About a year ago, Pat Gohn and I were chatting via skype about work-related issues, when the subject came around to our kids. I mentioned that my older son was, that very day (and after a discouraging two year search) interviewing for a job that seemed perfect for him.
Although I felt strongly that the Holy Spirit was at work, and that the job was “meant” for him, I suppose my voice still betrayed some tension; Pat picked up on it and said, “would you like to pray about it right now? We can do a Chaplet of Divine Mercy for his intention.”
I was so shocked by the casual ease with which she made the offer that I said “yes, please,”; I picked up the beads, let her take the lead (because she clearly knew how to safely, kindly, lead another in prayer) and before I knew it, we were praying — very naturally, very serenely and solemnly. Praying together as two women of one faith, and one mind.
It was incredible. By the time the prayer ended, my mind was clear, the tension was gone, and my willingness to leave pretty much everything in my life up to God was renewed; there was profound consolation in making that prayer together, but something else, too. Even though we were praying via skype and over a long distance, I had a strong sense that Christ was there, between us, among us: “where two or more are gathered in my name…” He was there, and it was profound.
I thanked Pat for offering to pray with me, and a few days later, when my son was offered the job, I let her know that the prayer was not only consoling but effective!
But I don’t think I ever told her what an impact she had on me simply by making the spontaneous offer of prayer.
I am a person who prefers to keep folks at a bit of a distance; I love people, but — as I have written elsewhere — I do my loving best from a distance, because intimacy tends to frighten me off. And praying with another can be very intimate.
But in this case, there was no fear; and I think that is what was so striking to me, and so instructive: Pat Gohn had no fear. She was fearless about praying with and for someone else at the drop of a hat.
She was fearless about sharing intimacy.
She had no ego at all invested in what she was doing, and she was therefore also not afraid that I would reject her offer.
Many of us have often said that Pat Gohn is the sanest woman on the internet. She’s also, perhaps, one of the most fearless!
Here’s what I believe: People need the Lord, and people need to pray in settings outside the Mass. Jesus has asked us to pray without ceasing (See 1 Thess. 5: 17.) For many of us, that means we need to start somewhere to amp-up our prayer. We need to pray in our homes, on our lunch hour at work, at the ball field, on a walk. In terms of my own anecdotal evidence, all I can say is, when I’ve asked someone if they’d like me to pray with them, I’m very rarely turned down. But I’m not offended if they pass on the idea, either.
I’ve learned that this praying-aloud-thing with another person is a skill that not all Catholics share an enthusiasm for. What I mean is that it is one thing to pray together at Mass, or to pray a rosary aloud with a group, or to pray a formal grace before meals. But it is another experience entirely to pray aloud, somewhat spontaneously, with the people you are with, even when they are Christians themselves, about a subject that is on their hearts and minds.
Now, I’m not talking about my evangelical Christian friends, who are usually very open to praying-on-the-spot when asked. Their freedom to offer a word of prayer or thanksgiving in-the-moment is something worth emulating.
Why don’t we Catholics act with the same freedom?
Pat often prays with others during her Among Women Podcasts. In this column she suggests a technique that can help more of us Catholics become fearless about offering (or accepting) an offer of real-time, spontaneous prayer: Jesus gave us great advice when it comes to our mutual prayer: He told us to be direct, be persistent, and be expectant. In other words:
“Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Mt. 7:7 RSV).
I’d like to apply those words as a strategy, or an acronym for A.S.K., for help in stepping out in faith, and inviting others to prayer, using the key words—Ask, Seek, and Knock—as our guide.
Ask. First, always ask the person you are with if they would like to pray about whatever their current situation is, or whatever the moment calls for. Ask: “Would you like to pray about this right now?” If you get a positive reply, continue on to seek. However, if you get a negative reply, no harm done, and you were kind to ask. Just offer to pray for your friend when you offer your personal prayers at home, or the next time you go to church. Then do it.
Seek. Seek, as in seeking the Holy Spirit. If your friend would like to pray, silently seek the Spirit’s guidance. Take a breath and with it offer a silent prayer invite the Holy Spirit to be present.
Knock. Knock on heaven’s door. This is where you actually pray out loud with your friend. First, keep it simple and tell them what you are going to do: “We’ll bless ourselves by making the Sign of the Cross, then I’ll mention the need out loud. Then we can pray the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be for your intention. Then we’ll close the prayer with the sign of the Cross, unless you’d like to offer a prayer before we’re done.” Then do that. It probably won’t take longer than three minutes.
Read the whole thing, and consider risking some intimacy with the offer of prayer; start at home. Having experienced the power of the invitation and the consolations to be found there, myself, I am going to take her advice. I think what Pat Gohn is proposing is a perfect way to make The Year of Faith something that becomes personal and alive for all of us! As Blessed Pope John Paul II and the angels always say to us: Do Not Be Afraid.