Monday, September 17, 2007

Our intercessory prayers should be catholic and please note the small "c"

Today's readings knocked me out...and taught me something about prayer.

In the Gospel—that lovely report of the centurion's faith—we learn that the disciples of Jesus pleaded to Him on behalf of a Roman pagan...a guy that, in those days, would give most Israelites the cooties.

They approached Jesus and strongly urged him to come, saying, "He deserves to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation and he built the synagogue for us."

Okay. The guy was a Roman, an enemy, but still there was a rather self-centered reason for praying for him. "He deserves it. After all, he built a synagogue for us."

Nothing wrong with that and this is one of my favorite Gospel passages...

But I was even more struck by today's First Reading.

First of all, I ask that supplications, prayers,
petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone,
for kings and for all in authority,
that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life
in all devotion and dignity.
This is good and pleasing to God our savior,
who wills everyone to be saved
and to come to knowledge of the truth.

Kings? Do you know who was the Roman leader at the time Paul wrote this to Timothy? Nero! The guy who, more than likely, put both Paul and Peter to death. The guy who took pleasure in torture and murder. The guy who makes Hitler look like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, sheesh. Yet Paul urged prayers for him and other leaders.

Here's what I've got to remember:

"God wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth."

This means I—and you, too, although you probably already do this—must pray for everyone. Not just for our sweet grannies and darling children and closest buddies but also for that old biddy who thrives on criticism and complaints, and for that miserable SOB at work and for Osama and for Hitler and for that idiot who cut me off yesterday on the way to church.

And for our leaders.

It's easy for me to pray for, say, George W. because I'm one of the very small percentage of people, or so I gather, who actually likes him. But if Hillary (or, let us be frank, any Democrat) makes it to the Oval Office, I must not only pray for her or for him but also take delight in doing so.

Hey. If Paul could do it for Nero, I certainly can do it for the folks who are running this temporary world.