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Paulist seminarian Tom Gibbons reflects on his formation experience and his life as a seminarian right now. Along the way, some questions will be will be answered, and a lot more will come up.

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July 15th, 2010

On Not Praying For World Peace

 
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If you’re like me and have been reading the news over the past couple of years, it is hard not to be concerned about the bees… or more importantly, the lack thereof.  The phenomenon of “Colony Collapse Disorder” has been going on for at least the past few years as the nation’s beekeepers have noticed a steep decline in colonies with each progressing year.

BeekeeperSo, being the student for the priesthood, I thought recently that I would do what a man in my position could do; I prayed for the return of the bees during the prayers of the faithful.  When I offered this petition to God, I did hear some giggling in the pews after offering my intention, but I did not care… these are Biblical issues we are dealing with.

After Mass at dinner, a fellow Paulist brother could not help but comment on my somewhat unconventional prayer. The main gist of the commentary was that I could have been praying for something more important, a petition for “world peace” for example.  That perspective, however, landed on a particular nerve.

“I hate praying for World Peace.  I mean, it’s kind of a BS prayer that very few people ever mean….”

My unexpected response to his evaluation of my prayer life resulted in a very emphatic yet indignant, “What?!?!”

“Seriously, how long have people been praying for ‘world peace’? And after all of that, do we still have war? It seems to me that God has given His answer on the issue of ‘world peace,’ so I figure that we might as well move on to other matters.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“It’s just a cliché prayer, that’s all.  It’s just one of those prayers that people dust off when they have to come up with something ‘profound.’  It’s as if people say ‘I have to come up with three original prayers during service today and I have NO idea what to say… what the heck, let’s just pray for world peace.’  It turns Mass into a Miss America pageant.”

“Wow… you, my friend, need Jesus.”

“Chill out. It’s not like I’m ANTI-world peace. If it makes you feel any better, I am personally very pro-world peace.

“It’s just that it’s just such a generic prayer.  I mean, at least the people who want to buy the world a Coke and teach them how to sing are at least willing to take specific action.  But too many people just mouth the “world peace” prayer under their breath and think they’ve done their work for the day.”

“So YOU have never just mouthed prayers? Does that mean that you did not mean those prayers?”

“Of course I have mouthed a lot of prayers in my day… I’m Catholic!  We have so many standardized prayers that it would be impossible for me to truly comprehend and fully mean every prayer I have ever uttered… but that’s part of belonging to the faith and I’m Okay with that.

“But for the prayers we’re supposed to create ourselves, I just think that we should be held to a higher standard, even if it happens to be off the beaten track every once and a while.  I’d just rather that people be “weird” and yet honest and specific rather than being proper while mailing it in during prayer time.

“Look, if people want to pray for Sudan or Afghanistan, they’re at least putting in some effort to be somewhat specific; they’re at least putting more meaning into it.  It also indicates they might be willing to change themselves in order to make their prayer come true (if that’s what’s necessary). It means they’re willing to open up and share what they really care about. I’m not saying that there aren’t some people who do sincerely pray for world peace, but let’s get real.”

“Still, I think you’re being a little ridiculous…”

“Okay then, what would a world-wide food shortage… because there are no bees to pollinate plants… do for the prospects of world peace?”

[No response]

“Thank you for playing.”

 
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The Author : Fr. Tom Gibbons
Since 2009, Tom Gibbons, CSP, has shared insights on faith, pop culture, and seminary life in the Kicking and Screaming blog here at Busted Halo. On May 19, 2012, Tom was ordained a Paulist priest at St. Paul the Apostle Church in New York City. He will begin serving St. Peter's Catholic Church in Toronto, Canada beginning in July 2012.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Trudy Shaw

    I once learned a lesson about specificity in prayer from a lovely, simple older lady. I worked at a Catholic hospital and attended Mass in the chapel every day. There was an earthquake in Ecuador (I think it was Ecuador – this was over 30 years ago!), and this lady who also attended every day prayed for “The survivors of the earthquake in Ecuador.” Then, every day, for months and months, she prayed for “The survivors of the earthquake in Ecuador.” We kind of got used to it. One day a couple who hadn’t been to that Mass before attended. When the lady gave her usual petition, the wife leaned over toward her husband and asked, “Was there another earthquake in Ecuador?” It made me chuckle, but also reflect that those people in Ecuador needed prayers long after most of the world had stopped praying for them. That sweet, simple older lady reminded us every day that our prayers don’t have to follow the latest sound bite.

    …and, as a Secular Franciscan, I also agree about the bees.

  • suzanne

    excellent. hope you preach on this as well as pray. pollination and the way it works, the interconnectedness of beings you wouldn’t think of as being linked, our interdependence in unexpected ways whether we want to be or not… (oh, and yes, bees worldwide are in real trouble now. so are frogs, but at least we don’t need them for pollination, though we do get some amazing medications from them and they’re really very cute.)

  • Theresa Henderson

    I pray also for the bees, my dad was a beekeeper.

  • Elizabeth

    Since I am a beekeeper and a victim of colony collapse disorder, we thank you for the prayer for our friends, the bees.

  • Cindy

    Thank you! Love this post and wish so often that our petitions could be down and dirty like, “Lord, let all these families leave this Mass and get through the rest of Sunday without a squabble.” That might ultimately lead to world peace since our dear Pope John Paul II said, “so goes the family, so goes the nation, so goes the whole world.”
    However, I have a protestant friend who applauds the petitions at Mass that call us out of our own small experience. We do not pray that Sally’s subprime mortgage will be approved…It probably takes all kinds of prayers and all kinds of pray-ers.

  • David O’Sullivan

    I wonder if, every time we prayed for peace, we prayed for ‘justice and peace’…as Pope Paul VI said ‘if you want peace, work for justice’

  • ZMalfoy

    As someone who dreams of one day having a property large enough to accommodate a hive or three, a dog, and a large garden, I thank you for the consideration for the little helpers the Lord has provided us. Bees are indeed very important to the world food supply, and I’d say honey bees the most important, since honey has so many wonderful properties in addition to sweetening life. So, thank you for that.

    Also, I agree that the prayer for world peace has been so overused it’s almost entirely lost it’s meaning for many.

  • V

    First: LOVE this article. Praying for bees really does matter. Since it is an article of faith (and a commonly mouthed utterance) that God watches the death of every sparrow, presumably He will be heartened that someone has thought and cares about what bees mean to us.

    Because of some… rather pagan aspects (not to mention outright fallacy as well as heresy) prevalent in the modern ecology movement, it’s popular in Catholic circles not to walk, but run from anything that smacks of sensitivity and reverence of the natural world. Read just about any short bio on St. Francis and the many disclaimers tacked on to the end by the editors, and you’ll see what I mean. If you want to know what they are afraid of, read Keats and you’ll see their point.

    But that doesn’t mean that you can’t appreciate nature in a Catholic way, and it seems to me that this guy gets it.

    About specificity in prayer:
    I’m not in the religious life, nor a priest… just some shmo off the street, but… Here’s something that some fairly knowledgeable gentleman wearing a Roman collar told me in confession once.

    Yes, being specific in your prayer life does demonstrate that you are present in your petitions to God and aren’t just phoning it in…but if you have forgotten a name of someone you wish to pray for, or relevant names of places or events, a short description will do. God won’t be cranky that you are, once again affected by human weakness… just as long as you are conscious of it, and try to work within it to be present and follow Him as best as you can. Scrupulousness is no fun, and is an error to boot. Nifty how that works out.

  • Wendy Carmona

    Great article! You hit on something I have wondered about… namely praying in such a general way versus praying for specific things.

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