"I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God – it changes me." — C.S. Lewis (William Nicholson in Shadowlands)
This column appeared at CatholicPhilly.com
on 9 May 2015.
“That, rejecting the culture of indifference, we may care for our neighbors who suffer, especially the sick and the poor.” — Pope Francis’ universal intention for May
We knelt before the Lord on the floor in a small room on the second floor, the monstrance lit by the last rays of the sun from behind. Five mysteries of the rosaries had spun round when the young man in front of me reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone, scrolling through a few pages, clearly hunting for something. He paused, then read aloud, “That persecuted Christians may feel the consoling presence of the Risen Lord and the solidarity of all the church.”
Ah, the pope’s intercession for the month of April!
In a reflection on St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, St. John Chrysostom described the custom of the early church: “The gift of prayer used to come into one person in the church, and he would be the person set aside to ask God for the things which would benefit them all.”
Today we have the Prayers of the Faithful at Mass, where we make our prayers for the needs that we see within and without our communities. And of course, there are the pope’s petitions, in which he, as John Chrysostom would say, “stands with great attention … asking the things which were profitable for all.”
In some sense these petitions are rightfully ephemeral prayers, for the needs of this particular moment, for the needs of these particular people. But I wonder if we hold these prayers too lightly.
How often do we respond, “Lord, hear our prayer,” without really hearing what we are praying for? Do we remember any of the intentions we prayed for at Mass when we walk out each Sunday, holding one of those needs prayerfully in our hearts — or even like the young man at prayer, knowing where to find them on our phones?
The pope’s intention for May asks us to open our hearts, to stand with great attention and listen to what our sisters and brothers need most, that we might be moved to help those among us who are living in poverty, the sick and the suffering.
As we move from Easter to Pentecost to Ordinary Time, I’m seeking an antidote to indifference in the intercessions. I am taking just of one these intentions each week, then standing in that precarious space between heaven and earth holding out that prayer, asking God for these needs of the world. And asking myself what I can do this week to be God’s hands and feet and meet those needs.
To my words give ear, O Lord, give heed to my groaning.
Attend to the sound of my cries, my King and my God.
It is you whom I invoke, O Lord.
In the morning you hear me;
in the morning I offer you my prayer,
watching and waiting. — Psalm 5:2-4