I just got an eMail from a friend two-thirds of the way across the country. My friend said, "I remembered you in prayer at Mass." He said it so matter-of-factly that one might be tempted to think he was speaking of something quite trivial, when he was actually telling me something of astonishing significance. He was accessing an untellably powerful mystery, and doing so, somehow, on my behalf.
Some years ago, on a visit to the parish church from which I was launched to seminary many years before that, one of the older saints of that community (every parish has them, I think--usually they're women) told me, almost as casually as my friend's eMail, "I pray for you every day." Every day! I was stunned. I still am, because I don't doubt that she's still doing it.
"Such knowledge is too wonderful for me." (Psalm 139:6) And it would be quite too much to bear, actually, except for the knowledge that it is so not "all about me," but, rather, all about web into which I have been knit (see the Prayer Book collect for All Saints) by the love and grace of God.
I don't pretend to be able to define--or even remotely comprehend--what any of this means. I'm a board member of a fledgling organization in my city that aims to galvanize resources to address some of the weak spots in the social fabric, and do so in the name of Jesus. My colleagues on the board, save one (who is my parishioner!), are all Evangelicals of one stripe or another. They believe in both the necessity and the power of prayer, and, probably not completely realizing what they're doing, they've put me in charge of the Prayer Committee. Now, these are good people, and I truly honor their faith and their dedication. But one of the things I've already begun to challenge them on is their limited notion of what prayer even is. In their universe, it could pretty much be defined as "verbalizing requests to God." Yesterday I suggested that just being together intentionally in God's presence, even if completely silent, with no words to articulate any requests, fully qualifies as prayer. Nobody said I was nuts (well, they were in my conference room, so at least they were polite!), and there were even some "Aha!" expressions.
I don't know whether my friend who prayed for me at Mass tonight asked for anything specific on my behalf. But it doesn't matter to me. What matters is that he prayed for me. And the fact that he did it in the context of corporate eucharistic worship gives it a whole added dimension. And I rather doubt (even hope) that the saintly woman from my home parish is keeping tabs on whether her particular requests on my behalf are being "answered" or not. It is sufficiently humbling, and life-giving, to know that she holds me in her heart when she comes intentionally into the presence of the Holy One, and that, in her doing so, we are both participating in the redemption of the universe.