Is it right to pray for success in Exams? Brendan Butler
Now that the examination season is largely over maybe it’s time to examine this issue,as it occurred to me, while reading the bidding prayers suggested on the website for the 11 Sunday of ordinary time – ‘for all those doing exams’.
While we recognise the anxiety associated with exams I often wonder what it is we are praying for when we pray for ‘all those doing exams’. Indeed in many parishes and schools we have Masses, usually very well attended, for students doing exams.
To a certain extent it is a form of spiritual exploitation as we offer highly stressed students an added bonus point in their preparations. Why wouldn’t students at a very critical point in their lives not latch onto any offer of help, whatever the source.
Surely our theology of intercession is gone beyond the point where we can use our spiritual influence with God to improve our examination performances or those of our students – although the prayer of St. Joseph of Cupertino is still doing the rounds where we pray that those questions of which we are knowledgeable will ‘turn up’ on the exam paper. It is a theology based on probability theory rather than any direct miraculous intervention by a God who fills in the gaps of our knowledge.
Then of course if students do well in exams they most often credit themselves and like the ten lepers few are rarely seen afterwards in Church.
God is the immanent sustainer and ground of our being and many of a mystical nature can experience such a presence in special moments of their lives. However, it’s quite another matter to preach that this experience can be used to enhance one’s one position or status in life or conversely that one’s status in life is an indication of God’s favour or not. We are then in a reductionist theology where God can be, as it were, encapsulated/imprisoned in a bottle of our own making and image, resulting in the transcendence and mystery of God being largely lost.
Our theology of intercessionary prayer needs to be redefined in this post enlightenment age where science can explain away many of our previous dependencies. We need to stop plugging holes in our knowledge by invoking the God of the gaps and marvel at and with our God of Mystery as the Alpha and Omega of all life .