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 | By Fr. Bill Ashbaugh

Praying for Others: Why Do We Do It? How Do We Do It?

Prayer has power. How good it is to hear someone say, “I am praying for you!” While people of faith have known for thousands of years the power of prayer, even modern skeptics are beginning to change their outlook. Studies are showing the positive effects of prayer – both for the individual who prays, and for the recipient of the prayers. Why are our prayers powerful? Because of Jesus! Christians, by their baptism, are united to Jesus Christ who sits at the right hand of the Father where He intercedes for us. (Rom 8:34) He is our High Priest who offered Himself on the cross for our salvation. His priesthood is eternal. “Therefore, He is always able to save those who approach God through Him, since He lives forever to make intercession for them.” (Heb 7:24) Jesus enables our prayers to have effect because we share in His priesthood through baptism. United to the one High Priest, we intercede with Him for others.

It is great to think of Jesus praying for each of us at every moment. Jesus wants each person to receive salvation. He desires that we have a thirst and hunger for the salvation of others, too. The love and desire for our salvation is at the heart of Christ’s intercession for us. During His ministry, Jesus spent all night in prayer. (Mark 1:35, 6:46) He prayed for the sick (Luke 4:40), for the possessed (Luke 4:41), for His disciples (John 17), for Simon Peter in a special way (Luke 22:31-32), and for all who would believe. Jesus’ prayer of intercession was an extension of His very self in an offering of love. The Father wants us each to be just like Jesus in our own unique way. So, the Father wants us to learn to intercede – to pray on behalf of others – like Jesus did. As we pray for other’s needs, we grow less selfish and become more like Jesus. We grow in our awareness of the interconnectedness of the human family and that our prayers of love have the power to help others because of the goodness and mercy of God.

Jesus said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name He will give you. ... ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.” (John 16:23-24) God wants us to intercede for each other so that we will be filled with joy.

So how do we intercede for each other? If you know how to ask for help, it is not hard.

The saints of the Church offer great examples of the constancy, perseverance, faith, hope and passionate benevolence that are necessary ingredients for powerful intercession. Take St. Rita for example.

As a young woman, Rita wanted to enter a convent and dedicate her life to God and to intercessory prayer. Her mom and dad were against it. They wanted her to get married. Rita was obedient to them. What a great example of keeping the Fourth Commandment! Unfortunately for her, mom and dad were no matchmakers. She obeyed them and married a man who was an abusive drunk. With kindness and love, Rita continued to witness to her husband the way of Christ. They were blessed with two boys, but they grew up more like their dad than their mom. Rita never lost her faith, and increased her prayers for her husband and her two sons. She asked God to give them faith and convert their hearts so that they would live at peace with God and others. After 18 years of marriage, and countless prayers offered by Rita, her husband did convert!

Rita was so happy, but before she could embark on a new life with her husband, he was killed. Her two sons were bent on plans of revenge. Rita then turned to God and prayed that God would keep them from sin, and if that meant taking their lives, so be it. Well, both of them caught an illness that eventually did take their lives. While they were sick, they both repented of their desire for vengeance and reconciled with God. They died very peacefully with their own mother taking care of them. Rita was eventually led by God to join the convent and spend the rest of her life praying for others and doing penance for her sins and the sins of humanity.

At the end of her life, she continued to pray for others, especially for her husband and two sons who had died long before. She asked God to bring them to heaven and even asked for a special favor – some sign that would help her know they were with the Lord. In the middle of winter, St. Rita knew God would give her a sign. She told one of her relatives to go and see if a rose had bloomed. The sister thought she might be delirious, but went and investigated. To her great surprise and joy discovered a rose shooting up from the snow at Rita’s home. Rita smiled and then asked her relative for two figs from the fig tree in her garden – another impossible request that was granted. Rita died in peace, and many miracles happened and continue to occur to this day through her intercession.

So now it is our turn! The Lord is counting on us to join Him and countless saints in interceding for the salvation of all people. He wants us to pour out our hearts in faith and in union with Him before God the Father.

Spiritual exercise:

For our spiritual fitness this month, I suggest we make a conscious effort to intercede for the needs of others.

In private prayer, ask the Holy Spirit to help you pray for others and then listen to your heart. Write down the intercessions or people the Lord inspires you to pray for and pray for them each day of this month.

Make a conscious effort to listen well during Mass to the prayers of intercession and really join your heart and will to the public prayer of the Church.

When someone asks you to pray for them – do it right away.

3 suggestions before you begin any kind of prayer

Spend quality time each day with God. Some pray in the car or other places, and of course this is good, but it is not really the kind of environment that will be conducive for the quiet needed to give one’s whole self and attention to God. If we want God to hear our prayers, we ought to show God a deep reverence and respect and, when we can help it, not put ourselves in the way of distraction.

Remember who you are talking to – it is God! God loves you and He is very close – not far away! Have faith!

Consider the time you have with God as something precious.

8 helps to intercessory prayer

Obey God. Obey those God has put in authority over us. God’s providence works through all things, even what we believe to be their mistakes of judgment. Obedience always helps in intercession, because we will become more docile to the movement of God in our soul when He calls us to pray for someone else.

Believe the Lord has called you to intercede and the Father hears your prayers through Jesus. Many people find it helpful to pray with our Blessed Mother, or pray with a saint. A person can feel greater confidence and faith when they know they are not alone in their intercession and that when we pray with others, the power of the prayer of intercession is amplified.

Recognize that “we do not know how to pray as we ought.” (Rom 8:26) Sometimes we think we know what another person needs. Maybe we do, but maybe we don’t! Jesus said we must remove the log from our own eye first. So to be a good intercessor for anyone, we first must acknowledge our own poverty to God.

Ask the Holy Spirit to help us intercede. The Holy Spirit will intercede for us according to the will of God.

Do not give up or lose heart when you intercede. Read Luke 11:1-13. Pray often and be persistent. Some prayers take many years to be answered.

Pray with confidence and thanksgiving. God will answer the prayer according to His will. You never need to worry. “What father would hand his son a snake when he asked for a fish!” (Luke 11:11)

Offer your prayer of intercession during weekly or daily Mass. The greatest prayer of all is the Mass.

Join a prayer group and offer your intercession with others. Most prayer groups have a time of communal intercession. If you cannot find a prayer group, then start your own. Unite your friends together and begin to pray. Pray the rosary, Divine Mercy chaplet or a similar devotion and announce the intentions and intercessions before you begin the prayer.