But as I walked through this Garden of Prayer, I kept coming back to one thought:
Praying for conversions is very much like a barren woman who finally conceives and eventually gives birth.
A couple of years ago, I read Daughter Zion. In this book Pope Benedict XVI (writing as Cardinal Ratzinger) takes a look at the barren women of Salvation History and explores the significance of Old Testament women. Often, he explains, "the infertile one, the powerless one becomes the savior because it is there that the locus for the revelation of God's power is found" (20). There is so much to contemplate when it comes to these women . . . who are virgin, then barren wife, and finally one who is blessed with motherhood (23).
Even as we move from the Old Covenant, into the New Covenant, we see this story unfold - in St. Elizabeth, and the Blessed Mother.
I thought about the Church, how She is like this as well. How She intercedes for Her lost sons and daughters to come Home. How She grieves like a barren woman. How She rejoices, when they return, like a woman who no longer wears the garment of barren one. Her prayers have been heard and answered, like Hannah of old. Like Elizabeth.
The Church, praying for conversions, is like one who is barren. When conversion begins (in the life of one or in entire communities of people) it is as though She has conceived. With great love and nurturing, and after much labor, Mother Church holds her son or daughter. She knows the joy that comes after the labor.
No longer barren. No longer desolate. She looks at the sea of sons and daughters who have come back into Her arms, and She rejoices at the gift God has given. She delights in the gift of spiritual fertility.
Women of faith, we are called to walk this same path. To be a microcosm of what we see in Mother Church. We look at our lost sons and daughters and we pray for conversion. We almost wonder if it is possible. At times, like Hannah, we cry before God, thinking it may never happen.
As time goes by, with no hope in sight, we read the signs of "infertility" and we begin to wear the label of barren one. Like Hannah, we feel like our prayers aren't heard. We still pray, but we don't really believe it will ever happen. We are Sarai (before she is called Sarah). We are Elizabeth. We are sure that the one we pray for will never come back to Mother Church.
Then, we become frustrated, aware that we are not in charge. We cannot will this miracle into existence.
And this is when we must not give in to despair. We must embrace our own helplessness and offer it back to God.
Begin to pray as the barren women of Faith. Begin to watch for signs of the impossible, but without an agenda of our own. We begin to walk, not in our own ability to conceive, but in God's ability to create and convert. We begin to see signs of the impossible.
The quickening of new life is felt deep in our souls. And eventually, God willing, we will see our sons and daughters again in the arms of Mother Church. Like newborn babes.
And we know that God has done it all. No longer spiritually barren, we have been blessed to labor for awhile and then to behold Life.
Every little thing must be given up to Him, to the One who brings conversion. Every irritation. Every chore. Every thought. Every Mass. Every moment of Adoration. Every loss. Everything must be given up to the Cross of Christ. . .
for the conversion of souls.
Let us learn from St. Therese. Virgin. Mother of none. Yet, she has become mother of untold thousands.
Let us learn from St. Elizabeth. Barren wife. Mother of none. And then, when hope had passed, she was called to become the mother of the greatest Prophet of all time.
Let us learn from the Blessed Mother. Virgin. Mother of none. Then, Mother of the One.
Savior and Lord. Author of Life.