By: Deacon Charles Rohrbacher
“Since Abraham, intercession – asking on behalf of another – has been characteristic of a heart attuned to God’s mercy.” (CCC no.2635)
Every year I try to make time to re-read the fourth and last section in the Catechism, which is entitled: Christian prayer. It’s author was the late Fr. Jean Corban, a Byzantine
Catholic Dominican priest who wrote it in Beirut, Lebanon during the 1982 siege of that city.
As the then Cardinal Ratizinger recalled later: “After having resolved to add a distinct fourth part on prayer to the first three, [sections of the Catechism] we looked for a representative of Eastern theology. Since it was not possible to secure a bishop as author, we settled upon Jean Corbon, who wrote the beautiful concluding text on prayer while in beleaguered Beirut, frequently in the midst of dramatic situations, taking shelter in his basement in order to continue working during the bombardments.”
This section on prayer is remarkable in its depth and beauty and merits a close and meditative reading. From my own experience in the years since the Catechism was first published, reading the section on prayer has helped to nourish my own understanding of prayer. It has been an encouragement to a more intimate encounter with God and to perseverance in prayer. And I’m grateful that the teaching of the Catechism on intercessory prayer (#2635) and on praying in communion with the holy Mother of God (#2675-2679) has helped to renew my praying of the rosary.
Over the years I have found that praying with Mary, meditating on the Joyful, Luminious, Sorrowful and Glorious mysteries, especially on behalf of those in need, has become an important way in which my heart has become more “attuned to God’s mercy.”
But I have found that part of the beauty and utility of this devotional prayer is its flexibility and adaptability. The late Fr. Basil Pennington in a wonderful little book on the rosary entitled Praying By Hand, noted that in addition to the traditional mysteries of the rosary, the faithful are at liberty to meditate on other incidents from the life of Jesus or themes drawn from his earthly or resurrected life.
As the US Catholic Bishops wrote in their pastoral letter, Behold Your Mother: “Besides the precise rosary pattern well-known to Catholics, we can freely experiment… New sets of mysteries are possible.” Which is why, as years of war and persecution have forced so many refugee families to flee from Syria and Iraq, from time to time I pray the rosary while meditating on five incidents from the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt.
This way of praying the rosary has enabled me to meditate on how Jesus and his family were refugees, to intercede in prayer for Syrian and Iraqi refugees and to ask God to attune my heart in mercy to their plight. Below are how I’ve ordered the five meditations and prayer intentions. Usually, at the end of each decade I pray the Holy Father’s Prayer for Peace in Syria.
A Rosary for Syrian and Iraqi Refugees
1. Herod Orders the Massacre of the Innocents.
When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under. Mt.2.16a
Prayer Intention — for all of the victims and perpetrators of violence in Syria and Iraq.
2. In a Dream the Angel warns Joseph to flee with his Family.
Behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” Mt.2:13
Prayer Intention — for all those forced to abandon their
families, friends and neighbors, homes, livelihoods and
3. The Holy Family Makes the Perilous Journey to Egypt
Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. Mt.14
Prayer Intention — for all those who are risking their
lives crossing the conflict zones, deserts and the open
4. Jesus, Mary and Joseph Find Refuge Among the Egyptians
He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Mt.2:15
Prayer Intention — for all those working to comfort, assist
and welcome the refugees.
5. The Holy Family is Able to Return to Nazareth
When Herod had died, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” He rose, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. Mt.2:1-21
Prayer Intention — for an end to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq and peace with reconciliation between all of the parties to the conflict.
This is just a way that works for me in prayer. You may or may not find it useful for your own prayer. But in whatever way you choose to pray, please continue, as we conclude this Year of Mercy, to pray for the refugees and for an end to the war in Syria and Iraq.