Prayer Breakfasts – Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan – National Day Of Prayer TV Add
Remarks at the Annual National Prayer Breakfast
February 5, 1981
Mr. Chairman, Congressman Hefner, and all of you ladies and gentlemen:
Nancy and I are delighted to be here, and I want to thank you for the day in my life that you recognized in starting off my celebration of my 31st anniversary of my 39th birthday. [Laughter] But to all of you, to the many who are here from across the world and the different lands—and as the chairman told us earlier, I was surprised to learn that we are joined this morning by meetings of this kind in places that might be surprising to some: on naval vessels, military bases, even in penal institutions, all across our land.
You have taken Nancy and me back to a nostalgic time, because I have found myself remembering at occasions like this, in a hotel dining room not quite so grand or not quite so large, but the Governor’s Breakfasts of Sacramento. And they were always enriching, spiritual experiences, and I think maybe—I haven’t checked with Nancy about her—but I think for both of us I could say that this morning we are freed from the last vestige of homesickness.
I would like to tell just a little story. It was given to me by a friend on a printed card, author unknown. Now, I don’t know how widely this has been distributed, or whether some of you or many of you are aware of it. I’m going to tell it anyway.
This unknown author wrote of a dream and in the dream was walking down the beach beside the Lord. And as they walked, above him in the sky was reflected each stage and experience of his life. Reaching the end of the beach, and of his life, he turned back and looked back down the beach and saw the two sets of footprints in the sand, except that he looked again and realized that every once in a while there was only one set of footprints. And each time there was only one set of footprints, it was when the experience reflected in the sky was one of of despair, of desolation, of great trial or grief in his life.
And he turned to the Lord and said, “You said that if I would walk with You, You would always be beside me and take my hand. Why did You desert me? Why are You not there in my times of greatest need?” And the Lord said, “My child, I did not leave you. Where you see only one set of footprints, it was there that I carried you.”
Abraham Lincoln once said, “I would be the most foolish person on this footstool earth if I believed for one moment that I could perform the duties assigned to me without the help of one who is wiser than all.” I know that in the days to come and the years ahead there are going to be many times when there will only be one set of footprints in my life. If I did not believe that, I could not face the days ahead.
Remarks at the Annual National Prayer Breakfast
February 4, 1982
Thank you very much, John, all our friends and distinguished guests here at the head table, and all of you very distinguished people. Nancy and I are delighted to be with you this morning, and are honored to be here.
General Dozier, I know you don’t like being praised for what you only consider was doing your duty. Forgive me, I’m going to pull rank on you. [Laughter] We want to give thanks to God for answering our prayers. We want to salute the Italian authorities for their brilliant rescue, and, Jim, we just want to thank both you and Judith for your gallantry. Welcome home, soldier.
Someone once said that a hero is no braver than any other man. He’s just brave 5 minutes longer. Well, General, you were brave 42 days longer. And now we know why prayer breakfasts are a time for praise and celebration.
Last year, you all helped me begin celebrating the 31st anniversary of my 39th birthday. [Laughter] And I must say that all of those pile up, an increase of numbers, don’t bother me at all, because I recall that Moses was 80 when God commissioned him for public service, and he lived to be 120. [Laughter] And Abraham was 100 and his wife Sarah 90 when they did something truly amazing— [laughter] —and he lived to be 175. Just imagine if he had put $2,000 a year into his IRA account. [Laughter]
Those of you who were here last year might remember that I shared a story by an unknown author, a story of a dream he had had. He had dreamt, as you recall, that he walked down the beach beside the Lord. And as they walked, above him in the sky was reflected each experience of his life. And then reaching the end of the beach, he looked back and saw the two sets of footprints extending down the way, but suddenly noticed that every once in a while there was only one set of footprints. And each time, they were opposite a reflection in the sky of a time of great trial and suffering in his life. And he turned to the Lord in surprise and said, “You promised that if I walked with You, You would always be by my side. Why did You desert me in my times of need?” And the Lord said, “My beloved child, I wouldn’t desert you when you needed Me. When you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”
Well, when I told that story last year, I said I knew, having only been here in this position for a few weeks, that there would be many times for me in the days ahead when there would be only one set of footprints and I would need to be carried, and if I didn’t believe that I would be, I wouldn’t have the courage to do what I was doing.
Shortly thereafter, there came a moment when, without doubt, I was carried. And now, we’ve seen in General Dozier’s life such a moment. Well, God is with us. We need only to believe. The Psalmist says, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”
Speaking for Nancy and myself, we thank you for your faith and for all your prayers on our behalf. And it is true that you can sense and feel that power.
I’ve always believed that we were, each of us, put here for a reason, that there is a plan, somehow a divine plan for all of us. I know now that whatever days are left to me belong to Him.
I also believe this blessed land was set apart in a very special way, a country created by men and women who came here not in search of gold, but in search of God. They would be free people, living under the law with faith in their Maker and their future.
Sometimes, it seems we’ve strayed from that noble beginning, from our conviction that standards of right and wrong do exist and must be lived up to. God, the source of our knowledge, has been expelled from the classroom. He gives us His greatest blessing, life, and yet many would condone the taking of innocent life. We expect Him to protect us in a crisis, but turn away from Him too often in our day-to-day living. I wonder if He isn’t waiting for us to wake up.
