Andy Hawes is Warden of
Edenham Regional Retreat House
Last month’s ‘Ghostly’ about prayer and fasting provoked much discussion and correspondence about the prayer of intercession. Here are few further thoughts. First, we can soon get ourselves in knots about this when we forget the whole of our Christian life is to live a life set apart to serve Christ in and for others. From the commission of our baptism onwards we are to be soldiers and servants of Christ, striving against the three enemies of wholeness and salvation: the world, the flesh and the devil. We are caught up in the redeeming and reconciling work of Christ and part of this is our prayer of intercession. It is not that intercession is a separate activity or discipline; it arises as a response of the heart and mind to the needs of others and the world around us as we experience it. To our prayer for others we must bring our whole experience.
Secondly, by our baptism we are living and vital members of the Body of Christ. We are agents and ambassadors of his love and life, and are called to act in partnership with him. What we do makes a difference for good and for ill. This is true of our prayer. The Gospels reveal Jesus acting in response to the pleading and request of others – they are partners with him in the working out of the Father’s purpose. We see this when Our Lady intercedes at Cana, when Jairus pleads for his daughter and Martha and Mary ask Jesus to help Lazarus. These and other Gospel events reveal that Jesus both listens and responds. As St Ignatius Loyola put it, ‘Work as if everything depends on you, pray knowing that it doesn’t.’
Thirdly, prayer for others is a duty and work required of each Christian. Each one of us has a unique and providential awareness of the world. We are aware of challenges and needs in others, or have attachments to others, which are unknown or impossible for anyone else. The Lord calls us to offer them to the Father through him because there is no one else to make the same prayer.
In the light of the centrality and necessity of bringing our whole selves to the work of intercession it is salutary to remember the teaching of James in his Epistle. He says simply the prayer of a good man will bring healing. Intercession by itself lacks integrity if we are not living lives that are constantly seeking to conform to the will of God. We cannot pray for peace in the world if we are in dispute with our neighbour. We cannot pray for the relief of poverty if we are careless stewards of our own money and resources.
A life of intercession devoid of self-examination and penitence is a pious pretence. To pray for others must be part of the way of holiness – nothing else will do. As Psalm 145 says, ‘The Lord is near to all who call upon him, to those who call upon him in truth.’