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Why It’s Important to Pray for Others by Name
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The other day, I did something that I was hesitant to do: I prayed for Archbishop McCarrick, the disgraced former Cardinal and leader of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC.


I didn’t want to do it- I’ve never met the man. It felt awkward. It put a scowl on my face. I made sure that it didn’t last long. He is an enemy of young people and I don’t like him- not even a little.


And then I prayed for others who have victimized young people. If I knew their names, I mentioned them. Again, I didn’t want to do it and certainly didn’t enjoy it.


And yet, somehow, it felt right. I’ve been so angry, of late, by the emerging news about the Catholic Church. We have a problem. We don’t form our leaders all that well. We don’t have enough accountability loops in place. We need a culture of servant leaders and instead have built a system of leader idolization. It’s sad.


Praying for others by name is like that- it will depress you. It will take you to a place that you rarely visit. I learned this years ago. Someone tried to harm me and it cut me to the core. It was only by praying for them, by name, out loud, that I found peace.


In Matthew 5:43-45, Jesus says that we must do this:


You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”


This sounds nice... until you have to do it. Then, it provides a hesitant submission, as if to say, “Ok God, you’re right...I’ll do it.”


We don’t like having enemies.

 

Most of us would rather just get along. I know that I would. Most of my Christian friends are people pleasers, another posture of getting along. That’s not a bad thing but it does make having enemies all the more difficult.


Enemies prop up time and again, like a rash that you can’t ignore. An enemy is someone who opposes you and seeks to do you harm. This is a dark realization and one that Jesus knew full well. He had plenty of individuals who opposed his every move. I imagine that his enemies frustrated him, knowing that they were slowing down his ministry.


Imagine just for a second if Jesus’ enemies spent more time listening and less time ruining his reputation... how things would have been different.


All leaders understand this.

 

No matter what you do, some will oppose you. They may be awful human beings or stellar individuals with good character. But prepare yourself- you will be opposed at some point.


For a follow up, I suggest you spend 60 seconds thinking of your enemies. You won’t need more than that because they will come to your mind immediately. Plus, it’s likely that your enemies can be counted on one hand.


If you have more than that, you’re likely the President. That’s another conversation altogether.


Once you have those individuals in mind, it’s important to take them to prayer. Mention them, by name, to God. Ask for His mercy and provision for them. Pray for reconciliation with them. Ask for a gentle heart towards them, knowing that they are going through something in their own lives that produces resistance towards you.


Praying for others by name humanizes them. This reminds you that they too are loved by God and in need of mercy. This shortens the distance between you and them. It also reminds you of your own need for mercy and God’s love.


It’s the right thing to do.


This exercise is one of the most powerful in all of the Christian life. We are all sinners and more in need of God’s mercy than we realize at any one moment. Praying for your enemies by name is one outflow of this truth.

Why It’s Important to Pray Out Loud
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A scenario repeats itself in my adult life. A group of Catholics are gathered. They are at table or in a living room. They may be there for a meeting or for some sort of conversation. Someone recognizes the value of starting with a prayer.


And that’s when things fall apart.


Someone asks, “would someone like to start us with a prayer?” Eyes go to the floor. An awkward silence ensues. Finally, someone says, as if to put the group out of its misery, “I’ll do it.”


Then, everyone exhales and the brave soul prays as best they can. The meeting begins.


Have you been in this situation? I’ll bet you have. For Protestants, prayer out loud is not foreign. It’s something you are raised to do. But for Catholics, it’s a different story. Catholics, for the most part, are terrified of it.


When I asked friends on Facebook what they thought of this, their responses were profound:


  • “For me it was about modeling. I will also say that it takes a good deal of practice and thoughtfulness.”
  • “Lack of a strong, personal relationship with Jesus. I never felt comfortable praying from my heart out loud until I came to love Jesus. Now it’s my preferred method of prayer.”
  • “It’s not modeled for us. We’ve only ever witnessed men praying over our family with words from a book. Unless we’ve been given a model through our families or smaller communities, it’s not something we’ve seen.”
  • “Most have never seen it modeled in the home by their parents.”
  • “I just approach it as if I'm talking to a friend, respectfully but not too distant.”


These are very personal and so many other comments came through. People take their prayer seriously and have strong feelings about it. You can hear the theme of modeling over and over again. If you’ve seen someone pray spontaneously, a seed may be planted in you that will “activate” at some point later in your life.


Second, it’s important to remember, as Merton famously wrote, that “the desire to please you (God) does in fact please you”. Even if a person’s prayer life is immature, it still can catch the momentum to take it further into a relationship with God.


Prayer out loud is important for a number of reasons.

 

First, it is an expression of intimacy. I can’t think of a “human friend” that I don’t talk to. Second, praying out loud grows our praying heart. It merges our will with our spirit, molding us into more prayerful people. Third, as we’ve seen in the comments above, praying out loud can teach others about the Lord. This will then help them grow in their faith.


