Apostleship of prayer - Madonna Magazine

Apostleship of prayer

David Braithwaite SJ 10 March 2017

Pope Francis’ worldwide prayer network
The Apostleship of Prayer receives monthly prayer intentions from the Pope and urges Christians throughout the world to unite in prayer for those intentions. Thus we all become part of an international Community of Prayer.

Talking to the dead
We have a strange and complex relationship with our ancestors. Exhibiting one of the most odious of modern Western tendencies, we tend to condescend to them terribly as ignorant and ‘unenlightened’ on a whole array of problems. While there’s no doubt they knew nothing about things they could not have possibly known, it’s far less clear that they knew less than we do on how to live and love and worship.

One of the areas that they were willing and able to discuss with great intimacy of reflection was death. They were used to it and more frank about it than we tend to be – probably because people lived shorter lives and the threat of diseased death was closer to home. One outgrowth of this more prevalent and more accepted reality was that they considered themselves closer to their dead.

There developed an exchange between the living and the dead that gave birth to the notion of the ‘Treasury of the Church’. Now at this point we especially love to dismiss our ancestors as poor dupes who fell for indulgences and the like, owing to a naive and embarrassingly self-interested ‘commercial mentality’. We might argue that they saw almsgiving and penance in this life as begetting ‘cheap grace’ for their loved ones beyond the grave. We know that there’s some truth in this, and that a certain spiritual vulgarity was always present (and still is, today). But what if a far deeper and more spiritually ‘enlightened’ insight was also available and at work here?

Could it be that the prayers and almsgiving for the dead were an expression of a deep bond of love that held the Church of the living and the dead together, and that still holds the Church together today? For our ancestors there was an implicit and explicit understanding that both the living and the dead were in need of the fullness of life promised in the Gospel. Our journey to that complete joy continues beyond the grave and, in that deep sense, both the living and the dead are all pilgrims together. We share a need for each other as part of God’s plan. Intercessory prayers for the dead express this need in all of its aching and yearning, as does our hope that they are praying for us. These prayers are spiritual exercises against the forgetting of the dead and our own unreadiness for death.

Perhaps we are so shaped by Western individualism that we find these spiritual-communal beliefs unintelligible. And yet does this not put at peril our capacity to grasp the very catholicity of the Church?

When we pray for the dead and ask for their prayers for us we are not necessarily betraying a spiritual naivety. In fact we find ourselves part of an astonishing tradition of authentic faithfulness. We are part of the Pilgrim Church in the here and now, and the hereafter


submit a comment