7 Steps to Interpersonal Prayer
A guide to praying with and for others
The deacon establishes his ministry upon and in the poverty of Christ: “Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve” (Mt 20:28). Diaconal poverty is a gift to the deacon and to the Church. This gift of poverty, if received deeply within our prayer, contains nothing but our eagerness to live the theological virtues. These virtues — faith, hope and love — secure the grace of a man’s ordination in a heart vulnerable to divine intimacy.
We all desire Christ the Deacon to affect us in and through the mystery-bearing wound, which is the sacramental character, and render us permanently available to him in grace. Diaconal poverty is diaconal power. It is the particularization of Jesus’ own words, “Without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). From this paradoxical storehouse of poverty and dependence the deacon brings forth both new and old things (cf. Mt 13:52). Specifically, he calls forth and quickens the grace of baptism in the people’s hearts he serves — grace that they guard by participating in the Eucharist (2 Tm 1:14).
There are several ways deacons might accomplish this calling forth of grace in Christ, such as teaching, preaching and counseling. But I want to focus on one simple way — a way often overlooked: the way of interpersonal prayer. What is unique in being a deacon is its own sacramental grace (configuration to Christ the Deacon) and being a herald of the Gospel at the Eucharistic liturgy (the dignity of proclaiming the very words of Christ within worship). What the deacon brings to his ministry is mainly this grace of his own ordination, interpenetrating with the graces of all the other sacraments he has received and still is receiving.
And so, from out of the grace of his being — for example, communion with the servant mysteries of Christ — a deacon can gift the Church by leading others in prayer into intimacy with Christ. For the welfare of the Church, it is crucial that formation programs instruct candidates in how best to minister in this way of prayer. Within a liturgical setting, the deacon prays by leading the prayers of the Church and silently uniting his own heart to such prayers, but below is a suggested way of praying with people outside of liturgical prayer.
1. Never be afraid to invite people into prayer, even in public places. A deacon should be comfortable saying, “Would you like me to pray with you about this now?” rather than, “I will remember you in my prayers,” because oftentimes, through no willful choice, we fail to remember to do so.
2. Invoke the Trinity before you pray.
3. Lead the prayer. Do not make yourself a passive bystander. You have the Spirit in you, configuring you in a unique way to the Lord’s own ministry. Pray out of this unique place in your being. As the prayer closes, you can invite others to voice a petition, a thought or a desire.
4. Pray with sacramentals as much as possible; doing so allows a person to touch something of God. Let the person you are praying with hold a crucifix, a relic, a holy card, a statue, a Bible. Invite them to press this sacramental into their hearts.
5. Before praying, ask the person what they need prayers for, or for whom they wish to pray. You may also ask if the person wishes simply to be with God in silence.
6. Begin speaking to the Trinity from your heart in the context of the needs of the person; “do not babble like the pagans” (Mt 6:7), but simply and clearly commend the needs of the person to God, and then invite the person into silence.
7. Close by invoking a patron saint or asking the Blessed Mother to protect him or her. Receive the sacramental back and encourage the person to go to Mass and confession. Conclude by assuring them that you would be willing to pray with them again.
This very simple formula needs to last only a few minutes, but its power is deep, because such prayer is flowing from your ordained heart.
DEACON JAMES KEATING, Ph.D, is the director of theological formation with the Institute for Priestly Formation at Creighton University.