October 03, 2018

Book Review: When Women Pray

By Andrea Picciotti-Bayer *
Credit: Leia Barker via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Credit: Leia Barker via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Catholic women in the United States – indeed, all Catholics – now face a test of our faith. The scandals across the church and Rome’s continued silence on what was known and when about former-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s predations have left us suffocated and sickened. Over 46,000 Catholic women wrote to the Holy Father seeking answers regarding one of our country’s most visible prelates, and our respectful appeal has so far been ignored. What, then are Catholic women to do?

Pray.

And pray more.

That’s the implicit message of Kathleen Beckman’s When Women Pray: Eleven Catholic Women on the Power of Prayer. This collection of essays from a diverse group of American Catholic women is a gentle if powerful reminder that prayer is a potent weapon in today’s spiritual battle to save the Church in particular and society in general.

Beckham is co-founder of the Foundation of Prayer for Priests and has worked with clergy in the healing of souls through exorcism. She invited ten other U.S. Catholic women to reveal "the combined wisdom of women of prayer." Contributors include Vicky Thorn, founder of Project Rachel, a diocesan-based, post-abortion ministry, Pia de Solenni, current Chancellor for the Diocese of Orange, California, and Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor-at-large of National Review.

Each of the eleven shares her personal experience as a modern-day “prayer warrior.” They are short autobiographies on the interior life. Each chapter begins with a brief reflection from a woman saint on the "feminine wisdom." Each then ends with a short "Ponder, Practice, Pray" spiritual exercise titled to inspire continued reflection and discussion. Beckham hopes the reader will join those highlighted saints and the women contributors as another “contemplative in action.”

Her introductory chapter addresses how the "Marian heart prays." Such a heart, she says, "must become well-acquainted with [Mary's] divine Spouse, the Holy Spirit." Docility to the Holy Spirit, who unfortunately is all too often the “Great Unknown”, requires opening up oneself entirely. Yet, Beckman writes, “[w]ith the breath of the Spirit, prayer becomes like breathing."

Beckman also observes that openness to the Holy Spirit is not only life-sustaining, but is also healing, particularly for broken hearts. "When our hearts are pierced, we are opened up; we face our poverty, step out of our hiddenness, and come before God with a hole in our heart. The Divine Physician attends to the wounded heart with tenderness," she says. Like Mary's heart, "[t]he pierced heart can be a portal of grace if we remain open to divine transformation."

In prayer, Beckman writes, grace can form women "into other Marys."

In her chapter Kathryn Lopez recounts Pope Paul VI’s message to women at the close of the Second Vatican Council. The soon-to-be-canonized prelate observed:

The hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of woman is being achieved in its fullness, the hour in which woman acquires in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at this moment when the human race is under-going so deep a transformation; women impregnated with the spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid mankind in not falling.

When Women Pray is an anthology of prayer in the lives of "women impregnated with the spirit of the Gospel." Their examples, as its contributing authors hope, will inspire other Catholic women “to strengthen an army of praying women united for the many spiritual and temporal needs of the human family.”

Catholic women in the U.S. are called more than ever to fortify our interior life with prayer as we undertake our important role in restoring trust – our own and others’ -- in our Church. Kathleen Beckman’s collection is not only a compelling invitation to spiritual growth but also a work that fans the fire to be more greatly united with God in the task ahead.

Andrea Picciotti-Bayer is Legal Advisor for The Catholic Association Foundation. Her legal career has been dedicated to civil rights advocacy.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.