Monday, January 21, 2013



I have long had ambiguous feelings about praying for people or asking for prayers from people. I spend a lot of time praying for friends, public figures, and even for random strangers. I’m not at all shy about asking people to pray for me. (In fact, while I’m on the subject, please say a prayer for me and my family and I will say at least one for you and yours. Thanks.) Catholics regularly ask the saints to pray for us. One of our most beautiful prayers is the Memorare, a prayer of petition to the Blessed Mother that concludes

O Mother of the Word Incarnate,

despise not my petitions,

but in your mercy, hear and answer me.


So why am I do have such ambiguous feelings about mutual prayer?

Leave aside for a moment, as grist for another mill, whether we should be asking God for anything beyond knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out. God is, after all, not some kind of cosmic short order cook. See my 12/30/12 LBJ AND THE INSCRUTABILITY OF THE LORD. I still have problems with praying for people and having people pray for me, even though I still believe that prayer for others is one of our most important jobs in life and an activity in which I regularly and enthusiastically engage and I ask people, all of you included, for your prayers. Why?

Praying for others seems to assume that God has to be talked into doing good things for us. We sometimes have an image of God as some kind of almighty curmudgeon, or worse, who really is looking for an opportunity to flick us into hell, or otherwise wreak havoc on our lives, at the slightest provocation. He must be appeased…or else. And what better way to appease Him but to request that someone, especially someone on His good side, ask Him to do something nice for us, or at least to go easy on us? As Christians, and especially as Catholics, we consider Mary to be as close to Him as one could possibly get. He can’t refuse His mother, right? So let’s ask Mary to bring our requests, permissions, etc., to Him, and maybe He’ll accede to our requests.

This whole notion seems absurd. God is, after all, love. He wants to do what is best for us and is always striving to do what is best for us. The problem is our cooperation and the cooperation of other people with His plans for good for us, but I digress. He doesn’t have to be talked into inundating us with manifestations of His love; that’s what He does as a loving Father. And He’s not going to do what is bad for us or give us things we shouldn’t have, no matter how much we ask His mother to nag Him about it. And, by the way, Mary is not going to nag her Son to do what we want simply because we want it.

So it seems nonsensical to ask people to ask God to do things He already intends to do and pointless and harmful to ask people to ask God to do things He doesn’t want to do because they are not in His loving plan for us. As St. Peter tells us (1 Peter 5, 6)

“Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you.”

and the author of Hebrews tells us (Hebrews 13, 5)

“…for he has said ‘I will never forsake you or abandon you.’”

And he means NEVER, but I digress.

And yet…

Those who have heralded God’s message often, almost characteristically, ask us to pray for each other. St. James (James 5, 16) writes

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.”

The author of the letter, or the homily, to the Hebrews says (Hebrews 13, 19):

“I especially ask for your prayers that I may be restored to you very soon.”

St. Paul tells us in his second letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 1, 11):

“…as you help us with prayer so that thanks may be given by many on our behalf for the gift granted us through the prayers of many.”

And again in his first letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 5, 25):

“Brothers, pray for us, too.”

These are only two of the many instances in which Paul asks for prayers; the ends of his letters are filled with such requests.

So if prayers to a loving God to do loving things are unnecessary, why do His heralds frequently ask for prayers and advise us to pray for each other?

I, like all you, don’t know. But, as usual, I have a theory. Prayer for others is a gift not to the person prayed for but for the person doing the praying. Prayer benefits primarily the prayER not the prayEE. God is already taking care, or trying to take care, of the person prayed for. But the person who prays for someone else grows in love not only for the person for whom s/he is praying but also for God Himself…or Herself.

Any reason to talk to God is a good reason. But talking to God on behalf of someone else is living out His command of love of and service to each other.

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