Stay awake, praying at all times


Credit Stefan Kunze via Unsplash

“Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.'”

There are many parts of the Mass that I love, but there is one moment in our Eucharist that I have now come to love as much as any of them - it is that moment when - as part of our Offertory procession - a member of the congregation, one of the people of God,  brings up to the altar, along with the bread and wine, the Petitions Book. Along with the bread and wine, we offer to God our greatest hopes and our deepest fears - all the most important things in our lives. Many parishes have a petition book – but never have I seen one that is so well used. The chaplain tells me that we are now on to our third: the previous ones filled up and wore out.

And if you read it through - one page at a time, it will tear your heart.  People pray for everything you can imagine, but especially for the things you would expect: births, deaths, marriages & jobs.

For births they pray - Lord, protect my child; make her or him grow up strong, healthy and faithful; let them be a child I can be proud of into my old age  - a child who will continue my own life of Faith in to the future.

At deaths, they pray: may she or he live with You into eternity; and may we who remain live well in their absence and in the light of their example.

For marriages: may we be a faithful couple to our dying day.

For jobs: Lord, may I find the right work in which to give glory to your Name, pay my debts, fulfil my responsibilities and feed my family.

And so on: - all human life is here. All human hopes and fears are here. Some are short; some are long.  Some elegantly written with full stops and capital letters mostly in the right places; some painfully lettered in pencil, barely literate and hardly legible.

But God can read every handwriting; just as He can read every heart.  This is a book which says many things about us as a community. It says that we are a people of need and poverty - almost all of these prayers ask for some desperate need.  It says that we are a people of hope - we have not despaired that our prayers can find answers. It says that we are a people of trust - a community - people bring these prayers to the altar for a reason - that we as a community may share in one another’s lives and petitions. And it says most of all that we are a community of love.  As you look through this book, you will notice that hardly anyone prays only for themselves. Most pray for others. And those who do pray for themselves pray most they may be made better servants of their families, their friends and their Faith.

Because our Lord today reminds us of the need to pray at all times; to light in our hearts a fire that never goes out - the fire best symbolized by the candles we light all around the church. Each and very candle is an external symbol of an internal Faith. And if you ever see a Church at night, with the electric lights off - you will see how tiny candles grow into a collective blaze of warmth and light. Because we are a Church. No single individual can pray all the time; but we as a Church pray constantly.

When I was a boy, one of my favourite hymns was ‘The Day thou Gavest, Lord, is Ended’:
“The sun that bids us rest is waking
Our brethren neath the western sky.
And hour by hour fresh lips are making
Thy wondrous doings heard on high…
The voice of prayer is never silent,
Nor dies the strain of praise away.”

So, if your parish has one, read the petitions book and weep. And when you have wept, pray for the people who write in these pages. Pray that all these heartfelt hopes may be fulfilled; and that all of these terrifying fears may be averted.

And then, when you have prayed the hopes and fears of others, then ponder in your own heart what addition YOU want to make to these pages. Which of your own hopes and fears will YOU share with the Church - your fellow members of the People of God -  to enable us all to go on praying at all times?