Sunday, September 22, 2013
Beginning with today's post on "intercessory prayer", these weekly featured posts will become more focused. Each Sunday, opportunity allowing, I will be writing on a specific element of the Christian faith experience.
There are few better places to begin than that most basic element, something that should be a part of every Christian's regular lifestyle, prayer. In particular, I want to examine "intercessory prayer", those times where we pray on behalf of others.
Is intercessory prayer effective? Can you really pray for someone else? Where does that idea, that tradition come from, and is the idea supported by the Church? If intercessory prayer is both accepted and effective, for whom should I be praying? Don't I have enough going on in my own life to pray for - why don't they pray for themselves?
To speak of intercessory prayer we must first define prayer itself. While there are many forms and functions of prayer, the Church teaches that vital to the prayer experience is attentiveness of the heart. One needs to be entirely submissive to the Word, willing and able to be obedient to God. With a right heart, prepared to accept whatever is God's will, you begin your prayers.
The Christian begins his or her prayers, in fact will begin each activity, their very daily life, by making the Sign of the Cross. As you enter into the form of your prayer, let God know that you come to him, not for yourself, but for another or others, in prayer humbly and fervently. Let him know that you are fully repentant in the knowledge that you yourself are a sinner. Also, you are willing to accept whatever His plan will be, even if that should be something other than what you hope to see as a result of this prayer.
Then tell God plainly what it is that you request: healing for a sick loved one, guidance for a wayward child, wisdom for a life or work partner, success of your team or group, peace on Earth among nations. This can be a quick process undertaken in seconds. It can go on for any length of time that you choose, and can incorporate formal prayer such as the Our Father, or the rosary.
For the source in authority on the validity of intercessory prayer, you need turn only to the Bible and read the stories of Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Daniel and many more, who regularly prayed such prayers. In the New Testament's 'Acts of the Apostles', it is said that while Peter was in prison, the church made earnest prayer to God on his behalf. Paul consistently asked the church to pray on his behalf, that the doors to men's hearts might be open to his teaching.
Throughout the New Testament we read of the Holy Spirit as an intercessor. It is always appropriate, if one wishes, to pray for the Spirit to intercede on our behalf with the Father, knowing that the Father and the Spirit are actually One. The Church also teaches that we may pray for our Blessed Mother, Mary, to intercede with Jesus on behalf of our intentions. The same with the saints and other holy deceased.
Some have a problem with this idea of praying to Mary or a saint. This is a complete misunderstanding on their part. No one prays "to" Mary. All prayers are directly to God, or to Jesus Christ, the only true intercessor directly to God. Our prayers of intercession, whether by ourselves on behalf of another human, or calling on Mary or a saint or a holy person in heaven on behalf of our intention, are always directed through ourselves or that spiritual intercessor to Christ.
So who can and do we pray for, and what are the limits of effectiveness to our prayers? Those are actually the easiest questions to answer. The "who" of your intercessory prayer is individual and personal to you: who or what is so important to you, so vital, so beloved that you are driven to prayer on behalf of that person or cause? Fervent prayers on behalf of an ill or injured loved one are something recognizable to every Christian.
As to the limits on the effectiveness of our prayers, the simple answer is that there are none. Every one of your prayers when offered in the correct spirit will be heard by God. In fact, He will answer every prayer as well. You may not get the exact result that your human heart would hope for, but you need to accept that your prayer was indeed heard, and that God will indeed act on it as best for you as possible within His greater plan.
Who should we pray for? Pray for your loved ones in need: physical need when ill, especially when mortally wounded or deathly ill. No one will live forever. We all have a time. Our prayers should be, if it is possible in God's plan, that our loved one be healed and returned to us, but that if God has a greater plan, may our loved one be free of pain, and if taken from us, that they be forgiven of any sins and taken into the peace of God's kingdom.
Another important prayer of intercession is for lost loved ones. It is one of our responsibilities as a Christian to be regularly praying for those who we love who appear to have turned their own backs on the Lord. We should pray, of course, that they be inspired to return to Him, and to openly embrace the love that God wants for their life here on Earth. We should also pray that, should they be taken, their sins be forgiven, and that God might have mercy on their souls and make a place in His kingdom for them.
So pray for your loved ones, and for your friends, and for your co-workers. Pray for your fellow parishioners, your priests, your teachers. Pray for your teammates, your political leaders, your spiritual leaders. Pray for your family, your nation, the Church. It is always good and right to pray those intercessory prayers. But a final thought: pray for yourself. We all need it, and there is nothing selfish about it. In fact, it is your first responsibility, to make sure that you yourself are right with the Lord.
God bless you.