Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Petitions Part 2: Dos and Don'ts

Yesterday's post about petitions reminded me of a how-to lecture I once heard as a Jesuit novice about offering petitions at mass.  We were given five basic guidelines. 

1) Try to move your petition from the specific to the general. So, for instance, if you're praying for a sick friend, instead of just praying for him or her, pray for them and also for all that are sick.  So, for example, "I'd like to pray for my friend Rex, who has cancer, and for all those who are struggling with cancer."  The idea is, in a sense like my comment yesterday, our petitions mean to draw us all, including the speaker, beyond their own worlds into the larger world of need that we're a part of.   (Of course, it can get silly, too.  "I'd like to pray for my brother-in-law and all brothers-in-law. We pray to the Lord..." "I'd like to pray that my cousin can find a house, and that everyone can find a house. We pray to the Lord..."  "I'd like to pray for my sister, who will be having an ultrasound today, and for all those having ultrasounds, we pray to the Lord....") 

2) Your petition should never attempt to "answer" another petition.  You'll get this at daily mass sometimes:  one person prays for an end to the war in Iraq, and then the next prays "that the citizens of the United States might better appreciate the sacrifice our troops are making to ensure our freedom." Hello, axe.  Care for a grind?  

Speaking of which... 

3)  Never make your prayers inflammatory.  Your petition is not a statement of position, after all; it's a prayer to God. (Note to self: If you're unsure whether you're going too far, YOU PROBABLY ARE.)

4)  My favorite:  Never make a petition into an announcement.  Believe it or not, this actually happens somewhat regularly.  A guy in community knows something that others don't, and uses the petition as a moment to share that information. "I'd like to pray for Mike, who was just diagnosed with a rare skin disease."  "I'd like to pray for the 417 people in Milwaukee who are being held hostage as we speak by armed gunmen."  "I'd like to pray for our community member Randy, who has decided to leave the Society."   Even well intended, "You will NEVER guess what I just heard!" is always a distraction.  (Also: shameless much?) 

5)  Be careful about praying for yourself.  If you've got a big exam coming up, of course you can ask everyone to pray for you.  Just remember, TMI is probably just a few words away.  

I wonder, what other guidelines would you suggest?