Several years ago, friends experienced a terrible, traumatic accident when their 17 month-old daughter Joy disappeared while the extended family played in her grandparent’s large yard. Her mother Kristin remembers rushing around the property and onto the street, desperately searching for her little girl, when she suddenly thought: the pool. Her husband Matt had the same thought at the same moment, and literally hurdling himself over the tall pool fence, he found Joy in the water and pulled her out.
Joy was rushed to the hospital. Having been without a heartbeat for 30 minutes, there was no certainty she would survive. If she did, under the circumstances, she would have a 99% chance of living the rest of her life brain dead, in a vegetative state.
Finally, a faint pulse was detected. She was hooked to a ventilator and her family gathered around her bedside to pray, numb with grief and pain. Her uncle, a priest, said Mass daily in the hospital room, lifting the host before her still little body.
But the Body of Christ began to mobilize. Matt, Kristin, Joy, and their family were lifted up in prayer by thousands and thousands of new friends from around the world as the word spread. “Somebody knew somebody and even got word to the Pope,” Kristin remembers, marveling.
Miracles began to happen: first Joy was breathing on her own. Prayer warriors watched on social media as video revealed her eyes flickering open and recognizing her loved ones. Shortly afterword she was nursing normally, and Kristin remembers vividly the moment she said, “mom.”
Today, Joy is a normal five-year-old, playing happily with the other kids during our Monday morning women’s group. She is a walking miracle. Her family knows well the power of intercessory prayer, of a Church praying Joy into wholeness and carrying them through a time of indescribable pain and self-condemnation. The fact that Kristin was able to forgive herself and heal she sees as yet one more miracle.
God doesn’t always answer our prayers in such a dramatic way or exactly as we wish He would. But stories like these must remind us that our prayers for each other are a real source of tremendous power which can be “unleashed” when the Church comes together in faith, and that it is God’s will we participate in the prayer of Christ, the one mediator.
In Unleashing the Power of Intercessory Prayer (Sophia Institute Press, 2020), Joseph Hollcraft beautifully describes our prayerful participation in the saving work of Christ and reveals the keys to the life of prayer into which we were baptized. He urges the reader to pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, to pray with fervor, with specifics, and in friendship with Christ. Over nine compelling chapters, he unpacks exactly what makes our prayer transformative. For truly, when we pray, not only do circumstances change—we do, too.
One practice he recommends is to pray ‘on the spot’ and this key has been a big one for me. When someone asks for prayer or reveals a struggle, I have begun to pray for them immediately, either silently or sometimes out loud. Usually, the response is gratitude and relief. Sometimes, we spontaneously begin to pray together. Hollcraft explains why this immediacy is such a necessary element to prayer: “To invite the Holy Spirit into someone’s need is to have the Holy Spirit move into that need—not tomorrow, but today, in the here and now,” he says. Examining the way we intercede—or fail to do so sometimes, when we wait—can reveal some other areas of our prayer that need work. “If we are in the habit of ‘rushing to the next thing,’ we don’t engage in intercessory power as we ought. We should slow down, recollect, and reexamine our prayer lives. If we are going to pray better on the spot, we need to be better about making prayer the center of our lives.”
Seeing intercessory prayer as one essential part of a beautiful whole—a spiritual life totally given over to God and in service of His Church is just one gift of Unleashing the Power of Intercessory Prayer.
Adding fasting to prayer is another good reminder in Hollcraft’s new book. Sacrifice fuels the fire of our prayer, which adds a cruciform dimension to our time of petition. Again, it is always in imitation of Christ. “The Cross is the high point of intercessory prayer,” he points out.
The practice of asking a loved one which saint they have devotion to in order to ask for their intercession as we pray is a practice I want to use more often. Hollcraft underscores how the saints are a tremendous source of grace and their prayers for us are especially effective.
The book is filled with many such ideas, inspirations, and a deeper understanding of this universal call to pray for each other. A few pages in, and you’ll realize that you’ll never say “I’ll pray for you” in quite the same way again.
Find your copy here.
Featured image courtesy of Unsplash.
Cover art used with permission.