Scriptures, both the Old Testament and the New Testament are dotted with admonition, request and command to pray for others. The kings and prophets prayed for their people, Jesus pleaded with his Father for his disciples, and the apostles prayed for the flock entrusted to their care. Praying for others is not only charity but it is a mission entrusted to all the baptised. Perhaps this Work of Charity can be the easiest act we can do during this Year of Mercy.
Moses said, “If now I have found favour in Your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go along in our midst, even though the people are so obstinate, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your own possession.” (Exodus 34:9)
In his letter to the Christians of Philippi St. Paul wrote, When I pray for you, I pray with joy. And he continued, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” Matthew 5:44. St. John, the Beloved apostle of the Lord dedicates a whole chapter in his gospel to the Prayer of Jesus for his disciples. Jesus’ preaching is accompanied by his prayer for the hearers.
In Jesus’ message and Church’s practice prayer supersedes all the activities. We are asked to resort to prayer not only in difficult situations, but all the time. When praying for others we not only do charity to others but we also do favour for our self. Our attitude towards others is changed for the better and we our self are blessed by the prayers we offer for others.
The following Prayer of Blessing that we pray and make on others in the Franciscan tradition explains it all.
May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.
May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.
May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.
May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really can make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.
Prayer and its result can be paradox. In praying for others we can only wish good things for them, lest they will not be heard. When we wish good things for others, God in his mercy gives us good things beyond measure. Indeed in praying for others we pray for ourselves! In desiring good things for others we offer ourselves not only good things to ourselves but bring down God’s blessing on ourselves. Praying for others is the most practical way of bringing spirituality in action. When we pray for an individual we cannot wish bad for that person; knowingly and unknowingly we build spiritual rapport with that person and eventually we love the person.
Christ wants our prayer to go beyond selfish interests. When we begin our prayer, most often they are prayers of petition and intercession for the oneself praying. We ask, we ask and we ask God… for something or other. When we have failed to receive we get frustrated with our prayer and with God Himself. There is an inherent meaning in what Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name I am in their midst.” Because when we pray as a community our prayers are not selfish; we go beyond ourselves and our personal needs. The fact that we have come together with others, it is already charity in action and when we begin our common prayer we are more likely pray for the interest of the community and others. Where charity reigns Christ reigns.
Basing on Jewish tradition we are also invited to pray for the dead. For the departed loved ones, the only thing we can meaningfully offer to them is prayer. Once again, this prayer we make for others also puts our life in right perspective. Prayer for the departed souls brings alive to our mind our imminent death, that we all need to face it.
While most of us would rather not admit it, there is one undeniable fact we all must face—sooner or later, we all will die. But until then we avoid not to think about it. But spiritual masters and Catholic practices of piety teaches that the thought of death and praying for good death will help us to live well. It will surely prepare us to meet our Creator better prepared. Perhaps, we have not been paying attention to this prayer when we pray the Hail Mary—”Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”
A thoughtful Christian spirituality helps us to understand death positively. We are invited to accept death with Christian resignation. Praying for the Dead is a cherished Christian tradition, especially in the Catholic Church. The only thing that we can do for the departed soul is to pray and recommend the soul to God’s mercy. It is a way of preparing for our own death.
The following words of St. Paul explains best the charity we can do for others through our prayers for the living and the dead: “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness… We are exhorted to pray for others – including our country’s leaders, our authorities at work and elsewhere, our church leaders, our co-workers, friends, and family. (1 Timothy 2:1-5)
(Article published in Munno Voice, newspaper in Uganda, February 2016)
Themes: Lent, Works of Mercy, Prayer)