To some who are not Catholic, and heck to some who are, novenas seems like superstition, a relic of folk religion. Novenas are not incantations; they do not offer us magic if only we say certain words or do certain things. Alas, some Catholics are misguided about novenas. Have you ever attended a Mass where someone had stuck a copy of a novena to St. Jude in a pew? The flier says that if you go to church for nine days and leave a copy of the prayer behind, your request will be granted. This is a misuse of the Catholic treasure of a novena.
Father William P. Saunders, refers to this practice as “dispensing—machine Catholicism; just as a person puts the coin in the vending machine and presses the button to get the desired soda, here a person says the prayer, goes to Church, and is supposedly guaranteed that the request will be granted. So much for God’s will. What is really sad these days is that the person simply Xeroxes the letter; one would think they could at least hand-write it.” So what is a novena, exactly?
We set aside a time over nine days, and ask a certain saint to pray for us. Right now, I am praying my very first novena and perhaps some of you are praying along with me. I am meditating and learning about the life of Saint Joan of Arc, and asking her to pray for a special intention of mine.
I prefer to pray the same prayer to Saint Joan every day; it helps keep me disciplined and stick to the novena. But you can pray whatever you like. You can simply say “Saint Joan, pray for me in my time of trouble.” Novenas are not quid pro quo arrangements. It’s not as if I want X and if I pray a novena, Christ will grant me X. Perhaps at the nine days’ end, I will discern that X isn’t what Christ wants for me anyway. Perhaps I will find out that peace and joy come when I don’t receive what I think I need.
Having never prayed a novena before, I am discovering some of its benefits. Because I am praying the novena each morning, it shapes to my days. I am praying, with Saint Joan near me as a heavenly companion. That helps keep me focused on Christ throughout my day. I feel Saint Joan’s presence beside me.
O Joan, holy liberator of France, the powerful holy force in the days of old, as you yourself said, “Peace would be found only at the point of a lance,” who used the weapons of war when no other means were able to obtain a just Peace, take care and help today those who do not want to do violence and patiently try to employ all possible peaceful means of resolution, but now allow the violence of war.
Heroine of Orleans, transmit to our leaders, your talent to inspire your soldiers to accomplish great deeds of valor, in order that our soldiers’ efforts will come to a rapid and successful end.
Triumphant One of Reims, prepare for us the just peace under the shield of a force that will be henceforth vigilant! Martyr of Rouen, be near to all the soldiers who fall in battle, in order to support, console, and help them and those dear ones that they leave behind.
Saint of the Country, excite in all souls, in every home of the world, the zeal to contribute to the salvation of the world and the return of peace, works which you crave, the rediscovery of a more Christian life, through holy thoughts and actions, forgiveness and persistent prayer, that as you yourself once said, “God must be served first.” Amen.