Even people who are very religious say they find it difficult to pray when they are faced with the prospect of death for themselves or their loved ones. How can you pray if you are overcome by a sense of despair and feel abandoned by God? What follows may help you find a way out of the darkness.
We offer here a brief reflection which might provide support to those who could be faced with the awful prospect of a loved one dying in isolation, away from all human contact other than nursing staff or carers.
The reflection is given by Fr George Bowen, a member of the Community of Fathers of the London Oratory.
When Jesus was dying on the cross, he cried out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
It is a question that may be familiar to anyone who is suffering terribly.
Christians believe that God himself became a man who lived and died as one of us. Jesus was that man and he taught his followers to call God our father. So when Jesus asks God why he has abandoned him it is almost as though there is no answer. God the Son – God himself – is asking the question.
When you think about Jesus asking this question, you may find that God is with you in your darkest hour. What else can he do or say? He can just be with you while you are in the depths of despair.
You could turn the question around and say: “My God, my God, I abandon myself to you!”
If you do that, you are, in effect, saying: “There is nothing else I can do. I put every moment of the day that faces me, and the night that I dread…into your hands.”
Then there are the last words Jesus spoke on the Cross: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”(Luke 23:46)
Here, Jesus is expressing complete trust in God. These words are also a prayer when you are anxious and fearful. One of the Catholic Church’s great writers on prayer, St Thérèse of Liseux, expresses well the idea of resting in God.
There may be times when you want to pray and you can begin by praying for the family and friends you will leave behind. You can also pray for your doctors and nurses and, if you are in hospital, the patients alongside you.
Your prayer could be something like this: “Lord, I lift Jane up to Thee.
Make her as you would have her be!”
You can even offer up an hour of your suffering for each of them. Your prayer then could be: “Lord, let Jane grow in spirit by my gift of this evening to her!”
As you do this, you may think about how Christ himself suffered.
When Jesus’s followers asked him how to pray, he gave them what is known today as the Lord’s Prayer. This is probably the most famous Christian prayer of all and it can take on fresh significance as you approach your death. Here is how one priest imagines you could be feeling as you say it:
Our Father who art in heaven
Heaven seems far from me just now. Hell seems nearer. But I’ll turn my face upwards and recognise you, as you recognise me.
Hallowed be Thy Name
You are the God who saves, the Lord of mercy, the Lord of life. May I call you near to me as I crave salvation, mercy and life beyond death.
Thy Kingdom Come
How often have I prayed for the coming of your kingdom, but now the prospect is close. Take me there when you come for me Lord!
But praying isn’t just about speaking to God, it involves listening to him too. In times gone by, friends and family would gather around a dying person’s bed and read the gospel accounts of Jesus’s suffering, death and resurrection. They believed that this brought God closer to them and gave everyone a message of hope.
You can also find more Catholic prayers for the dying during the coronavirus pandemic here.
And another choice of prayers here.
This website contains many prayerful reflections which have been chosen to help you hear God speaking to you. The prayer anthology in the Related Resources further down this page was compiled by a community of Benedictine Nuns living a life devoted to prayer in a convent on the Isle of Wight.
Some of the reflections are from the Bible, others come from experts in spiritual matters, like the saints or great spiritual writers. Yet others are from people who are experts in suffering.
We hope you find something in what follows brings you comfort.