There is, as Pete so eloquently said, in the American heart a spirit of love, of caring, and a willingness to work together. If we remember the parable of the Good Samaritan, he crossed the road, knelt down, and bound up the wounds of the beaten traveler, the Pilgrim, and then carried him into the nearest town. He didn’t just hurry on by into town and then look up a caseworker and tell him there was a fellow back out on the road that looked like he might need help.
Isn’t it time for us to get personally involved, for our churches and synagogues to restore our spirit of neighbor caring for neighbor? But talking to this particular gathering, I realize I’m preaching to the choir. If all of you worked for the Federal Government, you would be classified as essential. We need you now more than ever to remind us that we should be doing God’s work on Earth. We’ll never find every answer, solve every problem, or heal every wound, but we can do a lot if we walk together down that one path that we know provides real hope.
You know, in one of the conflicts that was going on throughout the past year when views were held deeply on both sides of the debate, I recall talking to one Senator who came into my office. We both deeply believed what it was we were espousing, but we were on opposite sides. And when we finished talking, as he rose he said, “I’m going out of here and do some praying.” And I said, “Well, if you get a busy signal, it’s me there ahead of you.” [Laughter]
We have God’s promise that what we give will be given back many times over, so let us go forth from here and rekindle the fire of our faith. Let our wisdom be vindicated by our deeds.
We are told in II Timothy that when our work is done, we can say, “We have fought the good fight. We have finished the race. We have kept the faith.” This is an evidence of it.
I hope that on down through the centuries not only is this great land preserved but this great tradition is preserved and that all over the land there will always be this one day in the year when we remind ourselves of what our real task is.
God bless you. Thank you.
Remarks at the Annual National Prayer Breakfast
February 3, 1983
Thank you all very much, all our friends and distinguished guests here at the headtable and all of you very distinguished people.
General Vessey,1 I’m terribly tempted to call for a vote right now on the defense budget. [Laughter]
1Gen. John W. Vessey, Jr., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff .
Nancy and I are delighted to be with you here this morning.
You know, on the way over, I remembered something that happened a long time ago when teachers could talk about things like religion in the classroom. And a very lovely teacher was talking to her class of young boys, and she asked, “How many of you would like to go to heaven?” And all the hands instantly shot into the air at once, except one, and she was astounded. And she said, “Charlie, you mean you don’t want to go to heaven?” He said, “Sure, I want to go to heaven, but not with that bunch.” [Laughter]
Maybe there’s a little bit of Charlie in each of us. [Laughter] But somehow I don’t think that wanting to go to heaven, but only on our terms, and certainly not with that other bunch, is quite what God had in mind. The prayer that I sometimes think we don’t often use enough—and one that I learned a few years ago and only after I had gotten into the business that I’m in—is one of asking forgiveness for the resentment and the bitterness that we sometimes feel towards someone, whether it’s in business dealings or in government or whatever we’re doing, and forgetting that we are brothers and sisters and that each of them is loved equally by God as much as we feel that He loves us.
I’m so thankful that there will always be one day in the year when people all over our land can sit down as neighbors and friends and remind ourselves of what our real task is. This task was spelled out in the Old and the New Testament. Jesus was asked, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” And He replied, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. The second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Can we resolve to reach, learn, and try to heed the greatest message ever written-God’s word and the Holy Bible. Inside its pages lie all the answers to all the problems that man has ever known.
Now, I am assuming a new position; but I should warn our friends in the loyal opposition, this new job won’t require me to leave the White House. With the greatest enthusiasm, I have agreed to serve as honorary chairman for the Year of the Bible.
When we think how many people in the world are imprisoned or tortured, harassed for even possessing a Bible or trying to read one—something that maybe we should realize how—and take advantage of what we can do so easily. In its lessons and the great wealth of its words, we find comfort, strength, wisdom, and hope. And when we find ourselves feeling a little like Charlie, we might remember something that Abraham Lincoln said over a hundred Years ago: “We have forgotten the gracious hand that preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own . . . we have become too proud to pray to the God that made us!” Well, isn’t it time for us to say, “We’re not too proud to pray”?
We face great challenges in this country, but we’ve faced great challenges before and conquered them. What carried us through was a willingness to seek power and protection from One much greater than ourselves, to turn back to Him and to trust in His mercy. Without His help, America will not go forward.
I have a very special old Bible. And alongside a verse in the Second Book of Chronicles there are some words, handwritten, very faded by now. And, believe me, the person who wrote those words was an authority. Her name was Nelle Wilson Reagan. She was my mother. And she wrote about that verse, “A most wonderful verse for the healing of the nations.”
Now, the verse that she’d marked reads: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven • . . and will heal their land.”
I know that at times all of us—I do—feel that perhaps in our prayers we ask for too much. And then there are those other times when we feel that something isn’t important enough to bother God with it. Maybe we should let Him decide those things.
The war correspondent Marguerite Higgins, who received the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting because of her coverage of the Korean war, among all her writings had an account one day of the Fifth Company of marines who were part of an 18,000-man force that was in combat with a hundred thousand of the enemy. And she described an incident that took place early, just after dawn on a very cold morning. It was 42 degrees below zero. And the weary marines, half frozen stood by their dirty, mud-covered trucks, eating their breakfast from tin cans.
