Sherry Antonetti is a freelance writer, blogger and published author of The Book of Helen. She lives just outside of Washington, DC with her husband and their ten children.
Before Ash Wednesday, I’d told God, more than anything, I wanted friends. I wanted deep friendships that were about more than what we did together or what we liked in common. I’d asked God to show me all my friends, knowing it felt rather like a child laying out all of a collection to admire. God didn’t mind. Asking “May I pray for you,” revealed the deep friendships I had, and created ever deeper ones. It started as a Lenten observance. The plan was to ask each day, "May I pray for you?" on Facebook, and take those intentions to the Blessed Mother or to adoration or into contemplative prayer at some point.
God loves our big ideas, because He can use our attempts at growing in holiness to show us what that process really involves, which is always humility and more than we think we will have to give.
I began asking. The first day, I had 11. The second day, 26. The third day, four, but only late in the day. But after the first Sunday, things took off. People began telling me stories that buckled my knees faster than I could will them to the floor. The scale of suffering that walks unseen on any given day, on the internet and in reality, made it hard not to tremble. So many profiles in courage were hidden behind smiling avatars of themselves. Asking to pray for them, pierced the veil. It created a community out of a collection of Facebook strangers. People in the com boxes began praying for those who listed their intentions even as they listed their own. The response of everyone in the prayer chain, was as overwhelming as the needs themselves. "Look how they love each other." came to mind.
Every request I heard reinforced my own knowledge of two indisputable facts about what we must know from every journey into the Lenten desert, “Lord I am not worthy,” and “Pray without ceasing.” I felt equally grateful every time someone asked if they could pray for me, as when granted the privilege of praying for someone by name for a specific reason. Storming heaven for friends and strangers alike, became an act of the will, of submission, and at the same time, a joy.
Sometimes, in visiting with someone over their petition, I could say and know, all sacrifice and suffering contains within it, the possibility for us to share in Christ’s passion, and thus also, His Resurrection. Other times, I held my breath, hoping somehow, God would decide to intervene directly in some absurd wonderful luminous way. My own flippant words to a friend over petitions continue to haunt me. “If you can’t be unreasonable with God, who can you be unreasonable with?” because I would ask the unreasonable. I used to think that turn of phrase clever. I know now, ours is a reckless lover of a God. He is always unreasonable, He is always lavish and foolish and generous in His love.
The Holy Spirit heals. He brings peace that cannot be obtained through any other means, and he blasts away like a strong wind at any vestiges of pride one might harbor. The Holy Spirit also creates community wherever he is present. He answers the cries of the heart that cannot be put into words. He surprises. He delights. He emboldens. He inspires. The Holy Spirit, like the other two persons of the Trinity, never disappoints, never fails to answer, and never ceases trying to help us willingly mold our wills to God’s. He lets us go out into the desert to learn how to pray so that when we say, “May I pray for you,” we’ll immediately unite our hearts to God in thanks for our lives and then bring our petitions before the Lord. Jesus tells us to ask and we shall receive, to knock and he will answer, so I’ll ask, “May I pray for you?” and I’ll add, “Will you please pray for me?”