devised the rosary as we know it and encouraged its use in his missionary work.

The prayer is pretty straight forward. It is an intercessory prayer asking for forgiveness, redemption, hope for heaven for all the lost souls. It wasn’t until I coupled it with Jesus’ parable about the workers in the vineyard that I think I understood the prayer fully.

In the parable, Jesus tells the tale of a man who owns a vineyard. He goes out early morning and hires workers to harvest his grapes. He goes out again mid-morning, at noonday, mid- afternoon and, finally, an hour before sunset hiring laborers for the vineyard. At the end of the day, he pays the individuals beginning with the last hired, paying them a full day’s wage. The morning hires believe that they will receive much more than a single day’s wage, but the vintner pays each man a equally. When the morning workers grumble, the vintner reminds them that they have agreed upon a day’s wage and that he has the right to be generous.

What has managed to escape me for all these years was the aspect of mercy or generosity shown to the workers hired later in the day. Christ was making the point in this parable that God’s love and mercy is extended to all, not just the religious scholars or to those who had dedicated their lives to God. Saint Paul wrote about what a wretched man he was, how he had persecuted Christ’s followers and yet found himself forgiven and even, indeed, elevated.

So many of us are hired late in the day. My brother, an alcoholic and often violent man, passed away strapped to a hospital bed. Unconscious, he thrashed about, the result of his withdrawal from fifty years of alcohol abuse. In his feverish nightmares as my mother, my sister, my brother’s wife and I sat around the bed grieving the inevitable, he cried out “Jesus help me.” My brother had been a staunch critic of the Catholic church perhaps as the result of abuse by a priest in his youth, but nobody knows for certain. He often went out of his way to offend people, to pick a fight, to break the rules.

Yet, in his suffering, he remembered Christ’s mercy and called upon him for salvation, called upon him to end to his suffering. I truly believe that my brother was saved that day. My brother was extended God’s mercy after a lifetime of poor choices and willful actions.

How can that be fair to all those people who lived faithfully? What if Hitler or Charles Manson or one of the many mass shooting killers repented just before dying? Do they get to go to heaven? Is it the same heaven as the faithful? It is.

God’s love is that unconditional. For those people who truly repent, who see their actions as wrong or maybe just cannot bear the thought of hell, they are saved. Like the workers in the vineyard, they need not put in a full day’s work to get a full day’s wage. Christ is the vintner, and he is as generous with mercy in our first hour on earth as he is on our last.

My mother was an early morning hire. She was raised in a staunch Catholic home where the rosary was recited every night. She prayed continuously and almost always for her children. She attributed her ability to quit smoking to a novena (nine days of prayer) and always felt like a poor Catholic when her prayers weren’t answered.

All of us kids were raised Catholic and there was a time when we prayed the rosary every night kneeling around our parents’ bed. One by one, we began to pull away, beginning with my brother.

My sisters are mid-morning hires, never really leaving their faith but challenging its precepts, its opposition to the new age of faith that was freedom. My youngest sister eventually left the Catholic church in favor of a more evangelical Christian church. I’m a late hire. I’d say about mid-afternoon. For years I spent my life in an alcoholic or drug induced haze. I was driven by my lust for food, for sex, for self. I continue to this day to struggle with the problem of pride. I put myself first in all things. If it’s not about me, it doesn’t matter.

Try as I might, there are still some sins that I can’t seem to shake. I am a poor father and I chase money as fast as I can run. I do practice my faith. I do believe in what the church teaches, and I read scripture daily, often finding its message pointed squarely at me.

I am the person in most need of His mercy. In fact, I’m betting on it.

Copyright 2022 by Jose Antonio Ponce