She saw one huge marine was eating cold beans with a trench knife. His clothes were frozen stiff as a board; his face was covered with a heavy beard and crusted with mud. And one of the little group of war correspondents who were on hand went up to him and said, “If I were God and could grant you anything you wished, what would you most like?” And the marine stood there for a moment, looking down at that cold tin of beans, and then he raised his head and said, “Give me tomorrow.”
Now I would like to sign a proclamation which will make 1983 the Year of the Bible. And I want to thank Senator Bill Armstrong and Representative Carlos Moorhead and all those inside and outside of Congress who assisted them and made this all possible. Thank you, and God bless you. And I’m going down and sign the proclamation.
Remarks at the Annual National Prayer Breakfast
February 2, 1984
Thank you, Mark, and thank all of you ladies and gentlemen. Before I say what I was planning to say this morning, Senator Javits, you concluded your readings with a prayer, and so, of course, I know, understood that we are—all of us—accustomed not to applauding prayer. But I can’t help but think that all of us here have a hunger within us to applaud you for your presence here and what you have meant to this gathering. [Applause]
And, Barbara, I had a terrible fear there for a few moments that you were going to make anything I had to say redundant. [Laughter] But I think that maybe the two fit together.
We all in this room, I know, and we know many millions more everywhere, turn to God in prayer, believe in the power and the spirit of prayer. And yet so often, we direct our prayers to those problems that are immediate to us, knowing that He has promised His help to us when we turn to Him. And yet in a world today that is so torn with strife where the divisions seem to be increasing, not people coming together, within countries, divisions within the people, themselves and all, I wonder if we have ever thought about the greatest tool that we have—that power of prayer and God’s help.
If you could add together the power of prayer of the people just in this room, what would be its megatonnage? And have we maybe been neglecting this and not thinking in terms of a broader basis in which we pray to be forgiven for the animus we feel towards someone in perhaps a legitimate dispute, and at the same time recognize that while the dispute will go on, we have to realize that that other individual is a child of God even as we are and is beloved by God, as we like to feel that we are.
This power of prayer can be illustrated by a story that goes back to the fourth century. The Asian monk living in a little remote village, spending most of his time in prayer or tending the garden from which he obtained his sustenance—I hesitate to say the name because I’m not sure I know the pronunciation, but let me take a chance. It was Telemacmus, back in the fourth century. And then one day, he thought he heard the voice of God telling him to go to Rome. And believing that he had heard, he set out. And weeks and weeks later, he arrived there, having traveled most of the way on foot.
And it was at a time of a festival in Rome. They were celebrating a triumph over the Goths. And he followed a crowd into the Colosseum, and then there in the midst of this great crowd, he saw the gladiators come forth, stand before the Emperor, and say, “We who are about to die salute you.” And he realized they were going to fight to the death for the entertainment of the crowds. And he cried out, “In the name of Christ, stop!” And his voice was lost in the tumult there in the great Colosseum.
And as the games began, he made his way down through the crowd and climbed over the wall and dropped to the floor of the arena. Suddenly the crowds saw this scrawny little figure making his way out to the gladiators and saying, over and over again, “In the name of Christ, stop.” And they thought it was part of the entertainment, and at first they were amused. But then, when they realized it wasn’t, they grew belligerent and angry. And as he was pleading with the gladiators, “In the name of Christ, stop,” one of them plunged his sword into his body. And as he fell to the sand of the arena in death, his last words were, “In the name of Christ, stop.”
And suddenly, a strange thing happened. The gladiators stood looking at this tiny form lying in the sand. A silence fell over the Colosseum. And then, someplace up in the upper tiers, an individual made his way to an exit and left, and others began to follow. And in the dead silence, everyone left the Colosseum. That was the last battle to the death between gladiators in the Roman Colosseum. Never again did anyone kill or did men kill each other for the entertainment of the crowd.
One tiny voice that could hardly be heard above the tumult. “In the name of Christ, stop.” It is something we could be saying to each other throughout the world today.
Now, several days ago while I was very concerned about what I was going to say here today and trying to think of something to say, I received through diplomatic channels a message from far out across the Pacific. Sometime ago, our Ambassador presented to General Romulo of the Philippines the American Medal of Freedom. Not only had he been a great friend of the United States in our time of war, but then he had spent 17 years as an Ambassador here in Washington, from his country to ours. And for whatever reason, he sent this message of thanks to me for the medal that had been given, and then included the farewell statement that he had made when he left Washington, left this country, after those 17 years.
And I had to confess, I had never been aware that there had been such a farewell message, and I’m quite sure that many of you hadn’t. And so, I’m going to share it with you. I think it fits what we’re talking about today. He said, “I am going home, America. For 17 years, I have enjoyed your hospitality, visited every one of your 50 States. I can say I know you well. I admire and love America. It is my second home. What I have to say now in parting is both tribute and warning.
“Never forget, Americans, that yours is a spiritual country. Yes, I know you’re a practical people. Like others, I’ve marveled at your factories, your skyscrapers, and your arsenals. But underlying everything else is the fact that America began as a God-loving, God-fearing, God-worshiping people, knowing that there is a spark of the divine in each one of us. It is this respect for the dignity of the human spirit which keeps America invincible.
“May you always endure and, as I say again in parting, thank you, America, and farewell. May God keep you always, and may you always keep God.”
