As the pandemic grinds on and ordinary human life proves relentless, my personal prayer list may be the longest I’ve ever wrestled with. I know and love so many people who are grieving right now. Each person exists in a separate world of loss, fear and very fragile hope. It is hard to know what to pray for. I know miracles sometimes happen. I know they don’t always. And I know that what looks like a miracle may actually turn out to be another, often higher hurdle, one that causes us to stumble again. I often pray my own litany, reciting and reflecting on each person by name. I ask God to be with each of them and with those who love them, using their names if I know them, too. But I must be honest, sometimes even that simple prayer is hard to put into words.
This morning I read what Pope Francis said at his private audience in Rome yesterday. He talked about the connection between prayer and the communion of saints. As a convert to Catholicism, I have always loved this idea, that we do not pray alone, that those saints -- the ones recognized by the church and many who are not -- pray along side us. And, as we pray together, Francis said, “we are immersed in a majestic river of invocations that precede us and proceeds after us. A majestic river.”
I loved that Francis went on to connect our prayers with those that fill Scripture. The stories we read there are prayers, he said, “that often resound in the liturgy, , , traces of ancient stories, of prodigious liberations, of deportations and sad exiles, of emotional returns, of praise ringing out before the wonders of creation.”
Francis says that good prayers are “expansive" and he elaborates: "they propagate themselves continuously, with or without being posted on social networks: from hospital wards, from moments of festive gatherings to those in which we suffer silently . . . . One person’s pain is everyone’s pain, and one person’s happiness is transmitted to someone else’s soul. Pain and happiness, all a story, stories that create the story of one’s own life . . . .”
He reminds us that prayer is powerful, even when it’s spurred by conflict: "A way of dissolving the conflict, of softening it, is to pray for the person with whom I am in conflict. And something changes with prayer. The first thing that changes is my heart and my attitude.” (The emphasis is mine.)
And finally, the pope notes that the “communion of saints” involves not only those who are canonized formally, but all those who already have passed away and those of us who struggle to be pilgrims on earth. Some, who have made more progress than I have, may live next door, shop at my grocery store, pass me on the street. Although finding the words for prayer is sometimes hard for me, I am not praying alone. I am buoyed by a magestic river.