For to me life is Christ, and death is gain. (Phil 1:21)
Approaching my mid-sixties, various ailments in my body begin to appear; some just plain annoying, some can be serious if left unattended. With such ailments in mind, I’ve been pleading for God’s help in my prayers: hope it’s not serious; grant me speedy recovery; save me from further medical treatments; keep me healthy so I can continue to serve….
As I prayed more and reflected more on the spirit of the Gospel, these words of St. Paul suddenly emerged like a stream of light: “For to me life is Christ, and death is gain” (Phil 1:21).
Praise the Lord! The enlightenment is profound and comforting. Why worry about these bodily ailments? They will continue to appear and will do so even more as my feeble human body ages. It’s only natural. If my health goes downhill from here to the point that I have to leave this world, I just have to accept it. It’ll be sad indeed to have to leave behind my family and friends. It’ll be unfortunate if I can’t use God's gifts to serve people more. But the eventuality of such an outcome only makes me realize what a wonderful blessing God has given me through baptism and how thankful I should be to Him for the profound awakening that He granted in the nineties by putting me through a deep conversion which truly turned my life around – or upside down, to be exact - and enabled me to walk in the light of Christ ever since!
This powerful experience of prayer also reinforces St. Augustine’s explanation of what prayer is and how it works. We often pray as though we want to change God’s mind. But how can we powerless mortals be capable of changing and influencing God who is by nature immutable? We pray, according to St. Augustine, not to change God but to change ourselves! “So by confessing our own miserable state and acknowledging your mercy towards us we open our hearts to you, so that you may free us wholly, as you have already begun to do. Then we shall no longer be miserable in ourselves but will find our true happiness in you” (Confessions, XI.1). Referring to Psalm 50:9-10 – “I need no bullock from your house, no goats from your fold; for every animal of the forest is mine, beasts by the thousands on my mountains” - he says we must understand that we pray and worship not because God needs us or desires our offerings but because we need God to change our hearts through prayer (City of God, I.x.6). How true!