Have you ever asked God for a sign? Just a little sign to know, to know whether he exists or whether he hears your pleas or prayers? Usually, we are asking for a sign when we seem to really be in need of something from God.
Recently, I went to see a movie documentary with a friend. The whole movie was centered on the lives of seven strangers who did not know one another before the filming of the movie but had volunteered to be part of this pilgrimage for various reasons. All seven were from varied backgrounds, being new Catholic converts, cradle Catholics, fallen away Catholics and even atheists. They were all searching for something that could only be found through faith but were not sure they could find it or that it even existed.
For many of us, we believe that God exists but what is the depth of that belief? Every now and again we doubt. We doubt that God exists. We doubt that he hears our prayers or pleas for his intervention in our lives. We may think that sometimes he leaves us to fend for ourselves in times of great trial or sorrow. Many times we just want or need that sign to confirm to us that he has heard us and knows that we exist. But what kind of sign do we need in order to believe? Would it make a difference? Would we even know a sign if we saw it?
The documentary was filmed by following these seven people around throughout the day for fourteen days, while they were on a trip to a pilgrimage site. Also, the participants captured, through video, their own private moments and their deepest thoughts and questions about God, Jesus, Our Blessed Mother and their beliefs or lack thereof, when they were alone. You had the sense of reading a private diary from each person yet you were watching and listening to it at the same time.
I was profoundly struck by the prayers of one of the participants. While praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament, one of the atheist guys began to pray for another member of this pilgrimage. The one he was praying for was a young man who had drug addictions. He was on this trip seeking help to overcome his addictions. During the filming, he suffered a terrible seizure and was rushed to a local hospital. They were not sure if he would be able to return to the group. The atheist began to pray, “God, if you exist give me a sign.” He waited a moment then said to God, “I don’t need a sign. Just tell me what I can do to help my friend.” He waited another moment then prayed, “God, just heal my friend.” How many times have we not been able to get past the “God give me a sign and I’ll believe” and here was this atheist who had gotten past it in a matter of moments. How? Why?
Upon the advice of one of my spiritual directors, I read the book, Miracles Do Happen, by Sister Briege McKenna. In the book she tells the story of an encounter she had with someone who did not believe that miracles really could happen, that people could receive healing through a healing service. I will greatly abbreviate the story here. There was a crippled guy who had been miraculously healed. He was crippled one day and the next day he was able to walk and declare that he had been miraculously healed of his infirmities. The unbeliever said he just wasn’t sure that he believed the man was healed. Sister Briege asked him why not? His response was that he was not sure he was really crippled in the first place. The point of the story was that the sign of the miracle did not make a difference to the one who doubted in the first place.
Back to the story of the atheist and his prayers. How was it that he went from, “God give me a sign” to “God, just heal my friend.” Was it that he believed at that moment that his friend needed God’s healing touch more than he needed a sign? He moved from being self-centered and needing a sign for himself to caring more about his friend and what his friend needed. It seemed that at that moment all the graces that God had been wanting to bestow on him, suddenly rained down upon him. Do we wait for the sign or do we just believe?
“Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” John 20:29