TBM Topic 32: Pray for the Living and the Dead
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During Lent, we will be discussing the Spiritual Works of Mercy.
Why pray for the living and the dead?
This Lent, we Bright Maidens have been discussing the Spiritual Works of Mercy. This topic is a good one for Lent because
1. The spiritual works of mercy are reminders of our unofficial duties as Christians (verses the precepts of the Church); they’re ways people can attempt to better their spiritual lives through daily graces verses physically abstaining from foods or forms of entertainment, too.
2. The marriage between the spiritual and earthly world can be tangibly shown.
3. The marriage between grace and works can be manifest in writing, as well as in thoughts and actions.
The last point is an important point: some Christians say praying for the dead is useless and unbiblical. If that’s the case, then so is praying for the living. If our fate is so fixed, why ask God for help? Why seek a relationship with Jesus if believing in him is enough?
Praying is how we communicate with God, be it in praise, penitence, thanksgiving or petition. It can be freeing and intimate. It can also be humbling and intimidating. Life is overwhelming, and even starting prayer may be difficult. Luckily, even sitting quietly in the presence of God is praying. Taking time to listen to God is just as important as talking with him. In this way, we can pray without ceasing! (1 Thessalonians 5:17) This is how all relationships work at a human level.
When Blessed John Paul II was asked how the pope prays, he responded, “You would have to ask the Holy Spirit! The Pope prays as the Holy Spirit permits him to pray. I think he has to pray in a way in which, deepening the mystery revealed in Christ, he can better fulfill his ministry. The Holy Spirit certainly guides him in this. But man must not put up obstacles” (Crossing the Threshold of Hope).
|At a convent’s cemetery in Salzburg|
Praying for others is just as important as your personal relationship with God. As we humans are all interconnected, it is an act of fraternal charity. Moreover, not praying for a person because “they are dead” insinuates that there is not a communion between Heaven and Earth. People departed from this life are not gone; they are at a higher level of communion with God.
This is why Catholics pray to saints; not “to” them, as one would pray to God, but to them like we ask our family and friends to pray for and with us. I pray to St. Anthony (patron of lost things) fairly often. I could pray directly to God, but I like including my saintly friends in my daily tasks. If a person work in a big corporation, would they go to their boss for every little thing? Or do you ask a co-worker to help you out with a minor problem?
This is not to imply that we should not pray to God for the little things: but remember, he already knows all. So he might be sending an angle to watch over you, or a new friend into your life, to help guide and shape you. In the Gospel of John, a story is told in which Jesus gives Peter the power and strength to continue his ministry:
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
He then said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” [Jesus] said to him, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17).
So, we too must continue this ministry, out of love of God. So, too, we must pray for the living and the dead, out of love for self and neighbor. Praying for all people is biblical, as well as being part of a Christian’s core mission.
Prayer is an act (work) of love. Even Billy Joel got that in his scandalous song, “Only the Good Die Young”: You said your mother told you/ All I could give you was a reputation/ Ah she never cared for me/ But did she ever say a prayer for me?”
There is one mediator between God and humans, and that is Christ (1 Timothy 2:5); but there are billions of helpmates to be found on earth and in heaven, continuing the mission of Christ, peacefully and together. This is why we pray for the living and the dead: to partake in this life, an extraordinary one, and rejoice in the hope with encapsulates all of us as members of the body of Christ, the great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1).
|Church in Munich, Germany|
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, thankful for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel thus about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.
For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruits of righteousness which come through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:3-11)