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Prayer and Minds in Overdrive
By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Q U I C K S C A N

Dealing With Distractions During Prayer
Can a Mass Be Offered for Non-Catholics?
Is There a Right to the Sacraments?
Recycling Religious Articles
Finding Medals for Lesser-known Saints


Q: I pray a fair bit during the day: the Rosary, prayers to Mary, St. Joseph, St. Anthony of Padua, the Holy Spirit and various litanies. Quite often I am distracted by wandering thoughts. Are my prayers doing me and my family any good? What can I do to improve my prayer life?

A: You already know that your mind can wander far and wide during prayer. There is no formula or technique to guarantee that this will never happen again. There are, however, various ways to help get you back on track. Some people recommend a short Bible verse such as, “The Lord is gracious and merciful” (Psalm 145:8). Other people prefer biblically inspired sayings such as, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me a sinner” or “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” This is part of what people call “centering prayer.”

In order to address your ongoing distractions during prayer, you may need to ask yourself three questions: “Do I expect prayer always to be a positive and consoling experience? Do I have to be in a certain mood to pray? Must I show God only my good moods?”

If you can bring only good moods to prayer, you will almost certainly be distracted by other parts of your life not now in harmony with that particular mood. For example, if you try to pray immediately after having a blowup with a family member, you can attempt to deny the experience as though it never happened or you can decide to bring it right into your prayer. Be prepared, however. God may not always take your side! Every prayer permeated with honesty is worth praying.

Honest prayer will not always be consoling because it may highlight where our conversion to the Lord’s ways needs to go deeper and wider. Although the Pharisee in the Temple (see Luke 18:9-12) was probably consoled by his prayer, it had little possibility of leading him into greater cooperation with God’s grace. The Pharisee was thankful God had not created him like other sinful people.

The prayer of the tax collector in the Temple (see Luke 18:13), on the other hand, may not sound very consoling (“God, be merciful to me a sinner”). Only that kind of honesty, however, reflects genuine prayer.

You did not mention the Old Testament psalms as part of your prayers. I recommend them highly because they powerfully remind us that prayer does not begin with a single mood. Although some psalms are very positive from start to finish, other psalms begin very candidly and negatively—yet end positively.

In this magazine’s archives you will find that each month in 2005 has a “Psalms” link, which connects to our series of short reflections on psalm verses.

If prayer requires starting from a single emotion, someone forgot to tell that to King David and the other writers of the Book of Psalms! Thank goodness Job did not wait until he was in a good mood to start praying. Genuine prayer is ultimately a consolation, but it may sound pretty edgy at the start.

You might consider substituting part of the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours, which uses the psalms extensively, for some of your daily prayers.

Robert Browning’s poem “Soliloquy in a Spanish Cloister” records the inner thoughts of a monk who clearly needs much greater honesty before God if that monk’s prayers are ever to become genuine praise, adoration, thanksgiving or petition before the Almighty.

Please do not give in to discouragement on this issue. Your prayers are too important for that.

Q: At our parish, a Sunday Mass was recently offered for a non-Catholic couple. Is that allowed? Have times changed that much? I have tried without success to get a clear answer to my question. Can you provide one?

A: Canon 901 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law states, “A priest is entitled to offer Mass for anyone, living or dead.” The commentary of the Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland notes, “Canons 1184-1185 forbid a funeral Mass for certain people, but this would not prevent a priest saying Mass for these people. Prudence might have to be exercised in publicly announcing such Mass intentions.”

Canon 1184 lists three categories of persons to whom Church funerals are to be denied unless they gave some signs of repentance before death: notorious apostates, heretics and schismatics; those who for anti-Christian motives chose that their bodies be cremated; and other manifest sinners to whom a Church funeral could not be granted without public scandal to the faith. The same canon notes that the bishop of the diocese is to be consulted if any doubt occurs.

Since your letter did not indicate that the people you mentioned belong in any of those three categories, the publicized Mass intention was proper.

Q: Our archdiocese has several priestless parishes and is looking at many more within a few years. Deacons, religious and laypeople are being prepared to take over as administrators. That’s fine—but laypeople cannot normally preside at weddings and deacons cannot celebrate Mass, hear confessions or anoint the sick.

In view of the obligation to participate in Sunday Mass and to confess mortal sins at least once a year, I am starting to wonder: Do laypeople have a right to the sacraments? Might that require bishops to ordain priests, even married men?

I know that some people argue that changing the celibacy rule involves many other issues, for example, financial support. Do practical challenges constitute a theological/doctrinal reason to reserve access to the sacraments to a small percentage of people living close to a priest? If the faithful have a right to the sacraments, is it moral to withhold access to the sacraments because of a man-made rule?

A: People have a right to receive the sacraments for which they are properly prepared. Speaking about a “right to the sacraments,” however, does not mean that all preparation for them can be waived because every baptized Catholic has an absolute right to each sacrament.

Every Catholic certainly has a right for access to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. On the other hand, there is no question that the Church has a right to do its best to make sure that parents preparing for the Baptism of a child, couples preparing for marriage, children preparing for First Communion and candidates for Holy Orders are properly prepared.

Bishops seek to provide for the sacramental needs of the people entrusted to them by encouraging vocations to ordained ministry as priests or permanent deacons. At times, bishops of a certain region on their ad limina visit to the pope have sought permission to ordain married men to the priesthood. It has not been granted.

The practice of ordaining as Catholic priests some married men who were formerly Protestant ministers or Anglican priests indicates that celibacy is not an absolute requirement for ordination in the Catholic Church. Even so, the Latin rite of the Catholic Church has chosen to maintain this custom.

In many parts of Central and South America, as well as Africa, bishops have designated catechists or “ministers of the Word” to lead prayer services and distribute Holy Communion. That is not the same as a Mass, of course, but this practice means that people have greater access to the Eucharist than they would otherwise.

This topic in the July 2008 column has drawn several responses. One person noted a couple who sends rosaries to the missions; they can be contacted through HoldenBnD@comcast.com. Another reader suggested sending rosaries, medals and similar objects to Brother Stephen, C.Ss.R., at 294 East 150th Street, Bronx, NY 10451-5195. He sends them to missionaries in other countries.

Q: I will soon be the godmother of a baby boy named Massimo. I would like to give his parents a medal of St. Massimo, but I cannot find one. The only medals available are for well-known saints.

A: Here are a few leads: Catholic religious goods stores such as St. Francis Bookshop here in Cincinnati (1-800-241-6392) can sometimes help on such requests. St. Francis Bookshop also referred me to www.romegiftshop.com/testimonials.html as another possible source. The live links on the left are for searches. Over 100 medals are listed at www.autom.com. If none of those work, a parish or school named for that saint might be able to offer some help.

If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.


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