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Streams of grace

I KNOW they're around here somewhere, but I can't find them. I put them in a safe place so as not to lose them, and now I've lost track of where the safe place is.

I'm searching my room for prayer cards because I need to call down a few favors for loved ones. We're entering a season of great faith and I am trying to find mine.

Prayer cards are a Catholic oddity. Each one is not much larger than a baseball card. On the front is a Catholic icon: Mine include the Virgin Mary, Saints Anthony, Jude and Christopher, and the Infant of Prague. On the backs are prayers devoted to the figure on the front, soliciting their help in calling upon God. I have forgotten prayer and need these scripts.

The air grows cold this time of year and we walk through a gray world, consumed by life's challenges. We find ourselves far from home and loved ones, and we call upon our faith. Each religion celebrates a holiday of unique importance, each one united by concepts of gifts and giving, of charity and hope, and of faith.

Faith seems a word out of time in this country, a concept belonging to a different age. Faith is an unquestioning belief that does not require proof or evidence. Strong belief has ebbed somewhat in an era when tolerance demands equal acceptance of all beliefs. Unquestioning belief has gone out of fashion almost altogether, as we have become a sophisticated people who require evidence -- instant information -- the validity of which we will judge for ourselves. Faith is blind, but we ask to see for ourselves. It has made us an independent lot, yet one drifting from the idea of faith.

Faith is what we have in God, whichever God we pray to. Faith also is what we have in people. There are certain people each of us believes in, no matter what occurs, and we do not question the faith we invest in them. You can call it love or friendship, if it's that strong and that unshakeable.

Faith can be unpopular because it requires an investment, because it's an all-or-nothing affair. You can't have some faith or be mostly faithful. You are or you aren't. I am trying very hard this year to affirm my faith.

Yes, I want to have faith in the miracles that occurred 2,000 years ago during this season. That's the kind of faith that tethers us to one spot in the world, that teaches humility in the face of things much larger and older than us. But this year I need another kind of faith, faith in people.

I wish I could find my prayer card for St. Jude. He's the patron saint of lost causes, and I want to enlist his help in praying for a loved one. I want him to intercede with God so that someone I love will know that her cause is far from lost. I want her to know that those who love her believe in her without question. The strength of our belief in her can defeat any obstacles in her way. That is faith, and we have faith in her. I want to find that prayer card so I can send that message.

I also want to find a prayer card for St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers. I want to entreat him to watch over my parents as they return home after a long sojourn. I want him to aid in the protection of my family, the source of my faith and belief. I need St. Christopher's help.

I want to find those prayer cards because they symbolize the deep faith that is necessary to survive in a harsh and trying world. Every day, life furnishes proof and evidence that tempts us to question what we believe. I want to find my prayer cards because part of me wants them to hold answers.

But those cards -- just like many of the rituals and traditions we participate in at this time of year -- are merely symbols. St. Jude will not overcome hardship for anyone. St. Christopher will not cross an ocean unscathed. Christmas trees and menorahs will not right wrongs or protect those we love. The symbols of our religions don't hold solutions. They merely signify the power that faith can have.

The solutions are found in believing and in sharing that belief, that faith, with those who need it, to strengthen their own resolve. A thousand prayers to 1,000 saints will not help those in need. They are personal statements of faith. To give aid in times of crisis, to help others carry on from day to day, we need to share that faith, and we need to do it all year long. Faith is constant, it lasts. Our troubles fade away and the things that remain, the people, this world, those are the things worth believing in.

The last prayer card I'm trying to find bears an image of the Infant of Prague, the child Jesus. I want to pray to him and tell him that I have found my faith, that I believe in the people I love. An old Catholic text once said that those who called upon the Infant of Prague would "receive assistance in danger, consolation in sorrows, aid in poverty, comfort in anxiety, light in spiritual darkness, streams of grace in dryness of soul, health in sickness, and hope in despair."

We live in a world with all those things, where those afflictions can strike those we love. We receive our assistance, at this time of year as in all others, from our faith in each other. We can let streams of grace into the lives of others if we express our belief in them.

I still cannot find my prayer cards. I'll have to begin without them.

(Tom Bednar is a Cavalier Daily opinion editor.)


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