I don’t know about you but, I have a lot of stuff going in with work, my family, my health. The truth be told, I don’t have enough time to pray for everything I need to pray for, and that is just my stuff. Fortunately I was reminded, when I went to Confession recently, of the importance of reflecting upon sacred scripture every day. It was in that reflection upon First Timothy 2:1-3 that I was reminded that my stuff is not where my prayer should begin.
“First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.”
So, first I should pray for everyone. That’s a bit of a change to praying for myself first and others later. The significance of the thought that I need to be praying for those in authority has not escaped me either. But what is going on when we pray for everyone, if every Christian was praying for everyone? St Ambrose had something to say about that in his treatise on Cain and Abel, “if you pray only for yourself, you will be praying, as we said, for yourself alone. But if you pray for all, all will pray for you, for you are included in all.” This is a simple truth, if I pray for everyone, I am praying for myself. But, I am not praying in a self centered way.
I don’t mean that I should stop praying for my specific needs, just that I should start with a foundation that puts things in the right perspective. Recognizing in humility that I am talking to God, giving praise and thanksgiving, considering the needs of others before my own. If I do it the other way, I can often get so wrapped up in my own concerns, I may not have much left to give to God or others in my prayer or my mind. This tends to make my heart and my world both smaller and harder. It occurs to me that this is not the reason that I pray, even if I do only pray for myself.
May God bless us all, constantly drawing us deeper into his mercy and love.
If you have time here is the context of the St Ambrose quote above, from today’s Office of Readings:
SECOND READING, From a treatise on Cain and Abel by Saint Ambrose, bishop (Lib. 1, 9, 34, 38-39: CSEL 32, 369, 371-372)
Offer God a sacrifice of praise and fulfill your vows to the Most High. If you praise God you offer your vow and fulfill the promise you have made. So the Samaritan leper, healed by the Lord’s word of command, gained greater credit than the other nine; he alone returned to Christ, praising God and giving thanks. Jesus said of him: There was no one to come back and thank God except this foreigner. He tells him: Stand up and go on your way, for your faith has made you whole.
The Lord Jesus, in his divine wisdom, taught you about the goodness of the Father, who knows how to give good things, so that you might ask for the things that are good from Goodness itself. He urges you to pray earnestly and frequently, not offering long and wearisome prayers, but praying often, and with perseverance. Lengthy prayers are usually filled with empty words, while neglect of prayer results in indifference to prayer.
Again, Christ urges you, when you ask forgiveness for yourself, to be especially generous to others, so that your actions may commend your prayer. The Apostle, too, teaches you how to pray; you must avoid anger and contentiousness, so that your prayer may be serene and wholesome. He tells you also that every place is a place of prayer, though our Savior says: Go into your room.
But by “room” you must understand, not a room enclosed by walls that imprison your body, but the room that is within you, the room where you hide your thoughts, where you keep your affections. This room of prayer is always with you, wherever you are, and it is always a secret room, where only God can see you.
You are told to pray especially for the people, that is, for the whole body, for all its members, the family of your mother the Church; the badge of membership in this body is love for each other. If you pray only for yourself, you pray for yourself alone. If each one prays for himself, he received less from God’s goodness than the one who prays on behalf of others. But as it is, because each prays for all, all are in fact praying for each one.
To conclude, if you pray only for yourself, you will be praying, as we said, for yourself alone. But if you pray for all, all will pray for you, for you are included in all. In this way there is a great recompense; through the prayers of each individual, the intercession of the whole people is gained for each individual. There is here no pride, but an increase of humility and a richer harvest from prayer.