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What's the best way to help friends in need? Probably prayer.

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Nov 14, 2013

Yesterday I was running down the list of people who have asked for my prayers, and I realized that if I had unlimited funds, and could write a million-dollar check to each one of them, nobody would drop off that list.

To be sure, we have friends who are in difficult financial circumstances. We try to help, as we can, from our own limited means. But in every case, the money problems stem from some other difficulty—and I’m happy to say that in each case, the people involved realize that money alone won’t solve their problems.

If I had the power to heal physical illnesses, I could cross several people off my prayer list. Still most of the names would remain.

But if I could somehow heal psychological and emotional problems, my list would quickly shrink toward zero names. In the vast majority of cases, my friends’ needs involve damaged relationships, psychic wounds, fears and dreads and compulsions and regrets and feelings of loss and pangs of guilt. Happily, these are exactly the sorts of problem that can be cured through faith. “When the cares of my heart are many, thy consolations cheer my soul.” [Ps 94:19]

Now I realize that I live in a reasonably comfortable town, in a very affluent nation. In other places I would find more people with purely material needs. Yet I suspect my situation is fairly typical for an American. As Christians we are called to help those around us who are in need, and in most cases those needs are psychological, emotional, and in the final analysis spiritual.

Pope Francis constantly emphasizes our obligation to help the poor. At the same time he reminds us that the Church is not an NGO, not a social-welfare agency. In one of his more memorable images, he likened the Church to a field hospital, treating the wounded. Just so. In the Western world today, most of the wounds are emotional.

A related observation: I am acquainted with a number of families (including my own) that survived some tough financial times. In every case, the crisis eventually passed because of a better employment situation for the breadwinner. Not once was a government program any part of the solution. Does that mean that all welfare programs are worthless? No. But it does suggest that for someone in my position, while prayer might be the most effective way to help friends in need, lobbying for larger government programs might be the least.

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  • Posted by: shrink - Nov. 14, 2013 11:11 AM ET USA

    With the exception of mental illnessnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disease, or neurological disorders such as autism, almost all emotional distress can trace its roots back to a spiritual problem. The root cause is, of course, to be found in the garden of Eden, but more proximately, it surfaces over and over again in families where someone did not respond to a spiritual healing and as a result developed emotional problems which were transmitted to other family members.

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