Pray for the Living and the Dead: A Privilege, a Comfort, a Transformation

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By Sister Kristine Marie B. Violango 

In this year’s Lenten reflection series, seven sisters offer their personal stories and insights on each of the Spiritual Works of Mercy and how acts of mercy can have a profound impact on the lives of our sisters and brothers. Accompanying these reflections are line drawings by Sister Mary Clare Agnew, a contemporary of our founder Catherine McAuley, which illustrate the Sisters of Mercy in ministry in 1830s Ireland. 

“Prayer is nothing else than union with God,” says Saint John Marie Vianney, and that has always captured and continues to capture the longing in my heart.  

I used to dream about joining a religious life in order to see and communicate with God. As young as I was, I thought that by giving my life to God, he would manifest Himself to me. That is why in school, I promised my classmates that one day I would be one of those sisters who pass through our classroom on a daily basis, and I would have a good chance to meet God face to face.  

When I became a religious sister, I realized that to encounter God, I had to immerse myself in constant prayer, communicate with Him, and see Him in the people that I served, which included my community and my ministry. Prayer became the foundation of all the things I do and the core of my religious life. Thus, I pray not only for myself but also for others. 

I have encountered so many people who have asked me for prayers. They asked me to pray for their children, for their parents, for their board exams, for their spouses, and for many others. But one thing that touched my heart was to pray for their beloved dead.  

When I was a chaplain on duty in the hospital, a family called me to go to their room. I had no idea what was going on in their room. I just thought that maybe they needed somebody to talk to. But when I entered, I saw crying people surrounding the patient. A woman approached me, seeking comfort from her grief. Then she asked me to lead them in prayer because the patient had just died. 

Despite my lack of preparation, I began to lead them in prayer. I prayed for the dead as well as the family he left behind. It was an emotional moment, but it brought the family comfort and acceptance. It also helped me overcome my fear of being in the presence of a deceased person. I touched his forehead and made the sign of the cross on it. Then I gave assurance to the family that I would continue to pray for them and to their beloved dead.  

That experience made me realize how privileged I am to pray, how comforting it is for others, and how I am transformed through prayer.  

This season of Lent is about being transformed in the image of Christ. It is call for an intimate relationship with God through our encounters with others. 

We are called to intensely practice prayer. This is done to purify our thoughts and hearts so that they can be attuned to the will of God. It also reminds us that prayer is for others too, so that they may have a personal experience of God through our prayers. This is why we are asked to pray for others and their intentions. 

I may not be able to see God face to face, but I can see Him through the people He represents. During this Lenten season, living alone in our formation house, I realized that God has a deeper invitation for me: to pray for other people even if they don’t ask for it, to pray for my sisters in the institutes — both living and dead — and to pray for constant openness to God’s will in serving Him with the Sisters of Mercy.