Going through what sometimes seem endless papers in my study, I recently came across something that I had lost for some years. Coming across it makes me realize that it speaks very eloquently today to something that has developed very strongly in church life in these challenging days we are living through.
Back in the 1970s Eugene Kennedy was a very gifted Priest/Psychologist who wrote insightfully about the nature of Christian faith and our understanding of it. Sometime around that period he wrote a piece on what it means to pray, or to promise to pray for another person. They may have asked us to pray for them because of some need and we may have promised that we would.
Many of us will have experienced problems with remaining faithful to such a promise sincerely meant at the time. But, as we know all too well, life is busy, other needs and requests come into our lives, we lose track of our friend or acquaintance, we ourselves may develop worrying needs that make difficult managing our prayer life. For all this we can sometimes feel regret and even guilt.
In the recent years of Covid the world of prayer came to assume a place in our lives it may not have had. There were friends we would not see for long periods. A card now and then, a phone call when thought of, a chat on FaceTime. Gatherings that we would once have taken for granted, church occasions, social interactions, all lessened. Often we regretted this loss of an intimacy we had long taken for granted.
During these same years however, there is something that has quietly become deeper and richer in church community. Prayer groups have long existed but in the Covid years a rather wonderful thing developed. Prayer groups became more numerous and more appreciated, and they remain so as time goes on.
This brings me back to the wonderful piece I recovered recently. What Eugene Kennedy gives eloquent expression to is the depth and substance of what we can mean when we promise to pray for one another. I hope many more of us become aware of this passage …
Eugene Kennedy writes “A change actually occurs between two people when one promises sincerely to pray for the other. The former has placed themselves in a new kind of relationship with the one to whom they have made the promise. They have committed themselves to the other’s world of personal concern. In other words, they have made themselves present to the one in need in a new and vital way.
Promising a prayer is not the same as making a mental note to say an Our Father at a later date. Neither is it some kind of imaginary benevolence comparable to a shouted “Good Luck” or “Bon Voyage”. It means that we have redefined ourselves in relationship to our friend or acquaintance, that we have enlarged the boundaries of ourselves in order to stand closer to the other at a time when that is exactly what they need.
A shift occurs when we cast the votes of our time, attention and prayers for another human being. We are, through the power of the spirit and the reality of our commitment, with them in a new and vitalizing way. In other words, the person who means it when they promise to pray for another has given something of themselves to that person. They communicate faith, hope and love, in a truly living way.”
I think this magnificent passage could be offered to any group of people who wish to have a kind of charter or foundation statement for their working together to pray for others.