Last week I spoke with a mother who is struggling to pay tuition. She wanted to keep her three children in Catholic school, but she wasn't sure how she and her husband would afford it. Even with generous tuition assistance, it would shatter the family budget. It was one of those stark moments where desires collide with facts. On the criteria of the world, it wasn't going to work.
In these conversations, I try to offer hope and optimism even while knowing that the school and I cannot guarantee any outcomes. As we neared the end of our conversation, I spoke the last thing that came to mind: "This payment is a mountain for you and your family. Let's pray to move a mountain."
Almost as soon as I said it, I doubted its usefulness. In the face of her disappointment, I felt I had offered a terrible cliche, a platitude of the worst sort. But of course it wasn't. Jesus himself tells the apostles: "For truly, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you" (Mt 17:20). At another time, He says, "Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you receive it, and you will" (Mark 11:23-24).
As I thought about my discomfort with what I had said and compared it to the words of Jesus, I relearned something I easily forget. Jesus urges us to be bold, even foolish in our requests. He encourages us to pray audaciously. His metaphors leave no room for doubt: when we work with Him, we get to hope for the impossible. To be sure, we must pray from and within total faith in God, and we must ask with the right motives (cf James 4:3). But those qualifications don't diminish the force of Jesus' command. Christ doesn't want a timid faith. He wants confidence in the Kingdom of God.
I don't know how tuition assistance plays out in the court of heaven; I'm sure there's more than one scripture scholar who would tell me that such requests are not what Jesus had in mind. But I do know that for the mother I met with, the financial hurdles don't seem like obstacles, they seem like mountains. For her and her family, therefore, I will pray that God moves some earth.