The Power of Intercessory Prayer

Part 27 of This Present Paradise

A Series of Reflections on St. Elizabeth of the Trinity

(Start with part 1 here.)

It happens almost every Monday morning.   Dozens of women of all ages and stages meeting in our parish courtyard, corralling sticky kids and cradling cups of steaming coffee as we gather for a weekly study group.  

We love learning about the faith together and diving into the life of a particular saint or a Church document. We relish getting into deep discussions about situations in our life or events in the world and how—inevitably—the Church has the answers before we have the questions. 

The format of the group has developed over the years, and something has emerged which I hadn’t originally scheduled in or expected.   We had always opened in prayer, but slowly, without my realizing it at first, a time of intercessory prayer began to grow into its own ‘thing’—I really don’t even know what to call it—but we started to begin our meetings with a time of long, intense petition for not only ourselves, but also our family members, friends, and suffering people we’d never met but who began to come out of nowhere and ask for us to pray for them:  “I hear you have a powerful group of intercessors.  Will you ask them to pray for me?” We found ourselves being sought out, to the point I had to ask my friend Michelle, who has a charism for it, to take over all of these petitions and compile them—or we’d never have been able to keep track, much less keep up.

I appeal to you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf…(Romans 15:30)

So every week we lay them before the Lord and pray over them together, begging for healing, for answers, for relief—for God’s will, and for our own embrace of it.  It is becoming clear to me that rather than a distraction or delay of our study, it may be a charism of our group and is most likely part of the Lord’s original intent in its design.  

Which makes sense.  Because it is part of our design.  We are called to pray for each other.

“Since Abraham, intercession—asking on behalf of another—has been characteristic of a heart attuned to God’s mercy.  In the age of the Church, Christian intercession participates in Christ’s as an expression of the communion of saints.  In intercession, he who prays looks “not only to his own interests, but also the interests of others,” even to the point of praying for those who do him harm.” (CCC 2635)

In other words, it is Jesus who prays for all us before the Father.  But then we enter into His very prayer, and extend it in a way with our own.  

Our prayer acknowledges before God who we are and our need for Him: “we are creatures who are not our own beginning, not the masters of our adversity, not our own last end.  We are sinners who has Christians know that we have turned away from the Father.  Our petition is always a turning back to Him.”  And so we “ask, beseech, plead, invoke, entreat, cry out” for each other and all of our needs. (CCC 2629)  

We pray that God will put things into right order in our lives: for health, for safety, for discernment, for our welfare and well-being.  To make all things new, especially that He will restore fully our relationship with Him and align our will totally to His—that everything that happens be a means to drawing us near to Him, for His glory and our eternal happiness.    

And to pray this way for the other?  Well, the beautiful irony is that it is we who are blessed.  It is graced moment from God to be asked pray for another, a sign of His love that He wants us to participate in His immense work of redemption.  To make some part of His plan dependent on our prayers.  Let’s say that again.  To make some part of His plan dependent on our prayers.  

God bestows many things on us out of His liberality, even without our asking for them: but that He wishes to bestow certain things on us at our asking, is for the sake of our good, namely, that we may acquire confidence in having recourse to God, and that we may recognize in Him the Author of our goods.” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica 2-2.83)

That’s a mouthful—we know, we spent last year studying St. Thomas Aquinas—but put in other words, from all eternity, the Lord has many blessings for us—most are given freely, but some are reserved until we ask for them.  So it is not that we change His mind, but that He has determined that some things only will be set in motion by our prayers.  Why?  Because He wants to have a relationship with us, a dynamic exchange of friendship, confidence, intimacy, love.  

It’s amazing.  We have Jesus Christ as our Mediator, the Holy Spirit as our Advocate, Mary as our Interceding Mother, the constant, attentive intercession of our guardian angels, and the saints: “when they entered the joy of their Master, they were ‘put in charge of many things.’ Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan.  We can and should ask them to intercede for us and the whole world.” (CCC 2683)

And—us.  Personally and communally called to pray, part of this glorious communion.

Some religious orders have a particular charism for intercessory prayer, including the Carmelites.   Elizabeth of the Trinity reflects that particular availability to the needs of others in her letters, always ready to lay down their intentions before the Lord in her life of constant prayer.  

As a religious, she would often be asked to pray for the sick and the suffering, and she gladly helped them to shoulder their burdens, seeing it as part of her call.  Wanting them to leave it to her—and to her community, who always joined their prayers together for the many petitions which flooded to them from the suffering, anxious souls in the world.

In one letter (157) Elizabeth writes to her friend’s mother in response to her request for prayers for a mutual friend’s husband, who has become very sick.  “I recommend your intentions to (God).  Do not doubt Him, dear Madame, abandon everything to Him, as well as your little friend…for her mission is to pray unceasingly, and you know how much that holds true for you!…I kiss my dear Françoise whom I love so much and your sweet Marie-Louise.  I pray fervently for them, and I am always all yours; don’t you feel that?”

I’m sure she did feel it.  That’s part of the power of our prayer, too, to help others carry their cross in some mysterious way and to trust God in their most cruciform moments.  How often have we heard someone say, “it was your prayers that got me through”?   That’s not just a sentiment—it is a real spiritual exchange that we experience whenever someone carries another in their prayers.  It is being part of the Body of Christ, being bound to each other. 

“Oh! Don’t you feel my prayer is constantly rising up to Him and descending to you?” (L 176)

So when we are in line at the store or making dinner or bringing in the mail and something within us whispers a particular name, unexpectedly calling someone to mind, let’s not dismiss that heavenly invitation.  Let’s say a prayer.  Because that someone might need our prayers more than we know, and if we dismiss it in our busyness, we just might miss out on a particular grace that will never come in the same way again.

And next time we say, “I’ll pray for you,” let’s remember the potential power of those words. They have the capacity to change things, and not least of all our own hearts.

“Those who join the Carmelite Order are not lost to their near and dear ones, but have been won for them, because it is our vocation to intercede to God for everyone.”
— St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)

Photo courtesty of Unsplash.

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