Praying for Loved Ones and Those Not So Loved
Boston College’s Church in the 21st Century Initiative sponsors quite a number of activities. Among them is its semi-annual “C-21 Resources.” Here, around a chosen theme, articles are excerpted (mostly from periodicals such as “America” and “Commonweal“) that afford a basic approach to the topic. The Spring 2009 issue is devoted to “Catholic Spirituality in Practice.”
Among the excerpts is one that particularly struck me. The authors are Ann Ulanov and the late Barry Ulanov, and their topic is “Intercessory Prayer.” Here is an excerpt from the excerpt:
We pray for those we love because we must. We know that our love is not powerful enough to protect them from all harm, from all illness, from all evil, from death. Our love is not omnipotent. Our care for them, our insistence that they must have a good life, a full life, a life lived from the center of themselves, forces us to intercede with God on their behalf. By ourselves we cannot guarantee them much. We cannot even prevent our own faults from hurting them. We cannot restrain our own strong hopes and pressures so that they can find and live their own idea of the good life instead of the one we have ordained for them.
When we recognize these limiting effects of our love, it is that very love for our children, our dear friends, our husband or wife that impels us beyond ourselves to confide their souls into God’s keeping. Praying for them changes our love from a closed to an open hand, from a hand that tightly holds them under rein to one that holds them loosely. Praying for them makes us supple and flexible in our love for them.
We learn to pray for those we dislike and avoid as well, for those we hate and fear, for our enemies. Such prayer shifts our attention from all the things others have done to us or neglected to do that so wounded or enraged us, to focus on what it is in ourselves that permits others to acquire such power over us, the power to put us, in effect, in the hell of anger, or dismay, or insecurity, or fear. Prayer for them directs us to the antecedent attitudes or conditions of personality in ourselves that deliver us over into others’ power.
Praying for our enemies changes our attitudes toward them. Enemies make us bring light into painful hidden corners of ourselves that we would prefer to leave dark. By trying to put ourselves in another person’s shoes, we may discover what we do that so irritates others and makes them dislike us. We hear new voices in our prayer that usually we tune out. We see ourselves from a different angle, one we could not find either by ourselves or with the help of friends. Only enemies can help us here. In this way they are priceless.
There are many other good things in the Issue, which is available on pdf format here. I have found the various issues of the past years good for discussion groups in the parish and ancillary reading in my undergraduate courses.