Thursday, July 28, 2011

Let Us Pray

  One of the prefaces for weekday Masses says, "You have no need of our praise, yet the very desire to praise you is itself your gift."  These words provide food for thought regarding the meaning of prayer and why we pray. While I pray every day (and hope you do as well) over the past few months several requests for prayer have captured more than the usual amount of attention for me. From the viewpoint of "outcome" the results have been very different.

   A few months ago a good friend contacted me and asked me to pray for a baby named Evangeline who was born prematurely and had several medical complications. There was a good chance that she would not make it.  Not only did I set about praying for this child and her parents, I asked my Franciscan community to pray for her, and several communities of sisters as well. In addition to that many other friends have been praying for her While Evangeline is not entirely out of the woods she has made great promise and looks to be on her way.   In her case it appears that our prayers have been answered. Certainly the whole story is eloquent testimony to the power of prayer.

   At just about the same time that I heard about Evangeline I was asked to pray for a 2 year old who fell into a swimming pool.  I engaged the same people in prayer and the child's family and circle of friends  spread the request for prayer. Unfortunately the child died.  What are we to make of this?  Both parents are good, practicing Catholics, people of strong faith.  Was one prayer answered and the other not?  This question, of course, as been on the minds of Catholics and others over the centuries.  How do we explain this.

    I wouldn't begin to try to explain the mind of God, but I will say that our prayers are always answered.  I'm sure that the family of the child who drowned in the pool continued to pray and found strength in their grief as a result of this.  In fact I know this to be true.  Deeper than this fact however is the need to understand why we pray and what is means to ask God for something.  When we understand this it puts things into perspective.

   Why do we pray?  The ultimate purpose of prayer is not to get God to do things for us, but rather to seek union with God, to grow in relationship with God. While I don't believe that God sits in heaven and thinks "Hmmm, I think that those folks on earth need a little sickness, death, tragedy and disaster," these things are part of life.  They remind us that life is fragile and that we are finite.  Because of this they open us to the need for God.  Our illusion of total self-sufficiency is shattered by these things.  They open us to God then and our first instinct, which is a good one, is to ask God to take away our pain and suffering, or that of someone we love.  It is easy to believe that our prayer is heard when we get the desired outcome.  When we do not we need to understand that if the ultimate goal of prayer is union with God, then God will indeed be with us when we open our hearts with our desires.  What happens then is that God gives us strength and comfort when we don't get the results we want.  God will always be there.  God's promise to us is not that if we have faith all of our problems will be taken away, but rather that we will never be abandoned. I found this to be true back in 1992 when our family got word from the doctors that my mother would die of cancer.  She had battled for 5 years and during that time we constantly prayed that she would live.  When we found out otherwise we were sad of course, but we found that God gave us all great strength, and my mother went to her death peacefully knowing that she was loved by her husband and three children.  The whole experience brought us closer to God.

   As that line from the Mass preface that I quoted at the beginning says God does not need our praise, our prayer, but we need God.  Hopefully we go to God everyday to open our hearts in prayer and to present whatever is there--a request, a plea for forgiveness, a prayer of praise  and adoration, or one of gratitude. If we do that we will draw ever closer to God and be ever more mindful of God's presence with and among us.

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