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Archive for August 12th, 2019

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For Whom Should We pray?

A few weeks ago a photo gripped the world’s attention.  In it a man and a child floated, faces down, in the shallow waters of the Rio Grande.  It was shocking, and it starkly illustrated just one of the many social ills that beset our times.

There was one thing that made the photo particularly poignant, however.  For whatever reason most of the media outlets chose not to give any names.  These two were almost objects rather than people.  Floating anonymously in the water, they seemed unblessed and lacking in even the basics of humanity.  Having achieved not even ten minutes of fame in life, they became nobodies in death.

Then I considered who they might have been.  One had been a son to his parents, a husband to his wife, and a father to the person floating next to him.  Eventually I discovered that he had a name after all.  He was Oscár Alberto Martínez Ramírez.

24011099-C4C2-4F80-B73A-C0EA6603D897As for the 23-month-old next to him, her accomplishments were fewer.  She was daughter to Oscár and her mother, and perhaps she was a sister to some siblings still at home.  Still, like her father, she had been created in the image of God.  She too had human dignity, and perhaps she was the future hope for her family.  And she too had a name:  Valeria.

Once I knew their names, Oscár and Valeria were no longer anonymous victims of circumstance.  Now I could imagine chatting with them.  I could picture them laughing and crying and sitting around a table eating with family and friends.  They were no longer poster children of some social or political problem.  They were individuals who needed both my respect and my prayers.

In a recent homily Pope Francis urged us to give names to the people who suffer from the vast litany of ills that beset our times.  It’s nice enough to pray for world peace and an end to persecution and an end to hunger;  but those remain abstractions until we can attach the names of real live people to our prayers.

When a congregation is small enough, the priest has the luxury of inviting others to add their own petitions to the prayers of the faithful.  “For whom shall we pray?” is the invitation for which many people thirst.  It’s the chance to be very specific, because it’s suddenly okay to pray — out loud and in front of other people —  “for Aunt Edna who has surgery today,” or “for my son who is going through a difficult time.”

4718FA92-9738-41A7-8188-874EF38F951EThis is when prayer becomes intensely personal.  It’s when we pray for flesh-and-blood neighbors, even if we scarcely know them.  But when we say their names out loud or deep within our hearts something profound comes over us.  We admit our kinship with them.  We confess that they and we were created in the image of God.  And through our prayers we no longer walk alone.  Instead, we walk the paths of the Lord alongside them as fellow pilgrims.

So what lessons might we take away from this?  First, it’s certainly okay to pray for big-ticket items like “peace in the Middle East.”  But it’s even better to pray by name for a person or a village or a parish community in that region.  That builds communion between them and us.

Second, pray for someone by name, at least once a day.  It gets us out of the mindset that we alone carry the burdens of the world.  It reminds us that we have kindred spirits out there who also share in our search for meaning and purpose in life.

Third, don’t wait for someone to issue a gilded invitation to pray.  It’s nice to hear that formal invitation “For whom should we pray?”  But it’s no sin to pray unbidden.  If truth be told, there are lots of people whom we know who need our prayers, and Oscár and Valeria are just two of them.  Why wait to be invited to do the decent thing?

4861A6E8-545C-4FE5-9D06-95F22D1BD62DFinally, for whom else should we pray?  As long as we’re at it we may as well save some breath to pray for ourselves.  It never hurts, and frankly the Lord may be wondering why we’ve not called on him for a while.

NOTES

+On August 8th I was in Minneapolis for two meetings, and one of them happened to be at the American Swedish Institute.  It’s housed in a great old mansion built by Swan Turnblad, a very successful Swedish newspaper publisher in Minneapolis.  From personal experience I can say that it’s especially nice to visit there during the Christmas season.  Currently it has on display an exhibit of Viking artifacts from the 6th-9th centuries.  So after the meeting I had a choice between the “Swedish language happy hour” or the exhibit.  I chose the exhibit, mainly because I’m not sure what goes on at a Swedish language happy hour.

+On August 9th I made my semi-annual pilgrimage to the help desk at IT Services, which is now housed in Alcuin Library at Saint John’s.  Everyone is required to change the computer password to their account every six months, and I had one day left before I would be frozen out completely.  Like most people over the age of twenty I find this to be an ordeal, and years ago I vowed never to do this alone again.  The occasion of that solemn oath (and many others at the time, I might add), was when I was out of town.  Without any help at all I successfully locked myself out of my computer for four days.  Anyway, once again I packed phone and computer and iPad up and toted them over to the help desk.  This time the computer doctor happened to be a brilliant student from the Bahamas, and he performed wizardry before my eyes.  I left with devices that still talked with one another and secure in the knowledge that only college students and hackers know how to get into my account.  Heaven knows I don’t.

+Today the first of our students return for the fall term.  Meanwhile, all summer long the showy flower beds have garnered all the attention.  However, as the photos in today’s post attest, there are nooks and crannies that may be ignored but can hold their own.

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