Praying in Sickness and Old Age

Some of the elderly to whom I bring Communion as well as the sick express regret that their age or illness makes it difficult for them to pray.  In years gone by they were busy at work and raising kids and prayer was difficult then. But now that they have the time they regret they cannot concentrate enough to pray. Others struggle to be able to read any longer. Still others find that their memory has faded and prayers, once well known, are now gone and requests for prayer cannot be remembered.

Indeed as the mind grows weaker prayer becomes difficult and distracted. What to do? I usually suggest just a few things.

  1. Sighing– There is a beautiful passage by St. Augustine in his Letter to Proba wherein he speaks of the power of sighs and tears in prayer as more eloquent than words:  This task [of prayer] is generally accomplished more through sighs than words, more through weeping than speech. He “Places our tears in his sight“, and “Our sighs are not hidden from Him,” (Psalm 38:9),  for He has established all things through His Word and does not seek human words. (Letter 130 “To Proba” Chapter 10). Hence this great saint reminds us to sigh often in prayer. Now sighing is linked to longing, longing for relief for our self or others, longing to be with God, longing for things indescribable. Hence I often advise the elderly to sigh more that to be anxious about what words to say or thoughts to form. A sigh often contains them all. For we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit…(Rom 8:26-27). To sigh with concern and longing is worth more than any words.
  2. Holding the Rosary – For many of the elderly or sick praying a full rosary is difficult. Even a decade may present challenges. In such cases it well suffices to hold the beads as though one were simply holding Mary’s hand. This is prayer.  Sometimes late at night I too adopt this prayer. Perhaps I have been awakened and feel troubled by some sort of dream or anxiety. And yet I am not awake enough to concentrate on specific prayers. At times like these I just hold my rosary beads until sleep once again comes. It is very consoling and as if I were holding Mary’s hand.
  3. A loving glance– It is good to have a picture (or crucifix) of our Lord, the Blessed Mother of other saints near at hand or on the wall. For the sick and elderly who have trouble praying a simple and loving glance is a rich prayer.
  4. A general offering of our very weakness – When we are sick, infirm or of advanced age we clearly have a sacrifice to offer God, the sacrifice of our very infirmity. Just a simple act of the will from time to time asking the Lord to accept our weakness and humble state as a sacrificial offering. Here too sighs are often all that is necessary in expressing this intention and joining our suffering to Christ’s own, once upon the Cross: Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the Church (Col 1:24).

Perhaps you could add to this list?

Finally,  a word of encouragement to those who do suffer. The Lord is especially close to those who suffer and because of this your prayer is especially powerful. Do not fear the lack of eloquence, sighs are more. Just trust that God’s has a special ear for you on account of your sufferings. A simple loving glance, a sigh, holding your beads, this is all it takes. The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest until it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds (Sirach 35:17-18a). Though the LORD is on high, he looks upon the lowly (Psalm 138:6).  The LORD is close to the brokenhearted, whose spirit is crushed he will save (Psalm 34:19). Though the LORD scoffs at the scoffers, Yet He gives grace to the afflicted (Prov 3:24).

This video of people praying has music by Palestrina that expresses musically a kind of musical sigh. As the harmonies build, experience the yearning and sighing of the soul to be with God. The text that is sung is from Psalm 42:1: Sicut cervus desiderat ad fontes aquarum,ita desiderat anima mea ad te, Deus. (As the deer longs for running water, so longs my soul for you, O God).  The Composer is Palestrina. The Choir is the Cathedral Singers Directed by Richard Proulx (RIP)

15 Replies to “Praying in Sickness and Old Age”

  1. Although I don’t have a problem concentrating in general, 2 and 3 are rules for me, not exceptions. I especially like images of Saints. I get all kinds of them in the mail and I stick them up all over the place, so most places you look in my house there is some kind of sacred image. It’s always good to have reminders to pray.

  2. I am sitting here crying … Father, you must have healed many with your wise words. May God continue to bless you and work through you.

    Holding a child, or another person, or a small animal and pouring love into another is also a prayer.

    Lighting a candle or listening to music, like the above, is also prayer.

  3. In addition I’d like to add the Brown Scapular of Our Lady Mt. Carmel. It’s a constant prayer, a garment of grace.

    “Take this Scapular, it shall be a sign of salvation, a protection in danger and a pledge of
    peace. Whosoever dies wearing this Scapular shall not suffer eternal fire.” This is Mary’s
    promise made July 16, 1251 to Saint Simon Stock.

    One of the great mysteries of our time is that the majority of Catholics either ignores, or has
    entirely forgotten this Heavenly promise of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Our Lady further says:
    “Wear the Scapular devoutly and perseveringly. It is my garment. To be clothed in it means you
    are continually thinking of me, and I in turn, am always thinking of you and helping you to
    secure eternal life.”

  4. I almost forgot. Enrollment in the Knights at the Foot of the Cross.

    It’s part of the Militia IImmaculatae founded by St. Maximilian Kolbe which is devoted to defending and expanding the reign of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on Earth. The Knights hold a special role by offering their suffering in support of the cause:

    Knights at the Foot of the Cross

    The Knights at the Foot of the Cross (KFC) is an outreach within the MI movement, comprised of Catholics afflicted by the cross of suffering – physical, spiritual or emotional.

    As MI members, KFCs consecrate themselves to Mary. As did Mary at the Cross of her Son, they also participate in “redemptive suffering” (also called sacrificial or reparational suffering). This means they offer some of their daily prayers and trials to Jesus and Mary, who apply these gifts where grace is needed most, such as to convert hearts and save souls, to make amends for the sins of others, and ultimately to bring about the reign of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. KFCs especially offer up their difficulties for the success of the MI. They thus become a special core group or vanguard within the movement. Though often unable to actively evangelize because of infirmity, nonetheless KFCs generate untold graces as they link their sufferings with those of Christ. Through the intercession of Mary, they offer up all to the Father as a “sacrifice of praise.”

