25 May 2020

I Will Pray for You”

Blessed Memorial Day ~ Please remember to pray for those who gave their lives in service to our country, and to their families.

To the nearly one-third of all our neighbors who do not affiliate with any organized religion, these five little words have no more meaning than “have a nice day!”  To some “nonaffiliated,” these words can even set off a hostile reaction, interpreted as a feel-good dodge from taking any concrete action and self-sacrifice.  Yet in this pandemic, prayer is precisely what we need, and our neighbors need to know that we pray for them.  As we phase gently out of isolation, so too our opportunities grow to let others know they are in our prayers. 

Your simple “I will pray for you” might be the key that unlocks someone’s heart to the presence of God.

 But what if we are asked about prayer?  What happens in prayer?  True, it is a “conversation with God.”  But what kind of conversation?  Can we really “change” God’s mind about something?  Plead and move the Trinity to action?  Inform God of a tragedy or need that has somehow escaped His attention?  Is God something like social media, unmoved to take action until a prayer request hits a determined number of “views” or “likes”?

Questions about prayer reach all the way back to Jesus’ disciples.  The disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray.  Jesus advises prayer should be private, persistent, and simple, for “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him,” and they will be answered. (Matt 6:5-8, Lk 11:1-13) But if God knows we need before we ask, why ask?  If He can be moved by our nagging, what kind of wishy-washy God do we follow? How would we answer the unaffiliated about prayer? 

The answer?  Prayer must be much more than conversation and asking (although that’s certainly part of it!).

The Teachers of the Early Church provide insight.  St. Irenaeus reminds us that God doesn’t need our prayers.  The desire to pray is always a response to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  God invites, we respond.  We pause, and turn our sight and attention inward, and upward, to God.  St. John of Damascus says prayer is the raising of the heart and mind to God.  From the moment we decide to pray, we pause and lift our hearts and minds to God.  St. Thomas Aquinas tells us from the moment we decide to pray, we order our lives unto God, we are lifted up and transformed, we become more fully alive in Divine Life, which is pleasing to God who delights in sharing His Divine Life.

In prayer, two become one.  We place our hearts in the hands of God, who lifts us up and continues His work conforming us to the image of His Son.  Two share their joys, sorrows, desires, and rest in one another.  You may say, “This is beginning to sound more like a love relationship than just asking for stuff.”  And you are right!

Reflecting on St. Francis’ prayer, St. Bonaventure writes, “Jesus Christ … always ‘rested like a bundle of myrrh in the bosom’ (Songs 1:13) of Francis’ soul, and he longed to be totally transformed into Him by the fire of ecstatic love.”

How can two become one in prayer?  For several weeks our Gospel readings have reflected on Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit into us, that He and the Father may make their dwelling within us. 

Christian prayer is unique. We pray from within the Trinity, within their divine life.  We are drawn into the dynamics of the life of the Trinity, whose Body and Blood we eat and drink, in whom we are sealed in Baptism and Confirmation, whose image is restored in Reconciliation.  Through the death and resurrection of the Son, God has opened the Trinitarian Life and included us in their Divine Life and Love.  When we pray “in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” we pray with Jesus’ arm around us, helping us, lifting us to the Father, and we are embraced and enveloped in the Love, the Holy Spirit, between the Father and the Son.

Time spent in prayer is time spent in Love.

Do our prayers impact the world?  You bet!  In prayer, We and Christ become one.  We share our joys, sorrows, desires, and rest in one another, and, in Christ, with the His mystical body, the Church.  In Christ, the Church has direct, loving communion with one another at the level of our very being.  My desire for your happiness, conformed to and perfected by Christ, in Christ has a direct impact on you, and through Christ to the Father, the grounding of all creation, has impact on all that is.

Prayer is Love, active Love in the life of the Trinity.  The desire to pray is the desire of Love, and conforms us to the image of Christ, in thought, word, and action.  (How far from a “feel-good dodge!”) 

Next time, consider saying, “Out of Love, I will pray for you,” and invite others into the Love we have found and share.

Out of Love, I ask the Blessed Virgin Mary, all the angels and saints, and you my brothers and sisters, to pray for me, as I will pray for you.

Deacon Jeff

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