September 19, 2011
In the 1920’s, at the peak of his professional life, Clarence Darrow was the most famous trial lawyer in the United States. He championed the underdog and stridently spoke out against capital punishment. With one single exception, in more than a hundred murder cases, he was always able to win mercy for his client. Such was the power of his words before the court. How much more powerful are the words of any believer to win mercy for others at the court of heaven! God is ever attentive and eager to answer our prayers for the good of one another. Time and time again, the Scriptures give witness to this truth.
Living in the 11
th century before Christ, Samuel exercised every role of leadership possible for a man of his time. He was seer, judge, priest, military leader, prophet and kingmaker. Samuel is one of the most important figures in Israel. The Old Testament depicts him as a religious hero who served as the key figure in the transition from a tribal confederation to a monarchy in Israel.
In a moving scene before he ends his public mission for God’s people, Samuel stands before the nation. The people have cast him aside like an old rag in favor of Saul, their first king. Samuel, a true man of God, says to them: “…far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you….”(I Samuel 12:23). All the other roles he so nobly executed were coming to an end. But his ministry of intercessory prayer for the good of God’s people continues.
Samuel knew well the lessons of Israel’s history. He was heir to a rich tradition of intercessory prayer. Seven centuries before him, Abraham, the father of the Chosen People, had interceded for the wicked inhabitants of Sodom. The saint prayed for sinners. He pleaded with God to have mercy on Sodom despite the depravity of so many of its people. He asked God to spare the whole city if there could be found just ten righteous men there (Genesis 18).
When God’s own Chosen People later rebelled against him during the events of the Exodus, Moses was so moved for love of his own people that he prayed God to be merciful. And God heard his prayer (Exodus 32:33). To the list of those who offered prayers for others can be added David, Hezekiah, Elijah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and Esther.
All these leaders who prayed so earnestly for the good of others prefigure Jesus himself. The gospels show us Jesus at prayer throughout his life. At the Last Supper, Jesus prays both for believers and unbelievers. He begs the Father that all might come to know the one true God. He prays in a special way for his disciples who are to bring this truth to others (cf. Jn 17).
After leaving the Upper Room, Jesus enters the Garden of Gethsemane. Falling prostrate on his knees, he prays. His soul is sorrowful unto death. He has already accepted his death on the cross. He begs God to let the cup of suffering pass from him. The cup from which he must drink, the suffering that is so bitter and so painful, is the failure of his disciples to understand his mission and to stand by him in his final hours. His prayer is for us who so often fail in our loyalty to him. He is interceding for us. Even on the cross, he continues his prayer of intercession: “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).
Prayer was vital to everything Jesus did. His whole life from the crib to the cross was a continual prayer offered in adoration of the Father and in intercession for us. Prayer, likewise, is vital to the work of the Church, for she continues the Lord’s saving work. The Church cannot accomplish her mission of evangelization, her mission of bringing the gospel to others, without prayer.
The very first time the Church engaged in this mission of evangelization was Pentecost. The disciples were gathered in the Upper Room together in prayer with the Mother of Christ. As they prayed, the Holy Spirit came down upon them and immediately they went into the streets to invite others to accept the gospel. Three thousand entered the Church that first Pentecost.
Not all of us can be preachers, like Peter on Pentecost standing before the crowds and leading them to Jesus. Not all of us can be missionaries, like Paul traveling to foreign countries to bring the gospel. Not all of us are able to care for the sick, the abandoned and the dying, like Mother Teresa of Calcutta, leading others to Christ through the ministry of charity. But each of us, no matter what our vocation or stage in life, has an urgent duty to do our part in the work of evangelization by prayer.
The example of Abraham, Moses, Samuel, David and the prophets engaging in intercessory prayer assures us that our prayer on behalf of others can have incredible effects. Our prayers of intercession always win a hearing at the court of heaven. As water rises up from the earth and then descends on distant places as rain, so too our prayers of intercession rise from our hearts and bring God’s blessings to others. In response to our prayers, God opens the eyes of the blind, unstops the ears of the deaf, breaks the chains of sin, softens the most hardened hearts and gives the gift of faith that saves.
Earnest prayer of intercession for the work of the Church is a true ministry. In preaching, in teaching, in celebrating the sacraments, in doing works of charity, we are hemmed in by space and time. We are limited by the strength of our body and even our own personalities. Prayer knows no such limitations.
Even the sick and the homebound can offer prayers of intercession for the good of the Church. In fact, when joined to prayer, suffering itself becomes a powerful prayer of intercession. We may not be able to talk to others about God, but we can always talk to God about others and know that he is listening and eager to grant our requests for their salvation.
For this reason, we are formally establishing a prayer network for evangelization in our diocese. By joining this prayer network, we commit ourselves to pray every day in a specific way that others truly embrace the gospel. Our prayers of intercession make us instruments in bringing others to Christ in the Church. They advance the growth of the kingdom of God in this world. Whispered in the silence of our hearts, our prayers for the mission of evangelization in our diocese make us one with the disciples in the Upper Room before Pentecost, waiting for the Holy Spirit to come and to enliven the Church with his strength and power.
Prayer is truly the lifeline of the Church’s work of evangelization. As Pope Leo XIII so eloquently said:
“The world goes on its laborious way, proud of its riches, of its power, of its arms, of its genius; the Church goes onward along the course of ages with an even step, trusting in God only, to Whom, day and night, she lifts her eyes and her suppliant hands. Even though in her prudence she neglects not the human aid which Providence and the times afford her, not in these does she put her trust, which rests in prayer, in supplication, in the invocation of God. Thus it is that she renews her vital breath” (Pope Leo XIII,
Octobri Mense, September 22, 1891).