Do you pray for them as much as you complain about them?
Much about the readings today could be said to be about intercessory prayer. Intercessory prayer for those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, although probably not unfamiliar with this way of praying, is praying for and petitioning the Lord on behalf of another person. For example, when you pray for the souls in purgatory or when someone asks you to pray for their mother? And so on and so on and so on.
In the first reading there are a couple of ways of reading the passage, both of which when combined also point to fulfillment in Christ. The first way is to read the passage as the words of Isaiah praying. As a prayer for the chosen people of God who have been unfaithful to God in so many ways. Isaiah prays for a spectacular renewal. As well, these are the words of God in the voice of a prophet. God speaks the truth of the answer to the prayer of Isaiah that will be answered. As you theologically unpack this movement of the Spirit in Isaiah as he prays and prophesies, in the context of the promises God throughout the Old Testament you see the deeper truth of it being fulfilled in the New Testament through Jesus Christ. The new Jerusalem, this shining extraordinary renewal, is in fact the church. The Church as mystical body of Christ of which you and I here today are members. So, there's certainly a lot going on in this passage in terms of prayer and the way in which God is going to answer those prayers in accord with the fullness of his plan of salvation.
In the gospel we see Mary, the mother of Jesus interceding on behalf of the couple and their families. We see, although she's not on her knees praying to God the Father, that she is giving us a model of going to the Lord on behalf of someone else, which is of course at the heart of intercessory prayer. The example here of Mary mother of God who becomes model and mother of the Church, helps us to understand a most essential truth of love in action. It helps us to understand how Mary can be for us recourse in intercessory prayer carrying our needs to her son who is himself our ultimate advocate before the God the Father. Like Isaiah, Mary doesn’t let our unfaithfulness stop her from praying for our needs. They could let our grievous sins enflame their hearts against us and see only degenerate, disobedient, ungrateful children who are just too bad. Instead of only listening to the hearts of the righteous, Mary petitions Jesus for the good, for mercy, for redemption for everyone. She knows the heart of Jesus that weeps for all who have fallen short of the glory of God, that really there are not righteous among us and if there were, they wouldn’t need the prayers. That among the fallen who are without the fullness of the grace of God, all have fallen short of the glory of God.
So, every one of us needs prayer. We all need the intercession of Mary, of the Saints and of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are, all of us, broken. We are sinners who need God's mercy. None of us escapes the need of the prayer’s others and to intercede in prayer for others, even the folks you don't like! Even the folks who this weekend in Saint Augustine and next weekend in Washington will be mocking and ridiculing the people who are participating in the ‘March for life’. Intercessory prayer is a profound reality in our church. It is deeply connected to what we believe about Mary and what we believe about the communion of Saints. Deeply connected.
And yet unlike Mary and Isaiah, we often are stingy with our prayers, we have a litmus test to determine who is worthy of our prayers for them. It seems more natural to us to complain about people who believe differently, who are ignorant, who do not know God – than it is to pray for them, sincerely! Many of us would rather complain about a particular politician or political party, then pray for the members of those parties. We would rather retaliate against or complain about our neighbor who does things we don't like, then pray for them. We would rather often complain about the consequences of sin manifested in our cities rather then pray for those we see as or know to be the cause and to be blind to the victims. We would rather complain about leaders in ministry in the church than pray for them. Complaining and finding others of like mind to rail against the leaders of the Church who have failed us, then to pray for them. We would rather complain in a confessional line about how long the person in front of us is taking, then pray for them because of their obvious need. If they're taking that long. Right?
Intercessory prayer is of great importance. It is a demonstration a manifestation of love. It is a spiritual work of mercy. It is an act of charity. It is part of what it means to live in the imitation of Christ. The words I don't know how to pray, or I don't know what to pray for, ought never to pass the lips of a child of God. Because there is never absent from our vision, our hearing, our understanding… There is never a time when a need for prayer is not before us. We see it in our family members, our neighbor, our coworker, in other parishioners in the church. We what we must petition God for as we gaze across the world. There is never a time when there isn't something for which to intercede. If you get your car and drive two blocks, you already probably have five people for whom to pray. If you get on the freeway, the need explodes. And, as we recognize the truth of that, we ought to recognize that a lot of times on that road we become the person that others are praying for. Thank God for intercessory prayer.
Let's reflect on that. In the days to come, particularly this week with the bookends of the March for Life in Saint Augustine and the March for Life in Washington. Let the examples of Isaiah and Mary inspire us to pray. We will come closer to the heart of Christ when we intercede and pray our rosary's asking for Mary's intercession while meditating on the moments of Christ life. Pray for the health and safety of those who march. Pray for those who will be moved by ignorance, hatred and suffering to oppose, ridicule and mock our brothers and sisters. Pray that the Holy Spirit would us this witness of the children of God who stand before the world to say that every life matters, especially the most vulnerable, the most innocent… and that the womb of mothers would once again be the safest and most sacred place for their babies.
Fr. Blair Gaynes has been in the Diocese since 2008.