Praying for those praying for us

It’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten. 

Several years ago I was talking to a friend of mine, a cloistered Dominican nun I’ve known from childhood, about some clergy days I had just finished preaching out west. I described for her the litany of serious snags and obstacles that had arisen that had augured failure. 

There were flight problems and I barely made my connection. 

There were GPS problems in the rental car. 

There was a scheduling change the vicar general didn’t tell me about, moving my first talk up by an hour. He phoned up to my room five minutes after the newly scheduled talk was supposed to begin informing me that the archbishop was telling jokes to occupy the attention of the priests! 

Then, when I hastily tried to transfer my first talk from my laptop to the iPad from which I speak, there were connection problems I couldn’t fix, as each minute doubtless meant another episcopal punch line. 

After running without notes across the campus to the conference room, I found the archbishop still at the podium trying to entertain more than 100 priestly collaborators. 

Even in optimal conditions I would have been nervous because it was the first time I was doing extended clergy days for brother priests, most of whom had far more priestly experience. But I arrived winded, sweating, embarrassed, note-less, sick to my stomach, and prepared for catastrophe.

I didn’t even have a chance to collect my breath as the archbishop told me that he had already introduced me in absentia. One of my living heroes, he intimidatingly took a seat right in front of the podium as I prepared to give a 45-minute talk off-the-cuff. My goal was solely to survive without the archbishop’s ruing the day he had ever imprudently invited me. 

The talk I delivered was basically, I thought, an incoherent disaster compared to what I had wanted to say and had written in the notes. I finished like a student passing in an exam with the hope only to have barely passed. 

The priests gave me warm applause at the end and then launched into a vigorous question-and-answer period in which they seemed to have actually gotten something out of the talk. 

After it was all over, the archbishop told me that he was stunned that I could speak for so long with no notes, no ahs, and so much poise and clarity. When I told him what had happened prior to the talk and stated that the fact that it was not a complete cataclysm had to be miraculous, he said with a smile, “Well, someone must have been praying for you!” 

When I recounted the story to my Dominican friend, she interjected, “You know, the archbishop was right.” She told me that the nuns of her cloistered monastery had all been praying for me with perpetual adoration and perpetual Rosary leading up to and throughout the time of the clergy days. 

She then said that, as nuns of the Order of Preachers, they always pray for me whenever they know I’m traveling to preach and teach. They place written notices on a prayer board outside their chapel so that all of them can pray for the intentions confided to them, and that they take this responsibility quite seriously. 

“You’ll never know until Heaven,” she told me, “how much of the fruit you bear is due to our prayers for you.” 

Since that conversation I’ve become much more aware that all of my priestly work, including writing columns like this, is assisted by the prayers of the nuns and so many who in this world I’ll never meet. 

Today, November 21, is Pro Orantibus Day, the annual observance begun by Pope Pius XII in 1953 and expanded by St. John Paul II in 1997, on which the whole Church prays in a special way “for those praying,” for all of those in convents, cloisters, monasteries and hermitages who intercede for us without ceasing before God.

It’s held on the feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is the model of total dedication to a life of prayer and intercession in God’s service. 

It’s a day on which we thank God for the contemplatives’ silent, hidden, generous and beautiful vocation. It’s an occasion on which we recognize them, thank them, encourage them and commit to give them material support. 

Contemplative life is a great and indispensable gift of God. All of us benefit Spiritually from the orantes’ prayers and sacrifices, even if many of those in the world are unaware of their intercession or naively think that their hidden life is being wasted. 

They remind us — ensnared by the frenetic, noisy and provisional — that God is truly the “pearl of great price” and the “one thing necessary.” In a world that seeks to structure itself without God, their very existence helps us to recall that God is real, provident, and worth our all. 

A year ago, Pope Francis said that Pro Orantibus Day is “an opportune occasion to thank the Lord for the gift of so many people who, in monasteries and hermitages, dedicate themselves to God in prayer and in silent work.” He called us to “give thanks to the Lord for their witness of cloistered life” and summoned us not to “fail to provide Spiritual and material support to these our brothers and sisters, so that they may fulfill their important mission” as intercessors for the world. 

Today, as every day, communities of contemplatives are before God constantly praying for us. Today we pray for them, thank them and thank God for them. 

We’ll never know until Heaven how many of the graces we’ve received — and disasters we’ve averted — have taken place on account of their incessant prayers.

Anchor columnist Father Landry is pastor of St. Bernadette’s Parish in Fall River.

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