There are some who wince at the notion of praying boldly to God, especially if anger or exasperation are part of that boldness. And yet the Bible itself models and counsels that we should include in our prayers the times when we are angry, exasperated, or disappointed in God. The psalms are filled with such prayers and great figures like Moses, David, and Job cry out to God quite plainly, expressing their anger and disappointment. I have written more on that here: A Meditation on the Role of Anger in Prayer.
At any rate, in this brief blog today I offer this example of a prayer of holy boldness from a great Saint of the Church: St. Catherine of Siena. Here is the background: Catherine’s mother, Lapa, lay dying, but Catherine was convinced that Lapa was not yet ready to die, and so she told God as much. The Lord disagreed, but Catherine remained undeterred in her assessment. And now we pick up the story and prayer …
Lapa died, or so it seemed to all the women who stood around her bed. She had refused to confess and receive the last Sacrament. Catherine lay over her mother’s corpse weeping and praying aloud.
O my dear Lord, is this how you keep the promise you once made to me that none in my house should suffer eternal death? You promised me too that you would not take my mother from this world before she could leave it in a state of grace, and here she lies dead, without having confessed or received the Sacrament. My Beloved Savior, I call to you in your great mercy, do not fail me! I will not go alive from your feet until you give me my mother back.
Speechless and overcome, the women around the deathbed saw that life seemed to creep back into Lapa’s body. She breathed and made some slight movement, … After a short time Monna Lapa was quite well again. [Told by her confessor, Blessed Fr. Raimondo, and inscribed in the Biography Catherine of Sienna by Sigrid Undset, pp 94-95].
And so here is the image of a saint at prayer: reverent but bold, seemingly unwilling to take “no” for an answer. Surely, on account of her usual and deep reverence, Catherine was allowed a bit more leeway than many of us; but do not doubt that God is often listening for us sinners to pray with a little conviction and intensity!
Somehow, too, it reminds me of a place called Cana, where the Mother of Jesus said, “They have no more wine.” And though Jesus seemed unwilling, I am convinced that Mary gave him a look that only a mother could, a look that wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. And the next thing you know, Jesus is making dozens of gallons of the best wine imaginable!
Are you praying with me, Church? Really praying? There is a place for boldness in prayer, not a boldness that loses all reverence, but a boldness nonetheless.
This song says, “King Jesus is a-listenin’ all day long, to hear some sinner pray!”
16 Replies to “A Picture of Holy Boldness in Prayer”
Love this! Not only do we need boldness in prayer, we need confidence as well. Nothing bothered me more than hearing a pro-life leader in our parish say that abortion will never end.
Abortion is abhorrent. It will end but not until the Lord returns. Evil will be with us until Jesus Christ does return. “evil men and seducers will wax worse and worse deceiving and being deceived” “woe unto them who call evil good and good evil” “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. instead ,to suit their own desires ,they will gather around them teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear”. These scriptural passage refer to a plague we live through in these times.
Steve, I disagree that one can say so decidedly that “it will end but not until the Lord returns.” Chances are high that there will still be at least one person somewhere committing abortion when the Lord returns, but they aren’t 100%. We can’t know much of anything about the future with 100% certainty. And surely we are to be a people of hope?
I think the end of legalized abortion, the end of abortion-on-demand, the end of widespread acceptance of abortion, could all be spoken of as “the end of abortion” without there having to be literally no one in the entire world (or even entire country) committing that sin. And all of those things are very possible to happen within our lifetimes. Not just a “very small but nonzero” likelihood, but a very good likelihood, I’d say at least 40 or 50% likelihood, if not greater than 50%.
For example of what people usually mean when they speak of an “end of abortion”, I can say that – blessedly – live in a community free from gun violence. It can be a true statement without that meaning there are literally no gun murders here, just that they are so rare and few that in my area I and my neighbors can feel confident on any given day that it the likelihood of it being a day where gun violence will affect us or our friends is very, very low (unlike say, Sudan). If abortion rates were to drop that low, I’d be praising God for having brought about the end of abortion!
What? What a thing to say! Surely there was some context. I could understand – perhaps – in a qualified way, one could state that with truth (any sin could end in theory, but in practice the fallen human race is likely to have at least one member committing any given sin at any given time right up until the world ends), but I hardly think it’s helpful pronouncement to make.
