Granted that Catholics’ minds are focused on Rome right now, I have been pondering a broader question for some months. And I suddenly realized this morning that my question was not entirely irrelevance to the upcoming conclave. The question I have pondered is whether there are “illegitimate” prayers, what constitutes them, and how to avoid them. Two elements had gone into my thinking — that is, before the upcoming conclave raised the specter of a whole new set of issues. The first element was an experience at a Mass last Fall, where one of the intercessions was “that those who have not yet given to our annual fund will do so this week.” I cringed (and probably was not alone). As I reflected on this experience and formed a notion of “illegitimate” (rather than simply plain stupid or inappropriate) prayers, a parable of Jesus came to mind, which provided a second, biblical element for my reflection. In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, Jesus envisions a Pharisee voicing something akin to an illegitimate prayer: “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity…” (Lk 18:11). Based on these two elements, one might identify illegitimate prayers as in some ways doing violence to the encounter with God at the heart of prayer, either by self-aggrandizing or manipulative words, for starters. I am sure there are other characteristics of illegitimate prayers. I am also sure that as the conclave nears, possibilities for illegitimate prayers abound. (I have almost decided to go back to my charismatic practices and pray in tongues until this conclave has concluded).