If you are a Catholic striving after sanctity, you make a sincere effort to avoid all mortal sin and even venial sin. You certainly value truthfulness as a basic requirement for living a vibrant spiritual life and never intentionally tell lies or deceive others. Yet even so, there is one lie I have learned that Catholics, even very pious, faithful Catholics, are guilty of telling. And they tell it time and time again, sometimes every day. We go on deceiving others with this lie, and then tell the same lie again, sometimes to the same people. Most likely it is not intentional; we do not set out to be untruthful - but we become untruthful nonetheless. And this untruthfulness is not harmless; it is an untruth that can do grave harm to our own spiritual life and deprives those we lie to of very necessary graces. If not rectified, this habitual lie can lead to a devastating habit of spiritual neglect. And yet, even then, even knowing this, we continue to do it.
Have you figured out what lie I am talking about, what untruth we habitually tell other people? Is it clear yet? What lie am I talking about?
"I'll pray for you."
We sign up for prayer chains with pious intentions, then neglect to actually offer the prayers we have committed to. Many of us have all but tuned out the "prayer intentions" section in our parish bulletin. When in hearing about others' problems and calamities, we often sympathize and say, "I'll pray for you," but then when we do our rosaries and holy hours we are consumed with our own troubles - that is, if we manage to keep our minds from wandering totally. Yes, "I'll pray for you" is probably the biggest lie we tell - surely the most well-intentioned lie, but an untruth nonetheless.
Sometimes we realize our neglect here. Sometimes, as we are going through our evening rosary, we remember how we took our friend's hand and assured them of our prayers. Pricked with remorse over failing to pray for them, we will often retroactively add our friend's "intention" to the rosary we are just wrapping up, or maybe say a few extra Hail Mary's on their behalf. Such efforts, though better than nothing, signify our spiritual laziness when it comes to praying for others.
The mightiest prayer warriors of our Faith were all great intercessors; they derived great spiritual benefit from pleading the causes of others, and their prayers were heard because of their great love. The great intercessors were not simply content to mention the names of their people before their rosaries; they deeply held the concerns of their people in their hearts, brought them lovingly before the Lord in rapt prayer, wept on their behalf before the altars, sometimes praying all night for them. St. Francis spent entire days fasting and praying for the brothers of his order; St. Monica wept and prayed for Augustine for years, and the heart of the great Doctor of the Church was softened for conversion by the tears of his mother's impassioned prayers.
When we pray for others, our prayers should be passionate. In this way we allow divine charity to bridge the gap between our own life and needs and those of others. "For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man has, and not according to that he has not" (2 Cor. 8:12). If we take the initiative to truly reach out to God on behalf of another, to cherish them and their problems in our heart and bring them before God in prayer, God will take up our prayers and transfigure our disposition through Divine Charity, helping us love beyond what we thought capable and rendering our prayers fruitful and beautiful.
Part of this is simply committing to actually taking the time to pray - really pray - for the people who entrust their intentions to us. How can we ensure this happens? One of the great intercessors of the modern church was Venerable Solanus Casey, the famous humble Capuchin friar of St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit. Ven. Solanus (d. 1957) was assigned the role of porter in the St. Bonaventure Monastery, a job which brought him into contact with all the troubled souls who came to the monastery seeking spiritual solace. After hearing their stories, he began noting their intentions in a small booklet, which he would take with him to adoration. He would use the book (shown above) with its many names and intentions as a guide to his prayers, moving lovingly down the list and praying intently for each person on it.
As he did this over the years, he began to note that the prayers were being answered. This inspired Ven. Solanus to note not only the intentions in his book, but the dates they were answered. What great faith! Over the decades at St. Bonaventure Monastery, he cataloged thousands of prayers answered.
What if we were to adopt Ven. Solanus Casey's method? What if we were to carefully note the intentions people brought to us in a book, and keep this notebook among our treasured spiritual books we take with us to Adoration? What if we made a point to spend at least five minutes in impassioned, intentional and focused prayer on each intention in our book, going down the list? And how would our faith be strengthened and our souls edified if we were to also record the answers to these prayers, creating an ongoing chronicle of God's goodness in the lives of those around us?
"I'll pray for you." Let us transform it from a platitude we say thoughtlessly to a core principle of our spiritual life.