Remarks at an Ecumenical Prayer Breakfast in Dallas, Texas
August 23, 1984
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, very much. And, Martha Weisend, thank you very much. And I could say that if the morning ended with the music we have just heard from that magnificent choir, it would indeed be a holy day for all of us.
It’s wonderful to be here this morning. The past few days have been pretty busy for all of us, but I’ve wanted to be with you today to share some of my own thoughts.
These past few weeks it seems that we’ve all been hearing a lot of talk about religion and its role in politics, religion and its place in the political life of the Nation. And I think it’s appropriate today, at a prayer breakfast for 17,000 citizens in the State of Texas during a great political convention, that this issue be addressed.
I don’t speak as a theologian or a scholar, only as one who’s lived a little more than his threescore ten—which has been a source of annoyance to some— [laughter] -and as one who has been active in the political life of the Nation for roughly four decades and now who’s served the past 3 1/2 years in our highest office. I speak, I think I can say, as one who has seen much, who has loved his country, and who’s seen it change in many ways.
I believe that faith and religion play a critical role in the political life of our nation—and always has—and that the church—and by that I mean all churches, all denominations—has had a strong influence on the state. And this has worked to our benefit as a nation.
Those who created our country—the Founding Fathers and Mothers—understood that there is a divine order which transcends the human order. They saw the state, in fact, as a form of moral order and felt that the bedrock of moral order is religion.
The Mayflower Compact began with the words, “In the name of God, amen.” The Declaration of Independence appeals to “Nature’s God” and the “Creator” and “the Supreme Judge of the world.” Congress was given a chaplain, and the oaths of office are oaths before God.
James Madison in the Federalist Papers admitted that in the creation of our Republic he perceived the hand of the Almighty. John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, warned that we must never forget the God from whom our blessings flowed.
George Washington referred to religion’s profound and unsurpassed place in the heart of our nation quite directly in his Farewell Address in 1796. Seven years earlier, France had erected a government that was intended to be purely secular. This new government would be grounded on reason rather than the law of God. By 1796 the French Revolution had known the Reign of Terror.
And Washington voiced reservations about the idea that there could be a wise policy without a firm moral and religious foundation. He said, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man (call himself a patriot) who (would) labour to subvert these . . . finest [firmest] 1 props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere Politician . . . (and) the pious man ought to respect and to cherish (religion and morality).” And he added, “… let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion.”
1 White House correction.
I believe that George Washington knew the City of Man cannot survive without the City of God, that the Visible City will perish without the Invisible City.
Religion played not only a strong role in our national life; it played a positive role. The abolitionist movement was at heart a moral and religious movement; so was the modern civil rights struggle. And throughout this time, the state was tolerant of religious belief, expression, and practice. Society, too, was tolerant.
But in the 1960’s this began to change. We began to make great steps toward secularizing our nation and removing religion from its honored place.
In 1962 the Supreme Court in the New York prayer case banned the compulsory saying of prayers. In 1963 the Court banned the reading of the Bible in our public schools. From that point on, the courts pushed the meaning of the ruling ever outward, so that now our children are not allowed voluntary prayer. We even had to pass a law—we passed a special law in the Congress just a few weeks ago to allow student prayer groups the same access to schoolrooms after classes that a young Marxist society, for example, would already enjoy with no opposition.
The 1962 decision opened the way to a flood of similar suits. Once religion had been made vulnerable, a series of assaults were made in one court after another, on one issue after another. Cases were started to argue against tax-exempt status for churches. Suits were brought to abolish the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance and to remove “In God We Trust” from public documents and from our currency.
Today there are those who are fighting to make sure voluntary prayer is not returned to the classrooms. And the frustrating thing for the great majority of Americans who support and understand the special importance of religion in the national life—the frustrating thing is that those who are attacking religion claim they are doing it in the name of tolerance, freedom, and open-mindedness. Question: Isn’t the real truth that they are intolerant of religion? [Applause] They refuse to tolerate its importance in our lives.
If all the children of our country studied together all of the many religions in our country, wouldn’t they learn greater tolerance of each other’s beliefs? If children prayed together, would they not understand what they have in common, and would this not, indeed, bring them closer, and is this not to be desired? So, I submit to you that those who claim to be fighting for tolerance on this issue may not be tolerant at all.
When John Kennedy was running for President in 1960, he said that his church would not dictate his Presidency any more than he would speak for his church. Just so, and proper. But John Kennedy was speaking in an America in which the role of religion-and by that I mean the role of all churches—was secure. Abortion was not a political issue. Prayer was not a political issue. The right of church schools to operate was not a political issue. And it was broadly acknowledged that religious leaders had a right and a duty to speak out on the issues of the day. They held a place of respect, and a politician who spoke to or of them with a lack of respect would not long survive in the political arena.
It was acknowledged then that religion held a special place, occupied a special territory in the hearts of the citizenry. The climate has changed greatly since then. And since it has, it logically follows that religion needs defenders against those who care only for the interests of the state.
There are, these days, many questions on which religious leaders are obliged to offer their moral and theological guidance, and such guidance is a good and necessary thing. To know how a church and its members feel on a public issue expands the parameters of debate. It does not narrow the debate; it expands it.
