Overheard in the Office

Two coworkers were talking a few cubicles away from me and one said “If you believed in asking the saints to pray for you, which I don’t, maybe you should ask John Knox to pray, because he’s probably not too busy.” The insinuation is that Catholics are keeping their saints busy. If only it were so!

The conversation continued with chuckles and with an assurance that there is a hole in the Catholic theology of the “Communion of the Saints.” I listened and immediately wondered what I would do the next time one of my coworkers asked me to pray for them. Am I any more qualified to lift their concern in intercession to God? Just because I am on earth, how is my prayer more effective than the prayer of one who is in the very presence of God?

I know that the idea of asking the saints to pray with us and for us is foreign, even abominable to many who identify as Protestants or Evangelicals. The ironic thing is that the joke was being made by someone who should know better, but that is not the point of this article.

The point is that the Church is one, whether in heaven or on earth. The writer of Hebrews tells us in chapter 12, after giving us a run down of the faith of many Old Testament saints, that “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” Mary Healy in her commentary on the book of Hebrews writes: “As we run this race, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, as if filling the stands of a huge sports arena. They are the saints of the old covenant (now joined by those of the new covenant), who are rooting for us and passionately interested in the outcome of our lives.”

These are more than pictures or statues or memories in a dusty history book; they are real, living (more living than ever) saints who have won the victory and are in the very presence of God and of the Lamb in heaven. We are united not only in prayer, but also every time we celebrate the Mass which draws heaven and earth together through the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb that was slain before the foundation of the world for their sin and ours.

The book of Revelation gives us another clue to this amazing ministry the saints have in heaven. In chapter 5, verse 8, John writes: “And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.”

Now of course the unfounded argument or accusation is that Catholics pray to the saints, somehow elevating them to a divine status reserved only to Jesus. This, of course, is not true. What is true is seeing the saints as any other member of the Body of Christ whose main role is to continue to be part of that Body and care for one another. So when you ask me to pray for you, you are not divinizing me, but asking me to fulfill my God-given role of ministering to you as part of the Body of Christ. When I ask St. Francis de Sales to pray for me, I am not divinizing him, but asking him to intercede on my behalf.

One of the great gifts that my Catholic faith has given me is recognizing that death does not separate us. We are in the Church Militant; the saints are in the Church Triumphant; but it is one Church and Jesus Christ is our Head. Another benefit of the gift is knowing I have earthly and heavenly intercessors pulling for me rooting for me and passionately interested in the outcome of my life.

 

Overheard in the Office

Prayers for Our Pope

Now more than ever we need to be in prayer for Pope Francis. Let us lift him in prayer especially this week as he seeks the Holy Spirit’s direction.

O God, the Shepherd and Ruler of all Your faithful people, mercifully look upon Your servant Francis, whom You have chosen as the chief Shepherd to preside over Your Church. We beg You to help him edify, both by word and example, those over whom he has charge, that he may reach everlasting life together with the flock entrusted to him. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Almighty and Everlasting God, have mercy on Your servant Francis, our Supreme Pontiff, and direct him, according to Your loving kindness, in the way of eternal salvation, that with Your help he may ever desire that which is pleasing to You and accomplish it with all his strength. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Lord Jesus, shelter our Holy Father the Pope under the protection of Your Sacred Heart. Be his light, his strength and his consolation.

Prayers taken from “Our Catholic Prayers

Prayers for Our Pope

I’ll Say a Little Prayer for You

When we were first married, my wife used to ask me to “whisper a prayer” whenever a situation would arise. At that time I thought her expression was quaint, maybe even lacking a degree of seriousness. However, it was not like her to not take prayer seriously. In those years of our marriage when prayer was struggle for me, Charlotte was steadfast and committed to “whisper up” a prayer that always seemed very effectual.

My track record with prayer was somewhat spotty. My reputation on prayer was “when all is said and done, more is said than done!” In seminary I took a class on prayer with a requirement to write a final paper. I didn’t get the paper in, but my professor gave me the grade anyway. He retired at the end of the semester. When I confessed the paper fail to his successor, he told me to write the paper and get it to him. That was 36 years ago!

I’m not saying I didn’t pray. I did, probably not as consistently as someone in ministry should have, but I prayed. And it always felt like a burden to pray for everyone I should pray for, and it took a lot of energy to state to God how those prayers should be answered. I am being a little facetious, but pastors are good at framing prayers to either instruct the listeners or give coaching hints to God on how everything should come down.

I dabbled in all kinds of prayer techniques and programs: “Change the World School of Prayer,” praying for the “10-40 Window,” “Freedom in Christ” prayers, “Concerts of Prayer,” 24-7 prayer, prayer retreats, all good in and of themselves, but after a while I would have to move on to something else.

Over many years, and especially in the last five, I have learned that the key components to prayer are first, making time for it, second is a commitment to pray for specific people, specific needs and specific causes, third is the commitment to spend that time with Jesus. A growing conviction in my life has been the challenge from Jesus himself, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:40-41, NRSV).

For me it started by incorporating a daily prayer guide. I started with Phyllis Tickle’s multi-volume Divine Hours. From there I moved on to the Book of Common Prayer. And as I was journeying into the Catholic Church and to the present I have made the Divine Office: Liturgy of the Hours my daily companion. I couple that with the Saint Paul Daily Missal that incorporates the readings and prayers of the Mass.

That is great! But how do I pray effectively for the concerns that I have, the people who ask me for prayer, and the burdens I sense from the world around me? Over time I have developed quite a list of prayers and pray concerns. There are prayers that I pray every day, prayers have a specific day focus, and even a monthly focus. I incorporate well-known prayers from the Church as well as ask for the intercession of my patron saint and other saints who are known to have specific concern for marriages, different illnesses, and world affairs.

I would be remiss if I did not mention again the important place the Rosary has played in my devotional life and growing discipleship. Who better to guide and instruct us in prayer than the one who knew how to ask of her Son, and then who tells us “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5 NRSV). Another great gift to prayer is spending time in the Adoration Chapel. There, as I sit or kneel before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, I can wait before Him, open my heart and leave with Him the concerns that He wants me to share. I have been privileged to spend specific time there praying for my bishop, my priest, my loved ones, my friend who is soon to announce his resignation as pastor to come into the Catholic Church and many other things to come.

I love to pray, now! I haven’t written that paper, but Jesus has been writing it on my heart. So, “I’ll say a little prayer for you!”

I’ll Say a Little Prayer for You