Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Petition Do's and Don'ts

Yesterday's post about petitions reminded me of a post I did a while back on a how-to lecture I once heard as a Jesuit novice about offering petitions at mass.

We were given five basic guidelines about offering petitions:

1) In your petition, try to include the specific and the general. So, for instance, if you're praying for a sick friend, instead of praying only for him or her, include 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 a propos of my post yesterday: our petitions mean to draw us all, including the speaker, beyond our own worlds into the larger world of needs.

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 all cousins can find houses. 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 today, we pray to the Lord...."

2) Beware of using a petition to try and "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." Someone prays for the unborn, and someone else prays for women.

Hello, axe. Care for a grind?

3) A corollary: Your prayers should not be inflammatory. A petition is not a statement of position. It's a prayer to God. If you're unsure whether you might be going too far, YOU PROBABLY ARE. Reformulate your words.

4) My favorite: In community, sometimes a petition, despite all good intentions, amounts to "Guess what I just heard?" "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." There can be a genuine motivation in offering such a prayer; but if you know something sensational that nobody else does, consider offering the prayer silently until you can give them a heads up.

5) Be careful about praying for yourself. If you've got something serious going on in your life, of course you can ask everyone to pray for you, and should! But if you find yourself doing it somewhat regularly, pay attention. Therein lies a slippery slope. (But enough about me. What do you think of me?)

The bottom line is, when in doubt, be discerning. Our prayers are meant to express the desires of our hearts and to draw us -- all of us -- closer into the presence of God, for whom we are yearning.

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