17Jun 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 .

3 Responses

  1. Darlene Starrs

    Intercessory prayer, period, tends to be problematic! what fits absolutely for me about intercessory prayer is that “The Lord hears the cry of the poor”……..but, that still doesn’t mean things are going to go the way we would have it….as “our ways are not His ways”, and “our thoughts are not His thoughts”.

  2. Pól Ó Duibhir

    On the question of praying for exams, the Limerick Redemptorists have refined this beautifully:
    http://photopol.com/alphonsus/alphonsus.html#exam
    .
    And, yes, the whole theology of mediation is badly in need of a makeover:
    http://photopol.com/religion/religion.html#mediation
    .

  3. Rosaline

    I am very grateful to Brendan Butler for putting this topic out there and for reminding us that this kind of reductionist theology is unworthy of the mystery, the transcendence and the imminence of God. In my opinion, as long as these kind of “petitions” continue to be used–and I mean “used”–we will remain in what Richard Rohr calls, “the first half of life.” Think about this one for June 16th: “For the healing of all the sick.” Are they serious?? The way I see it, most of the so called bidding prayers we hear at Mass sound like mere “fillers” to me, and I wonder why we are always begging for things at this sacred time.

    As a worthy alternative to these begging requests, may I suggest that prayers of thanksgiving and praise would be most appropriate and would be a wake-up call to all of us present as to the real meaning of the word Eucharist and perhaps this would help us to better appreciate the wonder and the reality of the gift we are celebrating. Perhaps this website could show the way!

    Personally, I feel pain in my heart when I see people rushing over to light candles in front of some statue on their way back from receiving the Eucharist, and I feel sad that we seem to have allowed the celebration of the Eucharist to become something of a mere routine “exercise.” I don’t blame these people at all. Far from it. Instead, I would ask the questions: Who is responsible for this lack of understanding? And what can we do about it? Wouldn’t the homily be a wonderful opportunity for such a teachable moment?