Specifically, what can or should we do when it comes to vocal prayer?  I suggest three things:


  1. In your own prayer life, pray out loud more often. This will feel awkward at first. You’ll wonder if people can hear you. Still, try it out. Give it time.
  2. When you are asked to pray before a meeting or event, offer to lead the prayer. Here’s the catch- don’t prepare anything. Just let it flow. Bring something honest and from your heart. Others will benefit from hearing you talk with God.
  3. Ban “canned prayers” for your meetings or events. If you are in a position of leadership and you ask someone to lead prayer, tell them not to prepare anything. Tell them to pray spontaneously, from their heart, out loud. By doing this, you’ll be practicing what you preach and modeling vocal prayer among the group.


These suggestions are not exhaustive nor are they meant to be. What they do provide are starting points and reminders.


You can do this. God can do this through you.

Should You Kneel When You Pray?
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My dad grew up in rural Maine (read: very remote). He tells the story of how he would pray each night before going to bed. Kneeling at the side of his bed, he would say his prayers. This was what you did when you grew up in a large Catholic family. I doubt there was much thought as to whether or not kneeling was the most conducive posture for prayer.

At church, we often have times when we kneel as we pray.

This might include kneeling prior to Mass, kneeling during certain parts of the Mass and even after Holy Communion. Kneeling is, for Catholics, a routine physical position for praying.

A question that I’ve been thinking about lately is this- when does it make sense to kneel and when is it counterproductive to praying?

I know that some will say that you must pray kneeling, that it’s non-negotiable. The thinking goes that if God Himself appeared in your home today at 2pm, would you just give him a high-five (as if he was an ordinary guest) or would you be compelled to kneel? If that is our “frame” for answering the kneel-sit question, kneeling would be the appropriate response. The Lord deserves some gesture of respect, adoration and worship.

Still, I’m not sure it has to be a zero-sum game when it comes to kneeling during prayer.

A better way of thinking on this might be to look at prayer as having defaults and exceptions.

A default for prayer at Mass might be to kneel while an exception would make sense for someone who is aged or literally cannot kneel.

Ask yourself- is God more concerned with the posture of your kneeling or the condition of your heart? In an age of decreased piety (i.e. less kneeling), we can answer this delicately. I see, even among many religious leaders, a lack of piety. To reiterate- kneeling is the norm and should be done when possible. My point is simply to expand the conversation and recognize that there may be other times when it’s acceptable not to kneel.

Kneeling surely has benefits. It contributes to our piety. It is a gesture of humility. It speaks of surrender. It reveals vulnerability. 

In sum, kneeling is a good thing.

It’s the times when we cannot kneel or that it doesn’t make sense to kneel that we need more reflection. We’ve already mentioned the times when you physically cannot kneel. Age, an injury, etc. What about other times when kneeling might be counterproductive?

I attended a large ministry event a year ago and they had Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament one evening. The music was fantastic. The atmosphere was very reverent. The only “catch” if there was one, was that the event lasted for over two hours. Try as I might, I simply couldn’t kneel for that long on concrete. It made sense to spend some time kneeling and some time sitting quietly. Simply “bearing down” and sucking it up wasn’t going to bring me any closer to Jesus if my knees produced pain. A kneeling/sitting strategy worked best.

Both kneeling and sitting can be prayerful postures.  

The key is to pray for the gift of humble piety. Be aware of your surroundings. Notice those around you. When you come into the Lord’s presence, recognize that the space is holy and that your actions will be different as a result. A good genuflection can go a long way. If it’s appropriate to kneel, go for it. If sitting or standing quietly makes more sense and won’t distract others, that may be the best approach.

In closing, Pope Francis’ words from 2014 give us a healthy context for reflecting on kneeling and piety:

“The gift of piety that the Holy Spirit gives us makes us meek; it makes us peaceful, patient and at peace with God in gentle service to others...Some people think that being pious is closing your eyes, putting on a sweet angel face, isn’t that right?” The Holy Father went on to say that piety is “our belonging to God, our deep bond with him, a relationship that gives meaning to our whole life and keeps us resolute, in communion with him, even during the most difficult and troubled moments”.

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Resources, Role Models and Routines
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In his recent exhortation, Pope Francis talks about the context of becoming holy.  He wants us to ask, 

  • Can I become holy in the midst of my busy, daily schedule?
  • Do I need to become a nun or a priest in order to be holy?
  • What is a realistic path for me to become holy?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve certainly asked these questions over the years.  As I get older, I see my daily life, with its warts and blessings, as the “container” for me to become holy.  

As an encouragement, the Holy Father points to the ultimate context for learning the be holy: the Church.  He says,

In the Church, holy yet made up of sinners, you will find everything you need to grow towards holiness.” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 15)

If you were trying to get in shape, where would you turn?  Most likely to a gym with personal trainers and a community that supports you.  Right?  This may explain why CrossFit is so popular in the United States- it offers just the right amount of support and guidance for getting fit.

Pope Francis is telling us that the Church is the “gym” for individuals who want to become not just more prayerful but more human, more whole.  St. Iraneaus famously said, “The glory of God is a human being, fully alive.”  This is holiness, to be fully alive and rooted in Christ.

To do this, we need three things: Resources, Role Models and Routines.  The Church provides all three and in subsequent posts, we will explore each in detail.

In the meantime, spend some time today considering the ways in which the Church is your personal gym for growing in holiness.