So the disciples are waiting for Jesus to come down the mountain after the Transfiguration. They have attempted to cure a man’s son from the hold of a demon, but they were apparently unable to do so. This seems to have led to an argument between them and the scribes. You can almost feel Jesus’ exasperation. Both the disciples and the scribes should have been able to do something for the boy, but they couldn’t. Why? Because instead of praying, they argued about it. “This kind can only come out through prayer,” Jesus tells the disciples when they ask why they were ineffective.
I often wonder, with more than a little fear, how many demons I could have cast out – in myself and in others – if I had a little more faith, if I prayed a little more than I do. There are, of course, all sorts of demons: demons of illness, demons of cyclical sin, demons of impure attachments, demons of homelessness, poverty, and marginalization, and so many more. Think of all the demons we could cast out if we just had more faith, if we prayed more fervently and stopped arguing with everyone over everything that isn’t to our liking.
Today is Presidents’ Day, and we remember those who have served our country as the leader of the most powerful nation in the free world. It’s a task that should never be undertaken lightly. Some of these men have been great, and others really terrible. All have been flawed in some way, because no one is perfect. None of them has had the luxury of everyone agreeing with everything they said and did. Perhaps those who have been more successful have been those who thought long and hard before responding to people and situations, taking their gravely important task to prayer before speaking and arguing. One thing is certain, we need to pray for all of them, living and dead, because their judgment will be a difficult one: from those to whom much has been given, much will be expected.
Sometimes, when we are trying to overcome some problem, the last thing we think to do is pray, when it should absolutely be the first. The disciples were guilty of it, the scribes were, and we are too sometimes, if we’re honest. And all of us should know better. I know that I myself can think of a number of problems I’ve tried to solve all by myself, when it would have been so much more effective to first turn them over to our Lord. We can’t just cut God out of the picture and rely on our own strength; that never works – our own strength is so fiercely limited, whether we are the President of the United States, or just a citizen gathered in church for Mass. We have to turn to the tools we have been given: faith and prayer. And we can start by saying with the boy’s father: “I do believe, Lord; help my unbelief.”