You ask someone to pray for you, a routine request as a Catholic, and suddenly that friend or group of friends gathers around you, buries you in hands, with hands on your head, your shoulders, your hands, your arms, until you are a shocked bubble of silent angst as they burst into "prayer" via "tongues" or other various spontaneous prayers (that go on and on and on in multiplication of words) and because you understand they are doing good, you don't protest this intense violation of your privacy and space while you become the center of a spectacle in someplace as common, as, say...a Mall. Or a Restaurant. Or the "gathering space" next to the holy water font in your parish while people walk by, gawking, and while you wish you could take back your prayer request and just go light a candle and pray quietly which was your original preference until you ran into your friends and asked offhand for prayers.
I have been quite uncomfortable with this practice for a Very. Long. Time. As long as I can remember, in fact. I suddenly wondered: why is it we are told to pull away from every other unwanted contact, but not from a group of over-zealous pray-ers who have suddenly forgotten, themselves, what it's like to be ceremoniously or unceremoniously groped in the name of supplication to God? Why do we suddenly stop defending our boundaries because our space is being violated in the name of "prayer"?
I'm sorry for any offense that this post may cause, but I hope it's shocking enough to get the attention of the offenders to help them realize that their guerrilla-prayer techniques are, actually...offensive.
Please don't get me wrong: I want and need people to pray for me, and I often ask for prayers, but you must understand: this showy public practice is so common and so uncomfortable that I have actually STOPPED requesting prayers of others if I am in a public place, especially if I know they are of particular spiritual persuasions.
I also know that by this very post alone a bunch of people are going to comment claiming I'm resisting the Holy Spirit and that I "feel" this out of some major spiritual attack or it's Satan at the heart of my sense of violation. There are those who will argue that such a situation should be "offered up" and that it is a greater testament to God's glory. If you're going to make this argument, please stand down and have a little respect. Just a little. Thanks. (Who wants to take a bet that this very paragraph will be roundly ignored?)
I have a friend, a charismatic Catholic by spirituality, who has been "formed" to pray for people "on the spot". For her that usually means laying one's hands on the person requesting prayer and breaking into some kind of spontaneous prayer in the vernacular, or, her favorite, "tongues". She was quite literally TOLD to do this with the threat that if she doesn't, then she will not ever truly pray for that person and anything delayed isn't really prayer.
Having been on the receiving end of this kind of "formation", I tend to think the "formators" of this idea both ignore Sacred Scripture and of course, the dignity of the person for whom one is praying.
MOST people do understand context and don't do this, but there are others who don't "get" that some people prefer that their prayer requests be in private, that prayers for them be personal and with their regular prayer life, and prefer not to be the center of an impromptu spectacle.
I can remember only ONE occasion in which someone asked to pray for me while taking my hand, and I did acquiesce, breaking through my own discomfort to recognize that this person needed to do this. It was also in a public situation in which it was not a spectacle and would not be recognized as anything other than a quiet conversation. Just us and God. Yes, I was uncomfortable, but it had context, a certain development in conversation that led to that moment, and the prayer that, while not to my taste, was proper and something I could handle and even with which I could pray along.
Contrast that with the guerrilla-prayer types that suddenly launch into "prayer", and, I have to say, involving "prayers" that directly contradict God's will, or seek to circumvent it. That is more agonizing than the public spectacle, for I can't pull away from this person, whose intent of course is very good, but whose theology is lacking as they forget what it means to pray in Jesus' name, assuming He's on board with a particular request without actually asking Him first.
It's like writing a letter to someone FOR Jesus and signing His name but forgetting to tell Him about it and also forgetting to ask the person on whose behalf the letter is written whether this is what they were actually asking.
Yeah. I have a problem with that.
My friends, I am a Catholic. I wear my Faith on my sleeve, I stand up in defense of our beliefs all the time, both online and in real life, and I've been quite punished for it. Please don't take this post to mean I am ashamed of Christ or that I am denying Him in some way.
I am not.
What I do believe, however, is that prayer is intimate. Prayer is, by definition, a conversation with God, and conversations outside of Liturgy are meant to be more informal, and thus carry a certain intimacy that is not ritualized.
We, as the Body of Christ, do support each other and we do pray for each other, but that directive and expectation should not be taken to mean we force our preferences upon others in public places. We do not and should not "lay hands and run" like a spiritual purse snatcher.
If I ask someone to pray for me, just as if they ask the same thing of me, I expect a Rosary, prayers from the Liturgy of the Hours, a random mention to God if they happen to think of me at any point in their day, or maybe a silent Hail Mary on the spot. Any of those thing is fine. I'm thrilled with someone simply asking Jesus to remember me.
When others request prayer of me, I do pray, and of course, the intensity varies, but I always send up an Ave or an Our Father, and then entrust the rest to the Immaculate Heart of Mary (an idea I got from Fr. Corapi who does the same), because I can't remember all the intentions that come my way. I do my best to remember, but I often fail.
Those who are losing their hearing or have lost much of it often speak very loudly because, well, they can't hear anyone else and therefore assume that they, too must raise their voices.
We are like that. We forget that true prayer happens in silence, not in noise, not in shouting from the corners. God comes to us as He always did: not in the wind or the fire or the earthquake, but in the still, small voice.
He can hear us if we speak in the same tone, for He offers us the example: we pray from our hearts more than from our voices.
When someone asks us to pray for them, they are not necessarily asking for guerrilla-prayers akin to spiritual purse-snatching, but are rather asking to be remembered in our regular intimate conversations with God, those moments that mean the most to us personally and to Him.