There are many types of prayer. Pope Francis, in Evangelii Gaudium, mentions intercessory prayer, a form with which worshipers are quite familiar. So where and how does “missionary power” enter into the equation? This matter is treated in three short sections, so let’s look at it in one gulp today, eh?
281. One form of prayer moves us particularly to take up the task of evangelization and to seek the good of others: it is the prayer of intercession. Let us peer for a moment into the heart of Saint Paul, to see what his prayer was like. It was full of people: “…I constantly pray with you in every one of my prayers for all of you… because I hold you in my heart” (Phil 1:4, 7). Here we see that intercessory prayer does not divert us from true contemplation, since authentic contemplation always has a place for others.
One cannot argue with the apostolic witness. Another theme in the Pauline letters is thanksgiving. We should not be surprised this is noticed by a Jesuit. Gratitude is a key theme in Ignatian spirituality. Are disciples able to appreciate the people they serve? The hope is that we are, and that in remembering the people we encounter, we bring them to prayer. And when prayer is done, the bonds of relationship and service are stronger:
282. This attitude becomes a prayer of gratitude to God for others. “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you” (Rom 1:8). It is constant thankfulness: “I give thanks to God always for you because of the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor 1:4); “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you” (Phil 1:3). Far from being suspicious, negative and despairing, it is a spiritual gaze born of deep faith which acknowledges what God is doing in the lives of others. At the same time, it is the gratitude which flows from a heart attentive to others. When evangelizers rise from prayer, their hearts are more open; freed of self-absorption, they are desirous of doing good and sharing their lives with others.
A great brief meditation on intercessory prayer:
283. The great men and women of God were great intercessors. Intercession is like “a leaven in the heart of the Trinity”. It is a way of penetrating the Father’s heart and discovering new dimensions which can shed light on concrete situations and change them. We can say that God’s heart is touched by our intercession, yet in reality he is always there first. What our intercession achieves is that his power, his love and his faithfulness are shown ever more clearly in the midst of the people.
Sherry Weddell convinced me that intercessory prayer is a spiritual gift. I think that for some people, their prayer in this vein is particularly fruitful. That fact doesn’t absolve the rest of us from trying it, persisting in it, and cultivating the spirit of gratitude the Holy Father mentions here.
God’s heart is touched by our prayers. Can we believe that?