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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.