This Lent perhaps we could spend some time considering what is happening when we engage in intercessory prayer. When we pray for another, are we going before an all-powerful God trying to cause a change of mind in God's plan and intent for the world? Are we asking God to save someone from cancer, as if God's original intent was that he die, but because of our prayer God will be moved to compassion to give the person a reprieve? This way of thinking results in a concept of God as fickle, severe and not always seeking the good of His people.
The fact is God already knows how to be a compassionate God. There is no need of advice on our part. God has not forgotten anyone, or offered love only to the few who merit it! God lets the sun shine on the good and the evil and showers rain on the just and the unjust. (Mt. 5:45)
Reverend Neville Ward, in his book "The Use of Praying", finds great meaning in the proximity of the Universal Prayer (Prayer of the Faithful) to the Offertory at Mass. He insists that the only prayer worth offering is that which requests that the will of God be done for the full blossoming of the Kingdom of God. He sees all our petitionary prayer as dependent upon the degree to which we offer ourselves with the bread and wine, to be instruments of God's answer to our prayer. Our offer of ourselves, our energies, creativity and desire to serve, are all intended as a sincere request to be a part of God's answer to our intercessory prayer. While we may not realistically directly affect the gaining of peace in Syria, we can engage in peacekeeping closer to home, thereby making it a more peaceful world. We offer our humble hands, wits and persons to do God's will, as we can best come to understand it, in that central prayer of Thanksgiving, the Eucharist. Ward puts it this way:
"The principal idea all along has been that prayer is to be understood as the means of nourishing our day-to-day religious life so that we shall be able to do some part at any rate of what God wishes, his wishes being thought to be far more closely related to the glory of life than ours are." (p86) Ward believes that prayer which is pure request, without the offering of self to God, is not prayer in God's name and therefore has no value.
Lent is meant to draw us closer to God. The traditional practices to help us accomplish this are fasting, almsgiving and prayer. The point Ward makes is that prayer of petition must be joined to an offering of self if we are truly praying in God's name for the full blossoming of God's kingdom and not our own. Even though Jesus encourages us to ask for what we need with perseverance, that asking must be self-giving rather than self-centered. God's plan must be infinitely better than ours!
Furthermore, our fasting might be from cussing and swearing, from reckless driving (for example, texting while driving), from harsh treatment of loved ones at home, from needless shopping, etc. It does not always have to be food-oriented. There are many ways to grow in the spiritual life.
May our donations in Lent be to worthy causes that assist the physical, spiritual or emotional lives of God's people. We can also give of our time and talent. We do not have to look far to see the needs.
The Lenten season seeks a 'change of mind and intent' alright. But that change will be in us, not in the mind of an all-loving and all-merciful God. We are the ones in need of purification and maturing in Gospel living. The offering of self to help accomplish God's will for the world is central to our Lenten practice. May it bring about positive change in our self-giving, our behavior and our generosity. Have a blessed and faith-filled Lenten season!
Fr. John Phalen, C.S.C., serves as the President of Holy Cross Family Ministries, including Family Rosary and Family Theater Productions, continuing the mission of Servant of God Fr. Patrick Peyton, "The Rosary Priest," to spread devotion to Our Lady and her prayer of the Rosary all over the world. Fr. John is also a frequent retreat leader and speaker on prayer, Fr. Peyton, and the Rosary. He was ordained in 1974.