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Wildfire Halted by the Prayers of an Old Lady

On October 14, 2017, a headline on a news website caught my attention: “As everything around him burned, one Napa man’s house somehow survived.” The headline — and the article that followed — was published on the SFGATE.com website, a sister-site of the San Francisco Chronicle. Here’s how the article began:

It was 2 a.m. Monday morning. Dr. Kenny Omlin of Napa was in the process of getting his family off their 11-acre estate as flames from the Atlas Fire rapidly approached. He opened his car door and saw his 80-year-old mother sitting in the passenger seat, clutching a rosary and praying.

“When I first saw her, I was like ‘Seriously?’ It’s the middle of the night, there are flames coming, and she’s just sitting there praying,” Omlin told SFGATE. “I didn’t say this out loud, obviously, but I wanted to say: ‘This is no time to pray. We need to get out of here.’”

Omlin was tasked with evacuating six people from his property, including his wife, his mother, his 84-year-old father, his brother who has Down syndrome, and his two children, a 10-day-old and a 20-month-old.

“We were right in harm’s way,” he said. “And it took us two hours to get off the property.”

Omlin and his family drove away as flames started to consume their property on Monticello Road, about a quarter mile from where the Atlas Fire started.

As he left, Omlin was certain that everything would burn.

After they escaped from the fire, the Omlins drove to the small house of their nanny, where they could stay until they figured out where they were going to live.

Two days later, Omlin was able to secure a police escort to return to his home to assess the damage. When he returned, he found that his house and the house where his parents and brother lived were untouched. “The only thing near us that was still standing was a vineyard down the hill beneath us,” Omlin said. “Everything else was torched.”

There was one more thing that was burned on Omlin’s property: A statue of Mary. “It was so surreal,” Omlin said. “Remembering my mom and the rosary, and then to see the Madonna sitting there.”

“I will never forget this moment,” Omlin said. “When I saw my mom and that rosary, I wanted to say, ‘I believe in prayer, but right now we need to move. This is not the time for praying.’ I felt so bad. But when I saw the statue, I said, ‘Shame on you Kenny.’”

So here are some questions I would like for you to consider: What was going on in the mind and heart of Omlin’s mother while she sat quietly in his car praying her rosary? Was she afraid? Did she have faith that the Mother of God would intercede for her and her family?

You may remember the incident that was reported by Saint Matthew, when a man asked Jesus to cure his son:

“Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic, and he suffers terribly; he often falls into the fire and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.” Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:15-20

The vast majority of Catholics have no idea how powerful the rosary is when it is prayed by a person who has the faith that the Mother of God will hear and respond to their request.

Unfortunately, most Catholics believe that the rosary is nothing more than an outdated ritual for old, uninformed people. They see no value in repeating the same prayers over and over again. What’s the use in reciting the same prayers? Why bother? Here are a few of the reasons why there is value in praying a daily rosary:

  1. The rosary is a prayer that any person who has the ability to think can learn, regardless of age, occupation, status, education, or financial ability. It is truly a prayer for all humanity.
  2. The rosary is a prayer that requires a certain degree of humility and an acknowledgement that we really aren’t as sophisticated as we think we are. People who are full of pride don’t pray the rosary. It’s too simple a prayer. Too repetitive. Too trivial. They don’t need it. They have too many more important things to do with their time.
  3. Praying the rosary reduces us to being viewed as children in the eyes of God — children who are turning to their spiritual mother for love, guidance, protection, and support. It was our Lord Himself who said that we must be like children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Over the centuries, numerous popes and saints have said that after the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours (the prayers priests are required to recite every day), the rosary is the greatest prayer in the Catholic Church.

The word rosary literally means “a crown of roses” that is given to the Blessed Mother as a spiritual bouquet.

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen had this to say about the rosary:

The rosary is the book of the blind, where souls see and there enact the greatest drama of love the world has ever known; it is the book of the simple, which initiates them into the mysteries and knowledge more satisfying than the education of other men; it is the book of the aged, whose eyes close upon the shadow of this world, and open on the substance of the next. The power of the rosary is beyond description.

You’re never too old to learn this great prayer. The question is, are you willing to open your mind and heart and make the commitment to incorporate this powerful prayer into your life?

While the prayers of Omlin’s mother may have stopped the fire from destroying her family’s buildings and personal belongings, her prayers may also end up saving some of her family members’ souls from the fires of Hell. That should be a sufficient reason for every Catholic to pray a daily rosary.

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One Response to “Wildfire Halted by the Prayers of an Old Lady”

  1. Sister Roberta Houlihan, CSJ Says:

    Dear Georgette and Harry –
    I love the story of the Power of Our Lady’s Rosary, said with Faith! Thank you for this faith-filled account of Mary’s Intercession for us through her Rosary. I sometimes wonder why it wasn’t until 1500 that Our Lady taught Benedict – I think it was- to pray the Rosary! She must have had her reasons to wait until then to teach us about it.
    Blessings and prayerful love – Sister Roberta

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