The truth is, politics and morality are inseparable. And as morality’s foundation is religion, religion and politics are necessarily related. We need religion as a guide. We need it because we are imperfect, and our government needs the church, because only those humble enough to admit they’re sinners can bring to democracy the tolerance it requires in order to survive.
A state is nothing more than a reflection of its citizens; the more decent the citizens, the more decent the state. If you practice a religion, whether you’re Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, or guided by some other faith, then your private life will be influenced by a sense of moral obligation, and so, too, will your public life. One affects the other. The churches of America do not exist by the grace of the state; the churches of America are not mere citizens of the state. The churches of America exist apart; they have their own vantage point, their own authority. Religion is its own realm; it makes its own claims.
We establish no religion in this country, nor will we ever. We command no worship. We mandate no belief. But we poison our society when we remove its theological underpinnings. We court corruption when we leave it bereft of belief. All are free to believe or not believe; all are free to practice a faith or not. But those who believe must be free to speak of and act on their belief, to apply moral teaching to public questions.
I submit to you that the tolerant society is open to and encouraging of all religions. And this does not weaken us; it strengthens us, it makes us strong. You know, if we look back through history to all those great civilizations, those great nations that rose up to even world dominance and then deteriorated, declined, and fell, we find they all had one thing in common. One of the significant forerunners of their fall was their turning away from their God or gods.
Without God, there is no virtue, because there’s no prompting of the conscience. Without God, we’re mired in the material, that flat world that tells us only what the senses perceive. Without God, there is a coarsening of the society. And without God, democracy will not and cannot long endure. If we ever forget that we’re one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under.
If I could just make a personal statement of my own—in these 3 1/2 years I have understood and known better than ever before the words of Lincoln, when he said that he would be the greatest fool on this footstool called Earth if he ever thought that for one moment he could perform the duties of that office without help from One who is stronger than all.
I thank you, thank you for inviting us here today. Thank you for your kindness and your patience. May God keep you, and may we, all of us, keep God.
Remarks at the Annual National Prayer Breakfast
January 31, 1985
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. It’s very good to be here again. I look forward to this meeting every year more than any other. And I want to personally welcome our guests from other countries to Washington, our Capital. We’re happy to have you here with us.
I would like to say something more about this National Prayer Breakfast and how it came about. We’ve already heard some of the history from representatives of the two Houses. But I think some of the story may be unknown, even to a few of our hosts from the Congress here today. Back in 1942, at the height of World War II, a handful of Senators and Congressmen discussed how they might be of personal and spiritual support to one another. If they could gather now and then to pray together, they might discover an added resource, which would be of sustaining value. And so, very informally, they began to meet.
In time, in both the House and Senate groups, some informal rules evolved. The members would meet in the spirit of peace and in the spirit of Christ, but they need not be Christians. All members would be welcome, regardless of their political or religious affiliation. Sincere seekers, as well as the deeply devoted, all on a common journey to understand the place of faith in their lives and to discover how to love God and one’s fellow man.
They wouldn’t publicize the meetings, nor would they use them for any kind of political gain. The meetings would be off the record. No one would repeat what was said. And, above all, the members could talk about any personal problem on which they needed guidance, any sadness for which they needed prayers.
Well, the two groups met quietly and with no fanfare for 10 years. And then President Eisenhower, as we’ve been told, came into the story. In 1952, when he was running for President, one of his most important strategists, and a fine man—was a fine man, a Senator named Frank Carlson. I guess he was kind of Ike’s Paul Laxalt. [Laughter] One night, out on the campaign trail, Eisenhower confided to Senator Carlson that during the war, when he was commanding the Allied forces in Europe, he had had a spiritual experience. He had felt the hand of God guiding him and felt the presence of God. And he spoke of how his friends had provided real spiritual strength in the days before D-day. Senator Carlson said he understood, that he himself was getting spiritual strength from members of a little prayer group in the Senate.
A few months later, just a few days after he was sworn in as President, Eisenhower invited Frank Carlson over to the White House. He said, “Frank, this is the loneliest house I’ve ever been in. What can I do?” And Carlson said, “I think this may be a good time for you to come and meet with our prayer group.” And Eisenhower did. In 1953 he attended the first combined Prayer Breakfast. And Presidents have been coming here for help ever since. And here I am.
The prayer meetings in the House and Senate are not widely known by the public. Members of the media know, but they have, with great understanding and dignity, generally kept it quiet. I’ve had my moments with the press, but I commend them this day, for the way they’ve worked to maintain the integrity of this movement.
Some wonderful things have come out of this fellowship. A number of public figures have changed as human beings, changed in ways I’d like to talk about, but it might reveal too much about the membership. Fellowships have begun to spring up throughout the Capitol. They exist now in all three branches of the Government, and they have spread throughout the capitals of the world, to parliaments and congresses far away.
Since we met last year, members of the fellowship throughout the world have begun meeting with each other. Members of our Congress have met with leaders and officials from other countries, approaching them and speaking to them, not on a political level, but a spiritual level.
I wish I could say more about it, but it’s working precisely because it is private. In some of the most troubled parts of the world, political figures who are old enemies are meeting with each other in a spirit of peace and brotherhood. And some who’ve been involved in such meetings are here today.
There are many wars in the world and much strife, but these meetings build relationships which build trust, and trust brings hope and courage.
