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.
Note: The President spoke at 9:00 a.m. in the International Ballroom at the Washington Hilton Hotel. He was introduced by Representative Ralph Regula of Ohio.