For What Shall We Pray?
My email inbox contains multiple requests for prayers everyday. I receive requests from people I have known throughout the years asking me to pray for their friend, relative or co-worker. Sometimes prayers are requested for issues of injustice or violence taking place in the world. I seldom know or will ever know the people who I am being asked to hold in prayer. And then there is the long list of people and circumstances in my own life or the lives of my loved ones needing prayer.
I am beginning to understand those who feel called to contemplative religious life. If I try to devote my time to pray for all those asking or in need of my prayers, I am committing to a full-time 24/7 prayer apostolate! But I have not been called to a life in the cloister. I have work, family, community obligations needing my time and attention. So “for what shall I pray?” And for how long and for whom? And really does it do any good?
This year someone I believed to be a man of true holiness, Fr. John Kavanaugh, SJ became ill. He was well-known nationally and well-loved locally. More people than his family will ever know prayed for his healing and recovery. We prayed and waited and prayed some more. But no healing came and he died last November.
I think Fr. Kavanaugh would be the first to remind us, our prayers were not in vain. After all the scriptures tell us to “knock and the door will be opened, ask and it will be given.” And we know the parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge. Jesus points to her as a worthy example of how to approach God, bombarding the heavens with constant and unrelenting demand for resolution to our problems and needs.
And yet, we also know how often ours prayers do not result in our desired outcome. So why pray? If God is going to allow pain, suffering and violence to continue despite the prayers and intentions of people of good will, why do we bother? These are questions we hear often from non-believers and those who feel their prayers were not heard or ignored.
I think we continue to pray because we rely on the three great virtues of faith, hope and love. We pray in faith not knowing what the future will hold. In faith, we trust in God’s infinite care and love. In faith we depend on the eternal wisdom of a God whose plan is beyond our understanding. So we pray for miracles and trust in the end, God’s will is done.
In hope, we continue to desire less pain, less suffering and less violence in the lives of those we know and love and for the world. In hope, we pray for miracles and trust in the end, God’s will is done.
In love, we cannot help ourselves from wanting the best for those we love. In love, we extend our compassion and empathy to everyone everywhere in the world. And so we pray with love for all those who need prayer for miracles and trust in the end, God’s will is done.
Maybe, we need to pray not only for the intentions of those who ask. Maybe we continue praying because the power of prayer can transform our own hearts for a greater capacity for faith, hope and love. If the whole world could commit to constant prayer for the for a world free of pain, suffering and violence, to a world of care, love and peace, our prayers would truly transform the world.
For what shall we pray? Maybe the better question is for what shouldn’t we pray?