And besides in the ultimate sense it’s completely false. Like all sin, it will cease when the Lord comes again. And it *could* end sooner than that! We don’t really know the future, no one does. We can’t know abortion won’t end. We can’t really know it will, either, but we can and should hope! And hope should be what we make the subject of our comments as prolife leaders, and hopeful the tone, not despair.
The rest of the story is that God was right. It was better for Lapa to die at the appointed time. The rest of her life was miserable for her. She lived to see most of her children die, she was ill and dissatisfied all the time. Perhaps God had weighed Lapa’s Purgatory against her remaining life on earth. This is possibly the one case where St Catherine preferred her own opinion to that of God.
David, do you not read any of the numerous posts and articles on the salvific value of suffering? Since you have NO idea what God was thinking, you really should not be the guy to say “neener neener” on this one.
Your post suggests a very hard heart. I pray God softens it for you before it’s your time.
David, of course God was right. He always is. But I think you’ve missed what he was right *about.* He was right when He decided to let Lapa live longer. Do you really think that St Catherine somehow managed to wrest back her mother from the grave *against* God’s will? St Catherine may be good, but she ain’t that good! 🙂 It’s the curious thing about bringing back the dead – can’t really do that against God’s will. You can murder them against His command, but you can’t bring them back to life. Even modern medicine can’t restore life to the dead. Only God can do that. It was God’s will that Lapa return and live longer. And He was right to do that. Because God is always right!
This is very encouraging. I was recently told during confession “why does God have to listen to you? Isn’t prayer without expectation perfect love?” To say the least, I was taken aback. That statement undermined all that I was struggling with and was hoping for (that God was/is listening to me and to others in prayer). I will continue to pray for that priest that he might be more encouraging to those seeking guidance.
Rex in Caeli
This is something sort of neat that I learned about Moses from one of Dr. Tim Gray’s bible studies, that involves prayer: Moses, before the golden calf incident, is able to step into the Glory Cloud and talk to God face-to-face, as a friend, but after the golden calf incident, after Moses persuades God not to destroy all of the Israelites, even though Moses wasn’t involved in the golden calf incident, Moses is no longer able to step into the Glory Cloud and is no longer able to speak to God face-to-face, as a friend. The Dr., as best I recall, doesn’t really explain why that is.
St. Catherine of Siena pray for the Church!
Didn’t sound like a whole lotta prayer going on at the National Prayer Breakfast, Monsignor, but there was much more political rhetoric than praying going on. You’re just down the street from all that nonsense. How about addressing that issue in your next article?
Great to see and hear a bunch of my brothers singing this.
Going to email this to my son who’s in college.
The reflection preceding this is timely, as I very often prompt my teen and young adult children to pray with me or their siblings, and all the time. This reflection makes it clear that prayer can be passionate and very personal.
This is beautiful anguish in prayer. Those who do the Will of GOD have that intimate relationship with HIM and communicate in a intimately profound way that comes from the depth of ones heart. At the wedding at Cana, I contemplate Mother Mary telling JESUS that the wedding couple has no wine, she knows he’s going to perform his first miricle. JESUS looking at her states, woman what has this to do with me, he knowing that she is the women clothed with the sun and that she is going to participate in the salvation of mankind. She turn to the servants and instructs them to do what ever he wills. JESUS asks them to bring vessels and to fill them overflowing with water and he transform plain water into heavenly wine!
Ha! Msgr. Pope. I said the very same thing (as you have) some years ago. When telling Jesus that “They have no more wine” Jesus answered that His time had not yet come. I can only imagine that Our Blessed Mother shot Him a look that only a mother could give! A look that suggests, “But I am your mother and I’m asking you this.” How many times have we ourselves been in a similar situation? Many, I would think. Thank God for mothers! And especially for our Mother Mary, the Queen of Heaven.
I highly recommend Undset’s biography of Catherine.
Actually, Richard, I think it may have had something to do with an incident in which Moses disobeyed God’s command to provide for the Israelites (I think it might have been to strike the rock to bring forth water … although Moses eventually did it, he initially balked at the idea) … and for that reason, Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land. (His successor, Joshua, led the Israelites into the Promised Land, instead.) Maybe some of the readers here can clarify/confirm my opinion?
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