I think we often forget in the daily rush of events the importance in all human dealings of the spiritual dimension. There are such diversities in the world, such terrible and passionate divisions between men, but prayer and fellowship among the great universe of God’s believers are the beginning of understanding and reconciliation. They remind us of the great, over-arching things that really unite us.
In this job of mine, you meet with so many people, deal with so many of the problems of man, you can’t help being moved by the quiet, unknown heroism of all kinds of people—the Prime Minister of another country who makes the bravest of brave decisions that’s right, but may not be too popular with his constituency; or the fellow from Indiana who writes to me about some problems he’s been having and what he did to solve them.
You see the heroism and the goodness of man and know in a special way that we are all God’s children. The clerk and the king and the Communist were made in His image. We all have souls, and we all have the same problems. I’m convinced, more than ever, that man finds liberation only when he binds himself to God and commits himself to his fellow man.
Will you forgive me if I repeat a story that I told here last year? It’s a story that goes back to the fourth century. There was an Asian monk living in a little remote village, tending his garden, spending much of his time in prayer. And then one day, he thought he heard the voice of God telling him to go to Rome. Well, he obeyed the Lord’s command, and he set out on foot. And many weary weeks later, he arrived in the capital city of the Roman Empire at the time of a great festival that was going on in Rome. And the little monk followed the crowd that was surging down the streets into the Colosseum. He saw the gladiators come forth, stand before the Emperor, and say, “We who are about to die salute you.” And, then, he realized these men were going to fight to the death for the entertainment of the crowd. And he cried out, “In the name of Christ, stop!” And as the games began, he fought his way down through the crowd, climbed over the wall and dropped to the floor of the arena. And when the crowd saw this tiny figure making his way out to the gladiators, saying, “In the name of Christ, stop,” they thought it was part of the entertainment. And they began laughing. But when they realized it wasn’t, then their laughter turned to anger. And as he was pleading with the gladiators to stop, one of them plunged a sword into his body, and he fell to the sand of the arena, and as he was dying, his last words were, “In the name of Christ, stop.” Then a strange thing began to happen. The gladiator stood looking at the tiny figure lying there in the sand. A hush fell over the Colosseum. Way up in the upper tiers, a man stood and made his way to the exit. Others began to follow. In dead silence, everyone left the Colosseum. And that was the last battle to the death between gladiators in the Roman Colosseum. Never again in the great stadium did men kill each other for the entertainment of the crowd. And all because of one tiny voice that could hardly be heard above the tumult. One voice that spoke the truth in God’s name.
I believe we witness here this morning that that voice is alive today. May it continue to rise above the tumult and be heard. Thank you so much. And God bless you.
Remarks at the Annual National Prayer Breakfast
February 6, 1986
In all the 36 anniversaries of my 39th birthday, this has certainly been— [laughter] —the most memorable. George, Barbara, all of you up here on the top shelf together with me and all of you ladies and gentlemen, I am enormously touched. Yes, today is my birthday. Seventy-five years ago, I was born in Tampico, Illinois, in a little flat above the bank building. We didn’t have any other contact with the bank than that. [Laughter] Now, here I am, sort of living above the store again. [Laughter]
I’m very happy to be here. And I’d like to begin the remarks that I have with something that I did mention last year, so those of you who are here forgive me, because I’d like to touch on it again. It has to do with the history of this breakfast and the groups associated with it. The story begins in 1942, at the height of World War II. In those days there were a handful of Senators and Congressmen who’d get together now and then to talk about their lives and their jobs and how things were going for them. And one day they talked about how they might be of greater personal and spiritual support to one another. They decided it would be a real help if they could occasionally gather and pray together. And so they began to pray together.
In time, in both the House group and the Senate group, some very important informal rules evolved. The Members would meet in the spirit of peace and in the spirit of Christ. All Members would be welcome, regardless of their political or religious affiliation. There was room enough for sincere seekers and the deeply devout. They’d never publicize the meetings, and they’d never use them for political gain. But most important, the Members would be able to talk about any problem on which they needed guidance, any sadness for which they needed prayers. And everything would be off the record, so no one would have to worry about the betrayal of a confidence. Well, the two groups, one in the House and one in the Senate, met quietly like this for 10 years.
And then President Eisenhower came into the story. One night in 1952 during the Presidential campaign, Dwight Eisenhower confided something to one of his advisers, a close friend, Senator Frank Carlson. And Eisenhower told him that during the war when he was commanding the allied forces in Europe, he’d had a startling and vivid spiritual experience—he had actually felt the hand of God guiding him, felt the presence of God. And the general told the Senator that this experience and the support of his friends had given him real spiritual strength in the hard days before D-day. Senator Carlson said he understood. He, himself, was getting spiritual help from the Members of a little prayer group in the Senate. And a few months later, the general, who was now the President, asked Frank Carlson over to the White House. And he told him, “Frank, this is the loneliest house I’ve ever been in.” Carlson said, “Mr. President, I think this may be the right time for you to come and meet with our prayer group.” And Eisenhower did just that. In 1953 he attended the first combined prayer breakfast.
And ever since, Presidents have been coming here for help and assistance—and here I am. The prayer meetings continue, as I’m sure you know, in the Senate and in the House. Other prayer meetings have sprung up throughout the Government in every branch. And other fellowships have spread throughout the capitals of the world and parliaments and congresses far away. This is good news, isn’t it? A cause for joy. And every year when I come here I think, “Isn’t it something that this good, strong thing came out of a war?” Out of a tragedy came a triumph. That’s a saving grace about sadness. Sometimes the very tears you shed can moisten the soft from which great things will grow. I think the playwright Eugene O’Neill was touching on this when he said, “The impulse of tragedy is on to life and more life.”
