Praying for the Living and the Dead

November 4, 2016

This week Mary Mahaffey looks at our final Work of Mercy, Praying for the Living and the Dead.

Praying for others seems to be a simple action upon first thought.  A friend shares their struggle with you and then asks, “Will you pray for me?”  A family member experiences an unexpected set back and your response is, “I will pray for you.”  Many times in a given day or week this exchange may occur.  I venture to guess that I am not alone when I admit that the exchange does not always register as a profoundly active response.

What Does Our Church Teach about Prayer?

When I sat down to pray with this seventh Spiritual Work of Mercy, I first went to the Catechism of the Catholic Church for assistance.  I wanted to more fully understand what the church teaches about prayer in general and then more specifically, intercessory prayer, or praying for others.  I noted three things about prayer that I feel help us understand this work of mercy:

  1. Definition of Prayer: Prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.
  1. Prayer as God’s gift: “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God… Humility is the foundation of prayer, only when we humbly acknowledge that ‘we do not know how to pray as we ought,’ are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer.”
  1. Prayer of Intercession: Intercession is a prayer of petition which leads us to pray as Jesus did. He is the one intercessor with the Father on behalf of all. Since Abraham, asked for pardon for the innocent people of Sodom (Genesis 18: 16-33), intercession, asking on behalf of another, is characteristic of a heart attuned to God’s mercy.

Asking God for the Grace to Pray:

Looking at these teachings, I realized I needed the grace to be more intentional in my promise to pray for the needs of others, and it not be only lip service when I hear a family or friend share of their need for prayer.   I asked God to help me have a heart attuned to God’s mercy by helping know how to pray for others.

One afternoon during mass, the words of the Eucharistic prayer resonated strongly with me.

“Remember also our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the in the hope of the resurrection, and all who have died in your mercy: welcome them into the light of your face. Have mercy on all of us we pray”   ~From Eucharistic Prayer II

I realized as I heard this, we were calling to mind our loved ones who rest now in the Lord and who went before us. The words echoed deeper as I recalled with thanksgiving the memory of my grandparents, uncle, dear friends, who are the faithful departed from my life.  Suddenly, my thoughts turned to my family still living today and how they continue to grieve these losses.  I placed them before the Lord, and my prayer became an act of love calling on God’s mercy to relieve their suffering, to comfort their pain, and to deliver them to a place of peace. God answered my prayer of attuning my heart to God’s mercy and showing me how to pray for others, both the living and the dead.

Intercessory Prayer in Our Lives:

What a profound opportunity we all have to be witnesses of God mercy in our world as we offer our hearts to God on behalf of others! It is a simple act that we are all capable of doing.  When we are feeling helpless, we can pray.  When we are feeling lost, we can pray.  When we listen to another, we can pray.  When we feel the hurt radiating within our world, we can pray.  Perhaps, it our greatest act as a human people, as we become one with our divine creator in the words of prayer.

I now understand praying for both the living and the dead as an act of dying to self.  Placing the needs of another, first, before my own, and bringing their needs before the Lord.  Humbling myself before God in order to recognize that in relation to each other we are all the same in our need for God’s mercy. And who knows, as I pray for others, maybe God will show me if I can be a part of God answering the very prayer I offer!

Who might God be inviting you to pray for today?

Becky is an Ignatian-trained spiritual director, retreat facilitator, and writer. She is the author of the Busy Lives and Restless Souls (March 2017, Loyola Press) and The Inner Chapel (April 2020, Loyola Press). She helps others create space to connect faith and everyday life through facilitating retreats and days of reflection, through writing, and through spiritual direction. With nearly twenty years of ministry experience within the Catholic Church, Becky seeks to help others discover God at work in the every day moments of people’s lives by utilizing St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises and the many gifts that our Catholic faith and Ignatian Spirituality provide.

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