The Heart of the Gospel

Part 8

Pray for the Living and the Dead



I have prayed for you.
Those are simple and tender words, heartening yet humbling words. Whether the assurance comes from a neighbor or a relative, a coworker or a pastor, or even a complete stranger, prayer for our personal needs comes to us like a gift. And indeed it is a gift, a gift of mercy!

Long before pray for the living and the dead was listed among the spiritual works of mercy, a host of Old Testament figures bore witness to its importance in God's plan. Abraham and Moses, Daniel and David, Esther and Elijah, to name but a few, prayed earnestly for the living. Judas Maccabeus set a precedent in praying for the dead. Each of them offered supplication to God for the real needs of real people. All of them drew down God's grace and mercy.

I have prayed for you. If it was wonderful to have a patriarch or a prophet pray for you, how much more astonishing to have the Son of God, Incarnate Mercy, pray for you. St. Peter must have often remembered those words Jesus spoke to him at the Last Supper: I have prayed for you, Simon. (Luke 22:32) Was it not that prayer of Mercy which obtained for Peter the grace of repentance after his triple denial?

But the prince of the apostles was not the only one for whom our Lord prayed at the Last Supper. We, too, were remembered by Jesus in prayer: I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word. (John 17:20) And His prayer for us is not a thing of the past. The Letter to the Hebrews declares that Christ Jesus lives forever to make intercession for us. (7:25) Thus, at any moment and at every moment, we can say in truth: He is praying for me NOW!

Entering into this current prayer was an integral part of St. Clare's vocation as an enclosed contemplative nun. For Clare, to go apart with the Lord was to participate in the unending work of mercy which is His intercessory prayer. The Sisters who lived with her testify to how utterly faithful the Seraphic Mother was to her divine call to prayer for others. She continually occupied her soul with sacred prayers and divine praises. (LEGEND OF ST. CLARE)

Clare of Assisi could truly say I have prayed for you in a most universal way. Her "prayer list" encompassed the Church and the world. She prayed for Popes and priests. She interceded for Francis and his friars. She prayed for the Sisters in her monastic family. She prayed for her beloved city. She prayed for all who requested her prayers and all who needed her prayers the sick, the troubled, the crippled, the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless. The Seraphic Mother specified in her Rule that even as they worked, the Sisters were not to extinguish the spirit of holy prayer and dedication whose purpose all other temporal things ought to serve. (RULE, 7)

Be generous to the souls in purgatory summarizes St. Clare's dedication to prayer for the departed. She included in her Rule directives for praying the Office of the Dead, for the suffrages to be offered when one of the Sisters died and even for entrance into the enclosure for the solemn observance of Masses for the departed.

Although pray for the living and the dead is usually listed as the last of the spiritual works of mercy, it really holds first place in the realm of "do-ability." It is the all-seasons, anytime, anywhere work which anyone can do and which all of us are called to do. I have prayed for you. One of the wonders of heaven will be meeting those for whom we have prayed and those who have prayed for us. We will have an eternity not only to marvel and to thank one another, but also to gaze upon Him whose prayer of mercy accompanied us all along our journey home.