Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Can't buy me grace...

Pay someone to pray?
I guess some Catholics think that may be a good idea - at least that was my understanding after reading about a doctor who hired a couple of people to pray for his patients and his practice.  To each his own, but I wonder if intercessory prayer should be viewed as a commodity to be purchased, a work to be compensated for in this life?  Isn't the foundation of intercessory prayer charity?  As such, isn't such prayer a practical expression of the commanment to love God and our neighbor as ourself?  Just the thought of accepting monetary compensation for prayer strikes me a little strange.  I understand that traditionally, mendicants and questors for religious communities  begged, or asked for donations and promised prayers in return, but I've always considered that to be a charitable exchange.   
I know some may feel that by giving a big donation to a monastery or church, they get 'more graces'.  On some level that may be true - depending upon their intention and the love for God by which they make their sacrifice.  The example of the widow's mite in the Gospel comes to mind here.  The poor widow in the Temple gave all she had in the collection box - all she had - yet she neither tallied her gift, nor was she seeking any notice for it.
Alms, donations - gifts.
It is clear from scripture and Church law that Christians are to contribute to the support of the Church and her ministers.  Likewise, alms-giving is more than a recommendation, not only to help the poor and those who ask, but to lend support to institutions which provide services to the needy and disadvantaged and who perform apostolic work.  Likewise, religious houses, especially those vowed to poverty, are the recipients of alms or gifts donated by generous benefactors, who in turn hope to be included in the prayers and good works of the recipients. 
Nonetheless, the religious communities are not 'paid' to pray, neither can the individual religious be considered as being 'paid' for simply being religious.  The support given is not the same thing as the salary provided to professionals and laborers who are actually compensated for their work.  If that were the case, how would it differ from a person paying a medium or a fortune teller for their services?  Or if it came down to asking a woman in church, or a nun at a monastery turn, 'What do you charge for saying a rosary or making a novena?'  One cannot 'buy' grace anymore than one can buy good luck.  In the new age medicine, studies have been done on the efficacy of prayer/meditation as it relates to medicine and healing, and perhaps that is the type of prayer a physician might pay for - but I don't think it can be confused with the practice of prayer in the Roman Catholic sense.  As Catholics we know intercessory prayer is efficacious and of intrinsic value - but it seems to me totally inappropriate that a person would seek payment for performing it.  (Even saying 'performing it' makes it sound like a trick.)
Offerings and sacrifice.

When Catholics make offerings it usually signifies a sacrifice, in our culture offerings commonly take the form of monetary donations - a donation is a gift - not a payment.  Such gifts or offerings differ from the stewardship programs developed in most parishes.  Likewise, the offerings or stipends made for Masses and the sacraments are over and above the ordinary contributions one makes to the support of the Church through the Sunday collection and so on.  Such stipends contribute to the support of the priest or deacon administering the sacrament.  Stipends are set by the local ordinary and vary from a minimum established offering to greater amounts depending upon the ability and generosity of the donor.  Nevertheless, it is my understanding that the poor cannot be refused if they are unable to meet the expense of the stipend. 
Donations and alms-giving is often attached to the spirit of penance and self denial, contributing to the support of those less fortunate or dependent upon the charity of others for their existence.  The beneficiaries in turn express their gratitude by praying for the benefactors and their intentions, in that way they are incorporated as it were, into their mission, their contemplative vocation of intercessory prayer and penance, as well as in the liturgical prayer of the Church, to which they are bound to offer God.  If I remember correctly, Teresa of Avila wrote some things about monasteries supporting themselves by alms - and to my knowledge, nowhere did she claim such support as just payment for services rendered.
"When I was with you..."
When the early monks went into the desert, they determined to earn their living by the work of their hands, frequently citing the words of St. Paul from his epistles, where he actually boasts of supporting himself by the work of his hands.  Perhaps if he lived today he could get by rather well by making videos and tapes, writing books, and working the lecture circuit - I wonder?  I'm being facetious of course.  Although getting paid for book deals and speaking engagements is certainly a valid source of income - nothing wrong with that. 
We Americans seem to have become accustomed to entitlements and compensation just because we exist.  We place a monetary value on just about everything we do.  I wonder if this attitude hasn't permeated the religious mentality to some degree.  Interestingly, I found another article posted a few years ago, discussing the practice of paying for prayers - which seems to have caught on in the Philippines.  From CBSNews:
For a fee, "prayer ladies" will pray to God and ask him/her/it to grant you the things you would have asked for if you weren't too busy. One of these piety purveyors pointed out how grateful her clients are: "They often come back to thank me, especially if they pass the bar or medical school exam." It's weird enough that people feel it's appropriate to pray for a passing grade on an exam, but these future lawyers and doctors actually have someone else do the praying for them. If they pass their tests, are they going to have someone else plead in court for them? Will they give a few bucks to an old woman to perform surgery for them on days when they're "too busy?"