Last week, when the shuttle exploded, we hadn’t, as a nation, had a tragedy like that that we actually witnessed it as it happened. And as I watched the coverage on television, I thought of a poem that came out of a war. And it became literally the creed of America’s flyers all over the world. I quoted a line from that poem when I spoke on TV the night of the tragedy. That poem was written by a young man named [John G.] Magee. He was 19 years old, a volunteer in the Canadian Air Force. He was an American, but he’d gone there before our country was in the war. He was killed 4 days after Pearl Harbor, but he left something that does live on—that poem. It says:
“Oh, I’ve slipped the surly bonds of earth and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings.
Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling north of sun-split clouds and done a hundred things you have not dreamed of.
Wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence, hovering there I’ve chased the shouting wind along and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air—up, up to the long, delirious burning blue I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace, where never lark or even eagle flew.
And while with silent lifting mind, I’ve trod the high untrespassed sanctity of space, put out my hand and touched the face of God.”
I used to think it was a poem about the joy of escaping gravity, but even more, it’s a poem about joy. And God gave us joy; that was His gift to us. We’ve all been sad the past week, and yet there was something good about the way we wept together as we said goodbye and suddenly re-remembered that we are a family. And now the time has come to remember the words of the Bible, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” A minister who spoke at the memorial service the other day said he hoped we all remembered not just the grief but the grandeur and the grace of life. Much of that grandeur comes from the joy that God gave us.
All of us know of that wonderful individual, Mother Teresa, that living saint. If you’ve ever met Mother Teresa, you know what I mean. She’s probably thrust into your hand a pamphlet telling you to love Christ. She wouldn’t mind my saying that she’s no longer young. If she were here she’d say, “Look who’s talking.” [Laughter] But she is no longer young, and she’s not always well. But she’s inexhaustible. You may have heard of her trip to Ethiopia at the height of the famine. She got there after a terribly long journey, but went without pause straight to a food distribution center. Thousands of those people crowded around her trying to touch her. She stood there and shook hands, 10,000 of them. And later she was asked, “How could you do that? Weren’t you exhausted?” And she said, “It’s my faith that feeds me.”
Well, sometime back, a Senator approached her when she was visiting Washington and said, “Mother, the problems of the world are so terrible and things look so bad, what can we do?” She said, “Love God.” Different things impel different people. Mother Teresa is impelled by joy. She sings like a woman in love and she is-in love with God. She’s a great example of the truth of a great paradox: that mankind can find freedom only in surrender, joy only in submission, wealth only in what we give away, and safety only in a promise-God’s promise of life everlasting.
Mother Teresa shines with joy in spite of the fact that she spends so much of her time in the unhappiest places on this Earth. If you look at the world stage, you don’t see a lot to make you glad, but in the midst of hellish circumstances—in Mexico after the earthquake, in Ethiopia during a famine, in South Africa and Angola and Nicaragua—in all those painful places we still see joy, God’s gift, and the energy that it gives.
There are perhaps 3,000 of us here in this room. The wealthy and the powerful, those who’ve known neither wealth nor power. We have teachers here and diplomats, in. mates from a local reformatory, captains of industry are here and so are just morns and dads and insurance salesmen and people that do things like that—such diverse lives. And yet we all have in common the usual problems of life, the usual difficulties. And we’re trying to achieve some kind of happiness while, in the process, causing as little pain to others as possible. We have so much in common—we share an anchor that roots us in the heavy seas, and that anchor is the joy that God gave us. Let our thoughts today be of how man harnesses his sadness and turns it into triumphant work. And that’s what I wish for all of us in this room—that in our individual work this year, we will fight on for what’s right and good and resist the badness that is in us and that we’ll do it with joy, because God gave that as a gift to be used.
If I had a prayer for you today, among those that have all been uttered, it is that one we’re so familiar with: The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.
Thank you, and God bless you all.
Distinguished clergy and Senators and Congressmen, guests, all our good friends: Nancy and I are delighted to be here with you today. It gives one a very good feeling to see so many of our national leaders here, and so many representatives of other countries, gathering together in a community of faith. Two hundred years ago another group of statesmen gathered together in Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation and bring forth our Constitution. They often found themselves at odds, their purpose lost in acrimony and self-interest, until Benjamin Franklin stood up and said: “I have lived a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?” And then he called upon the convention to open each day with prayer.
How, with so much against them, could our Founding Fathers have dared so much, to declare for all the world and all future generations the rights of man, the dignity of the individual, the hopes of all humanity? Was it because they believed that God was on their side? Or was it because they prayed to discover how they might be on God’s side? Our Founding Fathers knew that their hope was in prayer. And that’s why our Declaration of Independence begins with an affirmation of faith and why our Congress opens every day with prayer. It is why the First Congress of the fledgling United States in the Northwest Ordinance provided for schools that would teach “religion, morality, and knowledge”—because they knew that no man, no nation, could grow in freedom without divine guidance.