    Supernaturally, KFCs are perhaps the most important members of the MI – a spiritual powerhouse.

    “Declaring the power of salvific suffering,
    the Apostle Paul says:
    ‘In my flesh I complete what is
    lacking in Christ’s afflictions
    for the sake of his body, that is, the Church.’ . . .
    Thus to share in the sufferings of Christ
    is to suffer for the kingdom of God.”

    Pope John Paul II
    Salvifici Doloris

    How was the KFC Started?

    Envisioned earlier in the writings of St. Maximilian, the KFC was founded May 31, 1983. On the feast of Mary’s Visitation, sixteen aged and sick Conventual Franciscan friars, all MI members, decided to make use of their ailments and encourage others to do the same.

    Sensing a good idea, the friars asked, “Why not harvest the immense reparational potential within the suffering MI community at large?” Thus a spiritual vanguard was formed: individuals no longer isolated or frustrated in sickness or agedness, working in solidarity for the conversion of the entire world. The very first Knight at the Foot of the Cross was Fr. Simeon Kaczmarek, OFM CONV. Bedridden for two years with cancer, Father offered his pain and prayers for the KFC cause while it was still being organized.

    Back to top

    Theology of Redemptive Suffering

    Sacrificial suffering is a rich Christian faith expression, modeled after Christ himself. It is a partial answer to the age-old question, “Why does God allow human suffering?”

    The Church has always taught that physical pain, mental distress, even minor annoyances, are not meaningless but are meant to be put to valuable use. As Jesus used the anguish of his Passion and the agony of Calvary to accomplish our salvation, so do our sufferings have supernatural value when joined to the Cross. By willingly accepting our struggles and presenting them back to God as a “burnt offering” for the intentions of others, we cooperate with Christ and become real participators in the mystery of his saving act.

    Mary And Maximilian:
    Models of Reparational suffering

    Mary Immaculate is a special model of reparational suffering. Standing at the Cross in interior distress, her soul “pierced by a sword” (Lk 2:35), she offered all to the Father in a silent, “Thy will be done.” She invites us, and strengthens us, to do the same through our MI consecration as a KFC.

    St. Maximilian Kolbe also is a model of reparational suffering. Imprisoned at the Auschwitz death camp, Maximilian “emptied himself” for the Gospel (Phil 2:7). He shared his meager food and water with fellow prisoners while tending to their spiritual needs. He persevered in charity toward his Nazi captors though they singled him out for special brutalities as a Catholic priest. He willingly endured the torture of the starvation bunker by taking the place of another prisoner. In this way, Maximilian became “another Christ,” making satisfaction in the divine economy for the numberless atrocities of his Nazi captors.

    According to Pope John Paul II, St. Maximilian’s holy example has made him a “sign and a prophet of the new era, the civilization of love.”

    Why should I join the KFC?

    Consecrating yourself to Mary through the ideal of St. Maximilian will be one of the most important days of your life. You will be placing yourself under the protective mantle of Mary’s care as the Immaculate Conception, Mother of the Church and Comfort of the Afflicted.

    Through total consecration you cooperate with Mary in the work of building up and renewing the Church of the third millennium. She will enlighten your mind, guide your will, empower your efforts and intercede for you in a special way before our Heavenly Father.

    You will share in the intercessory prayers of MI religious communities, who pray daily for the MI movement and the sanctification of its members.

    You will also have the support that comes from being a part of an international movement of spiritual renewal, including access to MI conferences and resource materials, and to Immaculata magazine.

  5. “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”

    Of the many variations of the Jesus Prayer, the explanation and direction I found in the The Way of the Pilgrim has a simple, but powerful resonance.

  6. This is such a comforting post Father, thank you. I have read many stories of the saints and their heroic suffering for others. Often times I would imagine that I would do the same thing if ever I would suffer. Now that I have much experience with suffering, I can tell you that most often I cannot suffer well like those I’ve read about. I moan, cry and sometimes complain. I have learned enough to offer it up but I do not do it near as well as the saints or how I imagined I would. Your post reminded me that God is pleased with the best I have to give even if it doesn’t seem like much to me.

  7. Dear Father,
    Thank you so much for this one. I have been a Care-giver for the past 20 years of my life. As a daugter and daughter-in-law it has been most difficult to be by at the bedside for two decades for parents and in-laws. At home and in the hospital, I have constantly seen suffering for the past two decades and prolonged years of illness and care-giving. Right now, it is my Mom. But she has been exemplary in her suffering, following in the footsteps of Christ. Non-christian doctors have attributed her healing to Christ and her ‘sighing prayers’ and the holding of the rosary. There are times when I get up in nthe middle of the night and see her praying the rosary. Indeed, our Blessed Mother is a great source of comfort. Rather than words, it the feelings of the heart, because as St.Paul says, the Spirit searches the heart and when we are unable to pray by ourselves, He comes to our rescue aAND CARRIES our prayers into the hands of the Father……Frankly, after being a Care-giver, I too have no energy to pray….I too sigh….

  8. Please pray for my grandmother Leonie Morris’s healthy recovery from the critical condition she is in right now. Pray that Lord Jesus Christ blesses her with health and speedy recovery as she really needs him right now. Please lord bless my grandmother with health. You are the only one who can create miracles and who has the power over everything. So Lord I ask this in your blessed name please give my grandmother health and recovery. And thank you for your prayers and good thoughts. God bless you all x

Comments are closed.