Posted by: cmittermeier | November 24, 2011

The Power of Prayer

I recently copied a quote and it got some interesting feedback that left me thinking of the limits of prayer.

“There are no bad parish priests; there are only parish priests whose parishioners don’t pray enough for them.”
St. Jean Vianney

I found it in the context of dealing with lack-luster masses. I didn’t post the context, but the quote caught my eye so much I put it, contextless, on my face book. This was the comment that got me thinking…

please tell me you’re joking…I can list a bunch who are not even good people, and praying for a pedophile will not fix him or the problems he creates, in fact it has yet to be shown that pedophiles can recover at all…with or without prayer

In the context of the mass, where I found the quote, yes I do think that praying for a parish priest can make huge differences. The above comment left me thinking however of other situations… but instead of questioning if change was possible in various situations I was struck with another thought entirely… how untried prayer really is.

I am active in my church, I am not blind and I am a bit uh, cynical when it comes to certain things. It is said less than 20% are practising, and that means regularly attending mass. That number gets quoted a lot, I believe is from American studies. Having been a regular at mass, and here’s the cynic in me, I often feel less than 10% of those people are doing more than the motions. I have some grounding in my one in ten estimate, but no specific study to link it to – this is a personal thing here folks, if you have proper stats feel free to bring them up. I am bringing these number up so you see where my next statement is coming from.

When I consider 1) a ‘bad’ priest overcoming major sin and 2) an entire parish praying with their hearts for a priest… I firmly believe that number 2 would be more miraculous. For a single person to make a radical change, that is far more believable to me.  The power of an entire parish praying with their hearts – I cannot fathom that. In all honesty, when I consider the power of 10,000 people praying with their heart for priest… I can’t imagine the limits.

I will be even more cynical – heartfelt prayer is not just saying words – its about letting God work through you. At the minimum prayer is dialogue, but what good is that if His voice is a call to action and you ignore it?  Heartfelt prayer isn’t just motionless words. Imagine people actively doing something to help you overcome something and not burying their heads in the sand… See what I mean? How could you know the limit?

But I’m a cynic, you’d never get a parish to do that. Not with only one if five in the pews and only one in ten doing more than the motions (again, the 1:10 is my own impression)…In my parish alone that would mean 12,500 people praying for our priest! Imagine that even on a small thing, like swearing – how long would it take if 12,500 were actively engaged in helping him change? If everytime he said it, the entire room said, “Dear Father in heaven, please help this man to find other ways of communicating” how long would it take?

No, if bad people choose to do thing at least some part of it is because good men step aside to let them. Part of the root of evil is that we don’t pray. Part is that we think praying means just repeating words on a page.

So yeah, I’d be willing to broaden the context of the Saints comment – but then it would be my statement not his. My statement of it would just be an opinion, and carry far less weight than that of St. Vianney.



  1. I can attest to the power of one. I prayed for my pastor for some months when I thought that he was at high-risk for being devoured by his own ego and it worked. This warrior, alpha male somehow managed to defer to his Bishop, no doubt with the help of the Holy Spirit, and he has blossomed into an exceptional man-God who demonstrates quite remarkable and creative leadership. No surprise really since everything does contain its opposite. He continues to inform, inspire, and ignite love for our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. And now that I’ve met a retired Irish Salesian priest, my pastor looks quite tame by comparison!

    p.s. I’ve never heard him swear. Can’t even imagine that. Swearing is just lazy use of the language. And he’s certainly not lazy. If they were paying him by the hour, he would be a rich man by now.

    • Though we are all tabernacles, I am overly cautious of the man-God link when used with the priesthood. As many priest friends have pointed out, the ‘4th person of the trinity’ model that was abused allowed far too many of them to do things their most basic training should have stopped.

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