Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Prayer for the Dead and an actual Dilemma

prayer.. (Photo credit: aronki)

Two unexpected things happened today. The first is a prayer request from an unexpected person over at James' blog:
New Friend said... - I know we often disagree but you might, as good Catholics, spare a little thought in your prayers tonight for the dead, those still missing and all affected by the 6.9 earthquake we had here yesterday. It was my first ever and it was pretty scary. We suffered no damage but we are 60 km from the epicentre which is in a remote rural location, where the communication has been cut off, bridges destroyed and landslides block roads. The final death toll will be much higher than currently reported as there are lots of downed buildings yet to be entered.
This is a commenter at James' blog. He lives in the Philippines and writes mostly to opine that Catholics should change their thinking on many issues, in particular because of the problems which result in places like the Philippines. He certainly doesn't seem to believe in Christianity per se, but evidently thinks our prayers are worth asking for at some level. So I'm sure he'd appreciate your prayers as well. Perhaps if I were holier I'd post more prayer requests.

Please pray for them.

It also started me thinking about a topic which I've apparently never got round to blogging about: prayer for the dead. I did blog about the intercession of the saints a few times, but the other way around, no.

Before I became a Catholic, I don't remember having an opinion on the subject, but I think that I believed that little could come of prayer for those who had already died; they had lived their lives, and what became of them depended on how they had lived in the time that they had been given.

Looking at it now, this seems to me like a strangely pessimistic attitude for a people who are called to live in the light of the risen Christ, as well as being strangely cold-hearted; even this man who views our religion with suspicion has an intuition of the propriety of prayer for the men and women who are no longer with us. Do we have nothing to offer beyond an exhortation to "seek the Lord while he may be found"?

It seems, in fact, that Jesus would have prayed for the dead himself. Jews pray for the dead now and seem to have prayed for the dead from the time of the Maccabees; it's reasonable to assume that Jesus too prayed for the dead, though the scriptures clearly don't address the matter directly. Interestingly, a relevant passage in the book of 2 Maccabees (12:40-46) actually justifies prayer for the dead on the basis of their future resurrection.

But apart from that, I don't think we have enough information to reject a natural desire to pray for the dead in any case. Intercessory prayer is a great mystery; who understands the relationship between our prayer and the will of God? Not you, that's for sure. And what does it mean to God, if people have "already" died?
Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the whole world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
A thousand years in your sight
are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night.
 - Psalm 89(90)


With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. - 2 Pet 3:8
God doesn't run according to our schedule: he's eternal, and the creator of time. Perhaps I'm missing something, but it seems to me that, if you bear this in mind, it really makes a nonsense of the thing. It's easy to see that you won't get anywhere by praying for rain yesterday, but there's a whole spiritual reality which we are only somewhat dimly aware of in the past as well - who's to say what God would make of prayer for the conversion/salvation of someone in the past from our perspective?

And that's without bringing purgatory into it. I see I haven't blogged about purgatory either, but I'll leave it for the minute. You could do worse than reading about it at catholic.com if you're interested.

The Intercession of the Saints
The Intercession of the Saints pt. 2
The Intercession of the Saints pt. 3

The second unexpected thing is the arrival of a dilemma. An actual dilemma, as I write in the title, because people tend to use the word quite loosely. I refer especially to moral dilemmas - when you know what the right thing to do is, but you don't want to do it, that's not a dilemma. Just for the record.

So, anyway, my dilemma is a proposal by a work colleague. He works in sales, but writes novels on the side, published novels even. It seems that his last novel at least hasn't been published in English, because he asked me whether I thought I could translate it today. The obvious question is "When?", but it would really be a shame to pass up an opportunity (on a plate) to translate something significantly more interesting than car manuals and potentially have a work in print on my CV.

Decisions, decisions...
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Adrian said...

Do it, but charge appropriately for your time. Assuming this is on top of your regular work, this should be viewed as overtime. I would suggest charging a rate of something like 1.5 times your normal hourly rate.


Mark said...

A nice idea, but I doubt I could swing that. It would be freelance work on top of my regular work; from my perspective it seems like overtime, but why should a colleague pay me overtime? I'm not working overtime for him.

I'd just be pricing myself out of the market.

Dave Pegg said...

Love the thinking on prayers for the dead. God is not bound by time as we are and also, a significant part of prayer is for the one praying. Prayer is a way we can share ourselves honestly and openly with God. Obviously, God knows it all anyway but being open to him is a key part of prayer. My brain ties up in knots when I think about the chronology of what answered prayers for the dead looks like but if someone has the dead on their heart, then they should feel free to talk to God about them and how they feel.

Thoughtful and decent stuff. Thanks, Mark!

Mark said...

Hey, cheers Dave!