Our readings today depict the establishment of basic Church teachings. Underlying all this is the place and importance of prayer.
It’s good to start with a definition. The Catechism tells us that prayer is The elevation of the mind and heart to God in praise of his glory; a petition made to God for some desired good, or in thanksgiving for a good received, or in intercession for others before God. Through prayer the Christian experiences a communion with God through Christ in the Church. (p. 895)
It must be said that we Catholics never pray alone. Somewhere, some Catholic group or individual is praying at the exact same time as we are, especially if we are engaged in offering the formal prayer of the Church. In addition, we are always surrounded by what the author of the Book of Hebrews calls “the great cloud of witnesses.” (Heb.12:1) All the angels and saints in heaven are praying with us and for us 24/7. We never pray all by ourselves, no matter how desolate we may feel at times. We know this. That’s why we offer so many prayers to the Saints, especially the Virgin Mary to intercede for us. We just trust that they are there and that they will respond faithfully and generously.
For the sake of ease and convenience for this presentation, I put prayer into two general categories: formal prayer and informal prayer.
Formal prayers are the prayers of the Church. The most powerful prayer that we offer is the Sacrifice of the Mass. It is the source and summit of our faith. Then comes other formal prayers that are usually familiar, and therefore they are the most common and comfortable for most Catholics. These formal prayers often consist of time-honored, well-honed phrases. They may be a “Hail Mary,” or an “Our Father,” or other written and usually memorized prayers that express clearly particular perspectives, petitions or adoration. We have Novenas and other disciplines that enhance our prayers. We pray them by ourselves or in groups.
If we are looking for folks to pray with us, all we have to do is to say something like: “Bless us O Lord, and these thy gifts…” and every Catholic present will join in because it’s commonly understood that we are about to eat a meal and this is the blessing. We have common prayer that binds us as the faithful of God.
Prayer also includes silence—whether meditating or contemplating on something such as a crucifix or an icon. Prayer covers a lot of areas.
Prayer posture is also important. Traditionally, the Church advocates that when praying we clasp our hands as we stand or kneel. Sometimes we prostrate ourselves. Sometimes we sit, especially if we are alone.
I like the joke about 3 old priests who were having coffee and they started talking about the best prayer posture.
The first says, “For me, the only proper position is down on my knees, with hands clasped, offering prayer in a state of true humility.”
The second disagreed, saying, “I believe the way to pray most effectively is with outstretched arms, palms up and with an upturned face. This shows my joy at being in the presence of the Blessed Triune God.”
The third priest said, “When I’m praying by myself, I find a comfortable place in which to sit and then my prayers are ever so much more intimate.”
Just then a power company lineman descended from a utility pole nearby and walked up to the priests.
He said, “Pardon me, but I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation. About a year ago, I fell from one of these poles and on the way down managed to get one leg wrapped around a single utility line.
The thing I want to tell you is that I did my best praying ever, dangling by one leg, upside down, 40 feet above the asphalt.”
It’s akin to that old line from a sermon given by an army chaplain after the battle of Bataan during World War II. He said: “there are no atheists in foxholes.”
There are things in life that sharpen the mind and intensify the will. These regularly are times of intense and profound prayer. But most prayer is regular and rhythmic. For the faithful, it’s part of a daily routine. Let me now share with you a bit of my routine.
I want to talk especially about prayers of intercession.
In addition to praying The Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary and so forth, I have a rather lengthy, categorized list of intercessions. For your convenience and reference, you will note that the outline for my intercessions have been placed in the bulletin.
After I’ve finished my formal prayer in the morning, this is the list that I offer of specific intercessions.
1.The Church–Her Members and Mission
This includes for:
- The Holy Father, Pope Francis, Archbishop Sample, Bp. Peter his auxiliary, area parishes and their staff, etc.
- Specific Clergy, both priests and deacons
- O’Hara school, the faculty and staff and especially the first grade. I’m the first grade priest and these little ones are especially dear to my heart.
- The Carmelites—as you know they are on the cusp of something significant happening to their community, and along with petitions for their well being, I pray for new members for their monastery.
- Especially at the request of Archbishop Sample, I pray for those considering vocations to the priesthood and other consecrated life. I get a little pushy on this one when asking people if they might have a vocation, and if they think they do, I add their names to my list of daily intercessions.
- Our Nation and All in Authority—I pray for the US House and the Senate and for President Trump. I specifically ask that they will be endowed with wisdom and humility.
- The Welfare of the World-There is so much hatred and violence. I pray for refugees, immigrants and migrants. I pray especially for families with little ones. And I pray for all women considering abortions. I pray that the Holy Spirit will gently turn their hearts.
- The Concerns of Our Local Community—I specifically pray for agencies such as Catholic Community Services, St. Vincent De Paul, First Way—our pregnancy resource center and other pro-life organizations such as Rachel’s Vineyard and Project Aurora. And I pray for the unemployed and destitute.
- Those in Particular Need—this is my longest list. I have great concern for those who have chronic health issues. We’re pretty good about praying for acute needs—people with the flu or a broken bone. But if someone has a long term problem such as Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis or a severe mental illness, we tend to stop praying for them after awhile. I would urge you not to stop. Long term prayer support is critical for their well being. I also pray for those in prison and those battling addiction.
- Those Who Have Died
- Personal Requests. This is when I offer my personal petitions for insight into homilies, issues affecting my health and well being and so on. I pray for strength and wisdom to lovingly deal with people who really annoy me. The general rule is to pray for yourself last. I think it’s just basically good manners.
This is how I organize my intercessions. You are welcome to use this pattern or devise one for yourself. Whatever you do, I encourage you to make a categorized list for your intercessions.
At the end of my intercessions, I close with this prayer from St. Thomas More, martyr of the English Reformation:
Grant me , O Lord good digestion and also something to digest. Grant me a healthy body, and the necessary good humor to maintain it. Grant me a simple soul that knows to treasure all that is good and that doesn’t frighten easily at the sight of evil, but rather finds the means to put things back in their place. Give me a soul that knows not boredom, grumbling, sighs and laments, nor excess of stress, because of this obstructing thing called “I.” Grant me, O Lord the grace to be able to take a joke and to discover in life a bit of joy and to be able to share it with others.