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The seventh spiritual work of mercy: ‘pray for the living and the dead’

The seventh and last Spiritual Work of Mercy urges us to “Pray for the Living and the Dead.”

The truth is, I haven’t quite figured out exactly how praying for someone or something works. I believe it does, but I’m not quite sure how.

I know from my own experience, and what lots of people have told me, that prayer makes a difference. “I could feel all those people praying for me,” is what people often say as they look back on difficult or painful situations.

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So my idea about praying for someone or something is this: once you get beyond the idea that prayer changes God’s mind (it may or may not, but I doubt there is need for that), prayer becomes an expression of caring — of what in Hebrew is called hesed, or “loving kindness.” And I think that’s what makes the difference.

As I look around, I see so many examples of people who apparently feel un-cared-for. I think so much antisocial (and sinful) behavior originates consciously or unconsciously in people thinking, “what difference does it make?” Or, Who cares?

Not Who cares what I do? but something more basic, like Who cares that I am? or Who cares about me?

Praying for others is always an expression of caring, and I think there is nothing most of us want more than anything else in the world than to know that someone genuinely cares about us.

When we say “I will pray for you” we say, in effect, “I care about you.” I may not know you very well… I may not especially like you… I may be reluctant to say “I love you”… I may not be able to fix what’s wrong with you… but I care about you.

I realize that loving and caring usually go hand-in-hand, but maybe not always. I think it’s possible to care about someone who may not necessarily care about me, and to care about someone without imposing conditions, as we often do with love.

And, for some reason or another, it seems to me a little easier to understand how caring — me for them and them for me — transcends the boundaries between this life and the next.

Of course I wonder, if I pray for someone who doesn’t know I am praying for them, does it make a difference? Perhaps somehow it does, but maybe only if people know that I care, or if people know that others often pray – and care – for us even when they don’t express it.

I think every prayer expresses our conviction that God is already at work healing what needs to be healed; but more than that, I think every prayer also expresses our conviction that God cares about us — and depends upon us to express God’s care to each other.

What do you think?

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Pray and Reflect

Use one or more of the following questions for personal reflection, group discussion, or private journaling:

  • On a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high) rate how confident you are that praying for someone makes a difference How would you have rated yourself five years ago?
  • Questions for Children: Who prays for you? Who do you pray for? Why do people pray for each other?
  • Questions for Families/Classrooms: Why do you think it is important that people pray for each other? What difference does it make?
  • Questions for Adults: Think about times when people have prayed for you; how did you know and what difference did it make? Do you have trouble praying for some people or some things? Why? If prayer doesn’t change God, what good is it?
  • I think praying for others is….

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Dave Cushing is director of adult faith formation for the Catholic parishes in Waterloo. The Disciple’s Corner is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Dubuque’s Office of Faith Formation and Education and is funded through the Archdiocesan Educational Development Board. It is designed to help catechists, teachers, parents, grandparents, guardians and other adults grow in their appreciation of their role as disciples of Jesus Christ.