Archbishop Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan tells an interesting story about one of his prison guards. The Archbishop was imprisoned by the Communists for 13 years, 9 of them in solitary confinement. The guards tried to be stern and unfriendly towards him, but by his gentleness and his respectful attitude towards them he gradually won them over to be his friends.
One of the guards was being transferred to another prison duty, and he came to say good-bye to the Archbishop. They spoke kind words of appreciation to each other. As they parted, the Archbishop asked the guard to remember him in prayer, and the guard said that he would.
Finally in 1988 the Archbishop was released from prison and placed under house arrest. He was given some freedom of movement, and one day in the street he happened to meet the guard who had promised to pray for him. He told the guard that he had been released on November 21st, the feast of the Presentation of Our Lady, and asked the guard if he had kept his promise to pray for him. The guard said that he had kept his promise, and told how he did it.
He told the Archbishop that soon after his transfer from the prison he went to the Catholic Church where there is the shrine of the Virgin, and he spoke to her. He said to her, “Dear Lady, please forgive me. I do not know how to pray. You see, I am a Communist. But I have a friend, Mr. Francis, who is in prison. I told him I would pray for him, and I want to keep my promise. So I ask you as a favor to look after Mr. Francis. Protect him from harm, and if it is possible get him released from prison”.
It gave the Archbishop great joy to tell this story, of how a man who thought he was a godless Communist could find the words to speak to the Mother of God as one of her children. No one taught him what to say. The words came straight from his heart.
It is my hope that this simple story will help people who have difficulty praying, or who think they may only pray with words that have been composed in Rome or in some Church office.
The official prayers of the Church may be impressive when they are prayed in gorgeous vestments and grand ceremonies, but God does not judge by appearances. “God does not see as man sees. Man only sees the appearances, but God looks into the heart” (1 Samuel, 16,7)
When Archbishop Thuan told the story of the prayer of his Communist guard, I think he was just telling us that a simple prayer from a sincere heart is the prayer that will touch the heart of God.