When I was a seminarian studying in Rome, I was introduced very quickly to the Italian culture. There was an “oral tradition” passed on from those before us of places to go and sites to see. These places included not just the hidden, historic jewels of Rome, but also the local restaurants and shops.
One of the more famous shops nearby was the cornici — that is, “the picture frames store.” Whether it was a photo, a print or a diploma, this Italian craftsman could make it look so good. Today many of us priests have a little piece of Italy on our walls thanks to the corniciaio (“the picture framer”).
I would venture to say that few of us priests could do what this man does for a living with the same grace and expertise. Nevertheless, ministry inevitably leads us down this road of framing. It is not a print, photo or diploma that we frame but a meeting, a dinner or a special event of some kind. Typically we do this framing through praying invocations and benedictions.
Sometimes these invitations to pray before or after something come as a surprise. Still, there are times when we are told in advance and can prepare accordingly. By no means do I consider myself an expert in this spiritual art of framing; however, I have come to appreciate that there are some important tips we as priests can take with us wherever we go.
First, we need always to be ready. We never know when, formally or informally, we are going to be asked to pray. Being ready means that every day we strive to live in the presence of God and view ourselves and each other as members of the Body of Christ. As representatives of Jesus Christ, we need to behold our role as intermediaries. In short, we are to bring Jesus to the world and the world to Jesus.
Second, we need to be silent. Psalm 46:11 states, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Before we pray aloud, we need prayerfully to pause in silence and allow the Spirit to lead us in our prayer. Silence not only is the absence of noise, but also the freedom from distraction. The closing of one’s eyes at this moment certainly can deepen the silence and increase the focus on calling forth God.
Third, in beginning our prayer, we need to be aware. This awareness involves knowing God and the name that is most appropriate to call him at that moment. Some of these names are “Gracious God,” “Loving God,” “Merciful Father,” just to name a few. Sometimes there is a value in referring to the sacred Scriptures and an image of God. John’s Gospel contains the seven famous “I am ...” sayings of Jesus — any one of which can be acknowledged. It also is important to be aware of the audience with whom we are praying.
Fourth, we need to be in the liturgical season. Every liturgical season contains myriad possibilities to ponder. For example, in Advent it is all about preparing and waiting. At Christmas we welcome the newborn King. Ordinary time affords us the opportunity to know and to do God’s will. Lent leads us into the desert, where we are tempted and called to embrace the cross. Finally, Easter points to joy, peace and rebirth. Don’t be afraid to bring the liturgical season into the prayer, for we are called to live the season.
Finally, as we pray these prayers of invocation and benediction, we need to be mindful of time. Our prayer should have a clear beginning and ending without any sense of rambling. Brothers, we may not be framesmiths. Nevertheless, through prayer, God can use us to frame people’s lives.
FATHER DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is a pastor of 14 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. To share your thoughts on this column or any others, follow The Priest on Twitter @PriestMagazine and like us on Facebook.