Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
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With me prayer
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the June 10, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)
What would you do?
Here you are attending a sports banquet and the main speaker comes to the end of his presentation. Suddenly he lifts his eyes heavenward and starts praying spontaneously from the heart about what he was just addressing generically in his talk. In our contemporary cultural setting, of course, we would be taken aback. Separation of Church and State, you know!
Would it make a difference if the setting were a church dinner or a Catholic school awards banquet? Even then, most likely, we would find the situation a bit awkward or even embarrassing. We may object that such prayer is very private and is more appropriately expressed in a different, more conducive environment. There is little doubt that, outside of worship services, most people become disjointed when some prays in such intimate fashion in their presence. Prayer – real personal prayer – is a privileged moment of spiritual intimacy. It would hardly seem appropriate in settings of this type.
Yet is this not the scene at the Last Supper in John’s Gospel? Jesus is nearing the end of his ministry, anticipating his imminent death and promised resurrection. He ends a long after-dinner speech (the Scripture experts refer to it as the “Last Supper Discourse”) and then, while raising his eyes heavenward, launches into an intimate prayer to his heavenly Father. We get to hear what is on his heart: protection of his followers from the Evil One and the temptations of the world; the fruitfulness of their ministry (glory); their steadfast union with him in the Holy Spirit.
The scene is a literary construction by the evangelist, they say. All the same, the clever way in which this scene is constructed pulls the Gospel reader into the heart of the Divine Master. If heard from the heart, the words of Jesus’ prayer have their intended impact.
Among the several points of reflection which this scene could offer is the matter of personal prayer. It’s one thing to join the community in prayer as we do at Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, or at some more-or-less public worship service. Usually prayers on these occasions are “canned,” the words already provided. We can (and should) pray them from the heart. But they do not necessarily reveal what lies in the depth of our being.
A real challenge to exposing what lies in the bottom of our hearts or what is truly important in our relationship with God is revealed in an interesting fashion when someone asks us to prayer with them. With them, not for them. There’s a big difference between the two – at least, in our reaction to such an invitation.
Priests and Religious may be asked by others to pray for them more often than others, but it is not uncommon for any of us to receive such a request – sometimes when and where we least expect it. There even may be occasions when we may ask someone to keep our intentions or needs in their prayers. We likely find it rather easy to respond affirmatively to such prayer requests. Come the next opportunity we take for prayer, these individuals and their needs are on our list. (Or shall we honestly admit how often we forget – rendering our acceptance of the prayer-task to a mere cultural piece of conversation!?)
What would be our reaction to someone who asks us to pray with them – spontaneously, right then and there! – in the hospital room, at the work desk, at lakeside, in the coffee shop or walking through the park? Anywhere at any time – are we ready to stop and join a fellow pilgrim in prayer?
Putting spontaneous voice to our prayer for another – as we hear Jesus doing at the Last Supper – or hearing the words of someone’s sincere prayer for us is profoundly humbling and touching. It’s not that their words bring a magic solution to our problems to challenges. They express a moment of interpersonal truth not often achieved in today’s culture and society. Such prayer makes us mindful of our weakness and need. It reveals a shared dependence upon the loving and saving presence of God, acknowledging without saying so the true Source of life and holiness. It is a time of risk and letting go of control.
Because it is such an intimate moment filled with weakness – often one that stumbles for words – it unites the hearts of those who pray. Interestingly, such a time of prayer calls those who pray this way to a certain sense of accountability. This kind of prayer cannot hide behind a few words tossed heavenward with the hope that their eloquence or multiplication somehow will hit their target and have their effect. This mode of sharing prayer is a commitment of concern which lasts beyond the brief moment spent with joined hands, bowed head or doubled knees.
What a privilege to share such times with another brother or sister in Christ. To be prayed with in such fashion bolsters faith and increases confidence and trust in God. To be asked to pray in such fashion with another (friend or stranger) is a true gift of self. Sharing a moment of weakness, dependency and trust with another human being before God is a genuine blessing.
As we “listen in” to Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper we catch its full impact if we hear it as a prayer with us – in our presence. Jesus brings us personally into this moment of intimate prayer. Heard in such fashion, it has a different and more life-producing impact. It speaks about what is in his heart for us as he walks with us before God. And having been prayed with in such fashion, perhaps we will find the courage and inspiration to pray in similar fashion with (not just for) one another.
(Father Savelesky is the diocese's Director of Deacon Formation and pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane.)
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