A typical request for prayers often brings out the skepticism in me. Such was not the case recently. The typical request comes in the mail, and asks for one or more responses for three choices. Please pray. Please send money. Please send more money. A completely un-typical request for prayers came to me recently from the outreach coordinator at our diocesan Catholic Charities office. Terri Lautner-Uebelhor began her message with the simple request, “Please pray for us.” She requested no money. What she asked for, though, was for something much more challenging to give than money. She asked for the gift of self. “Have you ever prayed for a stranger or some one you barely knew?” she asked. “Would you consider taking a few moments out of every day for four weeks to pray for a person trying to make a better life for themselves and their family?” That request was non-challenging. Pretty easy. All she wanted was from me (and from you and from others who read this message) was the commitment to pray for a stranger. She described the program she coordinates, called “Neighbor to Neighbor.” It is “a program conducted by Catholic Charities. Some of the participants have drug and alcohol problems; many of them are unemployed or under-employed; all of them are in financial dire straits. Persons who participate in this program devote seven weeks to taking a serious look at their financial challenges and how to make them better. These participants work hard to take an honest evaluation of their choices and how to make better, healthier, more positive choices.” I have met some of the people who have participated in past programs. One woman spoke openly and tearfully about how she had achieved a money-management goal. She confessed that when she entered the program, she didn’t even know that she could have a goal. But, back to the request for prayers. “We need people who will “spiritually adopt” a Neighbor to Neighbor participant and commit to praying for them as they complete the last four weeks of this challenging course,” the coordinator said. “Spiritual Adopters will receive a short, anonymous bio describing the participant, their struggles and their goals,” she said. Then came the challenging part: “You will be invited to attend Graduation so that you can meet your ‘Spiritual Adoptee’ and hear about how far they have come in the past weeks.” I confess that it is somewhat easy to pray for an anonymous tsunami orphan or an earthquake victim, when you see the terrible pictures of pain and suffering in a foreign land. What Terri offered me (and you and others) is the opportunity to pray for someone who can’t possibly remain a stranger.
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The author of the First Letter to Timothy gives some words of general advice based on common sense, in Chapter 5. “Do not rebuke an older man but exhort him as you would a father; treat younger men like brothers, older women like mothers, younger women like sisters, in all purity.” Could the Christian call be that simple? Or that difficult? To treat everyone not as strangers but as a member of the family?
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Who do you pray for? And what relationship develops as a result of your prayer? Who prays for you? Who are the strangers in your community? What agencies or services welcome them? Find a way to be of assistance. Find a way to welcome a stranger into your life. Be a neighbor to a neighbor. Make a difference.
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