We hear much talk about evangelization theses days. Catholics have been so reluctant to actively share our faith with others. In this year of Mercy, even more emphasis has been placed on our responsibility to promote and defend the Church.
Our non-Catholic Christian friends often hold misconceptions about Catholics and our practices. One in particular is the assumption that Catholics worship Mary and the saints as much as we worship God. Of course, we worship only God, and no other. The thought is rooted in their equating prayer with worship rather than petition. Even when properly explained, praying to saints is seen as a violation of Christ as the one mediator between God and man. This misunderstanding comes when one does not distinguish the difference between a mediator and an intercessor. There can be one mediator but many intercessors. The roles are distinctly different. Asking for a saint’s intercession is similar to asking a friend to pray for you. A saint’s intercession is just more effective.
Unfortunately, some well-meaning Catholics perpetuate these Catholic stereotypes by blurring the line between supernatural and superstition. Every Wednesday, local residents receive an advertising flier in our mailboxes. The paper includes an obituary page that also contains published intercessory prayers. That in itself is not a bad thing, but these particular prayers usually contain provisions that appear superstitious. Common to them is the stipulation that the prayer is “never known to fail” provided that it is repeated a certain number of times and that it must be published.
I am suspicious of intercessory prayers that have precise formulas attached for efficacy. Some common Catholic devotions, especially those arising from apparitions approved by the Church, have prescribed conditions needed to gain an indulgence, and that I can understand. The Rosary, the Chaplet, First Fridays, First Saturdays and others devotions have histories that can be traced back through the centuries. Some of them come from private revelations that Catholics are not bound to acknowledge. That does not mean they are not worthy of belief, but saying that a prayer must occur in a precise form, number or media to be efficacious would not seem to be of Divine decree. Saying only four decades of a Rosary would surely not render the entire prayer ineffective.
Turning prayer into a mechanical routine deemed necessary to gain a particular outcome is problematic. Saying that Saint Jude will intercede for you if you say certain words nine times a day for eight days and promise to publish it in the newspaper reeks of superstition. That is not to say Saint Jude won’t intercede if you do those things, but emphasizing the mechanics would seem to diminish the spiritual sincerity of the request.
No outcome can be guaranteed by following a particular prayer pattern. Even the Memorare, which I pray daily, says that it was never known to leave us unaided. Yet, I realize that my petitions added to the prayer will not always play out the way I would like. We sometimes hear that all prayers are answered, but we don’t always get the answer we want. Perhaps so, but publicly proclaiming that a certain prayer is “never known to fail” can lead to false hope and even spiritual despair when the answer is no.