If there were ever an idea that is guaranteed to catch on in the United States and other Western countries, the "You Pay, We Pray" business is it. - CBSNews

 "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent." - John 6:29
Prayer is necessary for all Christians, although it isn't a job one seeks compensation (payment) for doing - "the gift you have received, give as a gift" as Christ told his disciples.  When St. Benedict urged his monks to dedicated themselves to the 'work of God' or 'opus Dei' the 'work' did not carry the same meaning as the Benedictine 'ora et labora' - there is a difference in terms.  It seems to me the rule of life based upon the motto, 'prayer and work' - 'ora et labora'  is actually the external expression of the 'opus dei' - 'work of God'.   I'm laboring over this and admittedly I'm no expert - but it sure seems to me something is wrong when one considers his prayer a work that deserves monetary compensation.  The liturgy and liturgical prayer - and all prayer flows from the liturgy - is the work of God, but I don't think it can be understood in the same sense as labor that can be monetized.  But I digress beyond my
abilities here.
* * *
Can. 222 ß1 Christ's faithful have the obligation to provide for the needs of the Church, so that the Church has available to it those things which are necessary for divine worship, for apostolic and charitable work and for the worthy support of its ministers.
ß2 They are also obliged to promote social justice and, mindful of the Lord's precept, to help the poor from their own resources.
Of course, it goes without question that the ordained have a right to receive support from the Church and the liberality of the faithful, and I know there are canons to back that up, as well as scripture and tradition.  The priest can and does receive compensation for services rendered - I'm not disputing that at all.  These matters are rightly regulated and overseen by the proper episcopal authorities.  That is not my dispute however.  Rather my concern revolves around the idea that selling prayers and praying for pay can be misconstrued and sound a little too much like buying and selling indulgences.  It seems to me, as Catholics, we must be careful to avoid any hint of simony when asking for donations, alms, and just offerings in return for spiritual services rendered. 

* * *

Can. 281 ß1 Since clerics dedicate themselves to the ecclesiastical ministry, they deserve the remuneration that befits their condition, taking into account both the nature of their office and the conditions of time and place. It is to be such that it provides for the necessities of their life and for the just remuneration of those whose services they need. - Source
As I said, I'm no expert, so don't take my word for it - I'm just saying.
My apologies for such a long post.


  1. Lend us a tenner Terry and I'll say one for ya!

    No, I agree, that doesn't sound right. How about I make a beautifully punctuated wishlist and scroll down all the benefits of me owning the items on the said list with promises of all sorts of spiritual indulgences for your good self, including a copy of my new book, possibly the most important book you will ever read this year, on this particular subject, with a photo of me on the front, taken by my team earlier this year as I came out of the DT's, we had a lot of fun taking them (the photos) and just know you are gonna be impressed with the final results. Watch out for a grizzly bear saying my name as I pass out, pass by, I mean.

    Ooops! I appear to have gone mad again. Better get orf to work.

  2. Terry, a very thoughtful post. You've been on a great roll lately! Thanks!

    I do agree that money obviously can't be tied with grace. God understands that we need to act thru gifts (i.e. The physical gifts of the temple sacrifices, our present day church offerings, even our donations of old clothes and whatnot). But I think it is the "intention of the heart" and not necessarily the value, that brings the grace of our Lord. Though as you say the Widow gave all she had and that was the greater sacrifice. When you see how she gives it, out of love and not "what's in it for me", that's what makes the act so Christ-like. May we all have the Widow's heart.

  3. I undertook a 'Pastoral Studies' course (it was as rubbish as it sounds) that at one stage went through the going rates for Spiritual Direction. Apparently $90 an hour was not out of the question. My then Dominican SD had one word for them: charlatans.

  4. +JMJ+

    I first heard about the same "prayer ladies" on the news several years ago, during Holy Week. (Apparently, the most popular service they offer is the Stations of the Cross, on Maundy Thursday.) And they came to mind immediately when I read this post's title . . . although I still had a nice surprise when I saw the post mentioned them! =P

    Yes, I think this business grew out of the practice of offering stipends . . . and the general idea of sacrifice I grew up with. I don't know if anyone else heard this as a child, but I often got the line, "How do you expect God to give you what you ask when you don't give Him anything?" (What goes around comes around: I used the same on my mother when I didn't like the short shorts she had on for Mass and she was making a liturgical novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.) I think the same idea is the root of what a "man on the street" type said on the aforementioned news broadcast: "You shouldn't pay for prayer because God gave you prayer for free!" (That is, God didn't ask for a sacrifice here, so why are you making one? But this reasoning doesn't preclude paying for everything else that isn't "free.")

    As for the rest of the Universal Church . . . A friend who once lived in Rome said that a church near the Pontifical University has a statue of St. Joseph of Cupertino, and that the donation box beside it is never fuller than during exam season. It's a hop, a skip and a jump away from giving the money to a different sort of intercessor.

    Anyway, I'm not saying it holds up theologically, but the cultural and devotional roots are easy to trace.

  5. A woman entered a Butcher Shop begging for meat.

    The Butcher and his friend decided to have some fun with the old lady and asked what she would give in return since she had no money.

    The woman promised to attend Mass on the Butchers behalf.

    The Butcher wrote ‘One Mass’ on a sheet of paper and placed it on the balance of his meat scales.

    He placed meat on the other balance hoping to show his donation of meat far out weighed the Mass.

    He could not get the meat to counter balance the Mass.

    Everyday thereafter, he gave the woman a ration of meat, free.


    What would I accept in return for money?

    Certainly prayers on behalf of my intentions are top of the list.


  6. Wait, some spiritual directors charge money?

  7. Oh, and then there are all those bloggers who have undergone conversion so eventful as to necessitate several books and , er, a "donate button" :)

  8. A Random Friar11:22 AM

    Just a thought that came to me:

    In the medieval Church, beggars who would go door to door would promise to pray for anyone who gave a handout. Even if not explicitly mentioned, it was assumed that a gift to the poor would mean some kind graceful exchange.

    St. Thomas Aquinas would say that no one (save God) can really do a fully, 100% altruistic act. By living virtuously, we are at the same time benefiting ourselves, and may even have it at the back of our minds. Does not the normal act of Contrition say "because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell" before it gets to the more spiritual reason?

    Regardless, one should not see it simply as a "paying off" of sin, but as an opportunity to grow in grace and love of God and neighbor.
    Even if you do deduct your Church donations as a charitable write-off on your taxes come April 15.


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