Written by: Bro. Brian Poulin
Saturday of the Eighteenth Week of Ordinary Time
By the time this post appears on-line, I will have just finished serving at a weeklong Marist Youth Leadership Camp held near Crown Point, Indiana. Due to the necessities of time management however, I am writing before the camp even begins—it’s going to be a busy and exciting week! During this camp, one particular task of mine involves delivering a presentation to high school sophomores about the importance of praying for each other. Marists in the USA typically conclude our communal prayer with the exhortation: “let us remember to pray for each other,” but who might be included in that mutual prayer commitment, and what might that prayer look like?
Promises of prayer are not all too uncommon, but how often are they fulfilled? I’ve heard it suggested that prayer for another person often begins and ends with the promise to pray for that individual. Yet, I am blessed to know a number of prayerful individuals who don’t tell me they will pray for me but rather that they regularly do so. When I was inspired some time ago to follow the example of our Venerable Bro. Alfano Vaser, who purportedly “never went to God alone,” my first consideration was who should I ensure that I pray for most regularly. To me it was clear that I have a particular responsibility to pray for those who I know pray for me, those who rely on me in a particular way, those with whom I live, and those to whom I look for leadership and guidance. I try to make all these people part of my daily prayers. I’ll pray for others as situations arise or as they come across my mind during times of prayer. If you are a reader of this blog whom I know personally, I can almost guarantee that I pray for you by name at least occasionally.
Prayer for another isn’t quite the same thing as thinking warm thoughts or sending good vibes—after all, one of Jesus’ most shocking directives is that we should pray for our enemies, including those that actively persecute us. Prayer for another is indeed a loving act, but one that neither excuses nor enables abhorrent behavior. One can pray for oppressor and oppressed at the same time, not because doing so favors the respective earthly agendas of each, but rather because presenting them before God expresses my desire that God touches and remakes their hearts however necessary… just as I try to open my own heart to being touched and remade by God. I may be either troubled or consoled by similarities that the Spirit reveals to me between myself and those I bring to prayer—have I either myself harmed others or experienced suffering that I have previously refused to acknowledge? In either case, my compassion and sense of humility should be spurred to growth.
Trying to see with God’s eyes and feel with God’s heart won’t always make me more peaceful—perhaps anger that I bring with me to prayer may be validated or even strengthened in the face of gross injustice. If I am truly praying instead of wallowing in my own agenda however, I may be given the grace of setting personal antipathies aside regardless. After all, I don’t want rage arising from indignance at unjust suffering to become corrupted by personal hatred or a thirst for vengeance. The former may be righteous and holy, but the latter is surely demonic.
Prayer in general is an occasion to either seek clarity or to simply present our confusion and ambivalences before God: prayer for another helps me to appropriately remember that each person I encounter and those I will never meet all share the divine inheritance of bearing God’s image and likeness, regardless of what they have done or what they have endured. Praying for others not only brings them into my relationship with God, but hopefully reminds me to bring God into my relationships with them.
Whether I remember you during the times I deliberately set aside for prayer, or instead remember you in prayer when the events of my day bring you to mind, know that I indeed pray for you. And when all else fails, when we can’t remember who we promised to pray for in spite of our good intentions, there is always the old standby:
“Let us pray for those who we promised to pray for.” Even if we have never met and I know neither your name nor face, you are one of those that I promise to pray for, at least in my prayers today.
This week’s ‘ear candy’, from the incomparable Aretha Franklin, describes praying for somebody throughout the course of a normal morning. It’s an intriguing strategy… is there anybody that you are reminded to pray for whenever you chop onions? The ‘brain food’ provides an opportunity to reflect on what happens when doctrine becomes infected by virulent political ideology and decoupled from human compassion. May remembering to pray for each other save us from the temptations of extremism and easy answers.
Ear Candy: “I Say a Little Prayer” by Aretha Franklin
Brain Food: “'The Terrorists Perceived Themselves to be Christians'” by Lexi McMenamin
Come back on the first Saturday of next month for a new post!