If I might be allowed a personal note here. When I attended the commencement ceremonies at the Air Force Academy, I was surprised at how many of the graduating cadets came up to me, hand extended—930 in all—and told me they were praying for me. When I mentioned this to the commanding general, he told me that every morning you could find several hundred cadets in the chapel beginning their day with prayer. Hardly a day goes by that I’m not told—sometimes in letters and sometimes by people I meet—that they’re praying for me. It’s a warm but humbling feeling. Sometimes I answer when someone says that; I feel I have to say something. And I tell them that if they ever get a busy signal, it’s because I’m in there ahead of them. [Laughter]
I grew up in a home where I was taught to believe in intercessory prayer. I know it’s those prayers, and millions like them, that are building high and strong this cathedral of freedom that we call America; those prayers, and millions like them, that will always keep our country secure and make her a force for good in these too troubled times. And that’s why as a nation we must embrace our faith, for as long as we endeavor to do good and we must believe that will be always—we will find our strength, our hope, and our true happiness in prayer and in the Lord’s will.
I’d like to conclude with a story that is told by Dr. Paul Brand, the noted leprosy specialist, in his book “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made.” Dr. Brand tells us of how, after World War II, a group of German students-young people—volunteered to help rebuild a cathedral in England that had been a casualty of the Luftwaffe bombings. And as the work progressed, debate broke out on how best to restore a large statue of Jesus with his arms outstretched and bearing the familiar inscription: Come Unto Me. Careful patching could repair all damage to the statue except for Christ’s hands, which had been destroyed by bomb fragments. Should they attempt the delicate task of reshaping those hands? And finally the young workers reached a decision that still stands today. The statue of Jesus has no hands, but the inscription now reads: Christ Has No Hands But Ours. Isn’t that really what he was always trying to tell us? Trying to tell us that we must be the hands, as we’ve heard so eloquently here by so many already today.
Well, thank you all. God bless you all.
Remarks at the Annual National Prayer Breakfast
February 4, 1988
You know, hearing these wonderful young men from Wheaton College here took me down memory lane a little bit, because some years ago, before they were born, and possibly before some of their fathers were born— [laughter] —I played football against Wheaton College. And it’s kind of nice that I can say here—if one of them asked me—it ended in a tie game. [Laughter]
At the risk of sounding facetious, I just want to say here in this room—and as has been so eloquently stated by the people who’ve spoken already—about the uniqueness of how all of us, from so many different heritages, have come together here in the name of that one man. I have long been unable to understand the atheist in this world of so much beauty. And I’ve had an unholy desire to invite some atheists to a dinner and then serve the most fabulous gourmet dinner that has ever been concocted and, after dinner, ask them if they believe there was a cook. [Laughter]
But I want to thank each of you for being here today and for sharing with us the spiritual message that God has placed in your hearts. God’s love shines through every word. His truth is the ultimate power source, and it’s always there. It’s available to ministers of the Gospel, Presidents, and the local grocery clerk. His comforting hand—well, I could never carry the responsibilities of this high office without it.
Our forefathers drew on the wisdom and strength of God when they turned a vast wilderness into a blessed land of plenty called the United States of America. God has truly blessed this country, but we never should fall into the trap that would detract from the universality of God’s gift. It is for all mankind. God’s love is the hope and the light of the world.
Recently a letter found its way to my desk, I’m pleased to say, and in that letter was a copy of a prayer. It was sent to me by a woman who had lost her husband in World War II. This prayer had been written and delivered in a shell hole during World War II. It read:
Hear me, oh God; never in the whole of my lifetime have I spoken to You, but just now I feel like sending You my greetings.
You know, from childhood on, they’ve always told me You are not. I, like a fool, believed them.
I’ve never contemplated your creation, and yet tonight, gazing up out of my shell hole, I marveled at the shimmering stars above me and suddenly knew the cruelty of the lie.
Will You, my God, reach your hand out to me, I wonder? But I will tell You, and You will understand. Is it not strange that light should come upon me and I see You amid this night of hell?
There’s nothing else I have to say. This, though: I’m glad that I’ve learned to know You.
At midnight we’re scheduled to attack. But You are looking on, and I am not afraid.
The signal. Well, I guess I must be going. I have been happy with You.
This more I want to say. As You well know, the fighting will be cruel, and even tonight I may come knocking at Your door. Although I have not been a friend to You before, still, will You let me enter now, when I do come?
Why, I’m crying, oh God, my Lord. You see what happens to me: Tonight my eyes were opened.
Farewell my God, I’m going, and I’m not likely to come back. Strange, is it not, but death I fear no longer.
And he did not come back. This prayer was found on the body of a young Russian soldier killed in action in 1944. I also received some letters—five letters, in fact-from Russian soldiers in Afghanistan who had deserted their government and their army. Each one of them wrote a letter to me and in that letter revealed their belief in God and that they had deserted not out of fear of battle but because they could not carry out the unholy orders that had been given them.
And just last week, one of those five—we did get them out. Their plea was for sanctuary. One of those five was in my office, a handsome young man in his early twenties. And it was evident—and not only from his letter but from his words—when he was thanking me for what we had done, that he believed in God. And I asked him how much religion did he believe there was in his own country. And he said, well, among young people like myself, it is spreading fast.
So, I know with all of us here, brought together, as we’ve been told so often this morning, in His name—I just thank you, and God bless you all.