Monday, September 18, 2017

The power of intercession and why we ought to always pray for others.

Most of us have at the heart of our prayer life our own personal needs.  There is nothing wrong in this, and when we were children, we were often taught (by well-meaning parents and catechists) to bring these personal needs to God in prayer.  It often resulted that we blurred the lines between seeing God as a loving Father and God as some sort of Santa Claus.  He was the ‘go-to’ person for anything that we needed, and the one who would help us if we found ourselves in any sort of trouble in life. 

While I am not suggesting that as we mature into adulthood that we stop seeing God as the provider of our needs in life, I am asking our older, more mature selves if our petitionary prayers knowingly include space for the needs of others - those who are outside of our selves and even those to whom we are not directly in contact with.  The Church has always taught that there is a need to include in our prayer-life the needs and concerns of others, which is a command that is summarized by the great instruction to love our neighbour as ourselves.  Mother Church has always asked that as members of the body of Christ, we see our neighbour and his needs, concerns and problems as an extension of ourselves.  This is the deeper meaning behind the command to love others as ourselves. 

Wherein lies the power of intercession?  Its power is in the power of love.  This is the force behind the many miraculous cures and even the bodily resuscitations in Sacred Scripture.  When the father of the possessed son goes up to Jesus to ask for him to heal his son, what was it that spurred him to do this?  When the centurion asked that his servant who was ill be seen by Jesus, what lay behind this petition?  When the friends of the paralytic broke the roof to lower him in front of Jesus, what was it that made them so brazen?  After Jesus cured Simon’s Mother-in-Law, Mark tells us that many brought to Jesus all who were ill or possessed by demons.  There is something, apart from faith, that threads through each of these, and it is love.  Love itself has a motivational force.

We don’t pause enough to think about this – that the centurion loved his servant, that the friends of that paralytic on that stretcher loved their friend.  The faith that was required by them was fueled by love.  Love brought them to act in those ways, and in some ways, rather unconventionally. 

I think we underestimate very often this dynamic power of love.  When we raise to God the needs of others, or mouth out our intercessions for them at the designated part of the liturgy at Sunday Mass, how much of our attention is given over to truly loving those for whom we are praying for?  If anything makes a difference, it has to be love. 

After all, when we tell someone that we are praying for them, what we are assuring them is that we love them – love them enough to want to also feel their pain, touch their anxieties, experience their uncertainties, fears and concerns.  And part of the power of intercessory prayers for others is precisely the unspoken power of love.  In doing this, we are also exercising compassion.  The root of this word ‘compassion’ is to ‘suffer with’.  We are suffering with them, even when it is not enunciated.  We are telling them that they are not alone.  In his classic ‘Inferno’, Dante’s image of hell was not one of a place of fire and eternal burnings, but rather a place of frozen isolation, where each soul was trapped in a frozen spot, unable and unwilling to touch another soul because each one was so self-absorbed, self-centered and too egotistic with his own concerns. 

I was listening to a podcast of a spiritual meditation given by a priest who wanted to inspire his listeners to persist in their intercessory prayers for others.  He shared that when he was in the University, he had a very holy and wise priest/lecturer who once shared that the sincere prayer of an 8 year-old child can lead to the conversion of the most hardened criminal behind bars, and this is because of the effectiveness of grace which can move mountains. 

When we pray for others, we are asking that God, through his grace, love the person whom we are praying for.  We are in effect asking that God’s love be the essential add-on to our love – our very limited love for others. 

In our Catholic tradition, we have always looked upon Mary as a tremendous intercessor.  It is not because she has some secret passkey that helps us to get to Jesus by queue-jumping, the way that some nightspots have bouncers outside the club monitoring who gets preferential treatment and who does not.  Rather, intercessions through Mary are efficacious precisely because her love for us and her love for Jesus are unsurpassed.  Our love for Jesus is so limited and so frail, fading off at the slightest hint of trial and turmoil.  But when Mary’s prayers and Mary’s faith are what our prayers are riding on, we are literally in good hands – the hands of a blessed Mother. 

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