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Imaging God Through the Gift of Intercession

October 12, AD2017 0 Comments

intercession, communion of saints

Father, Son and Holy Spirit, this is our Triune God.  He is One and inseparable.  Where the Father is, so also is the Son and the Holy Spirit.  This dynamic holds true for each person of the Trinity. Jesus tells Philip, “He who sees me sees the Father.” (John 14: 9). “The Father and I are one,” Jesus also tells a questioning crowd in the temple area. (John 10: 30). Then, too, when Jesus first appears to the Apostles in their locked room after the Resurrection, He breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20: 22). So much are Jesus and the Holy Spirit one, that in Jesus’ Sacred Humanity, a mere thought breathes forth the Holy Spirit.

Go, now, all the way back to Genesis 1: 26-27, and we see a hint of this interplay of the Trinity in the creation of humanity.  “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. . . . ‘ God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.”  God is speaking with Himself in plural form, but as we see when the narrator continues, God is One.  What we discover when Jesus reveals the God of love in the Gospels, fits both the reading from Genesis and the Church teaching on our Trinitarian God.  God chose to create humanity and expend His infinite love on us, whom the Church declares the Communion of the Saints.  I propose here that because of the Church teaching on the Communion of the Saints, the great gift God allows us through the prayer of intercession not only makes marvelous sense, but also points beautifully and emphatically to humanity’s mirroring of the divine image of its Creator.  If this be true, and I believe it is, then the prayer of intercession must be very pleasing to God.

Prayer of Intercession Mirrors the Trinity

So how do we mirror the Trinity when we engage in intercessory prayer?  First of all, Scripture tells us, “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4: 16)  Prayer is an act of love when the intention is pure and directed to God.  According to Catholic thought, such prayer is always directed ultimately to God, whether or not it is intercessory (asking assistance of Mary, the Angels, or a particular saint).  Thus, when we pray, we also abide in God, and He in us, necessarily reflecting His love.  But what makes intercessory prayer particularly reflective of our God, and pleasing to Him?

If we observe God’s actions throughout the Bible, in salvation history, we note that one of His undeniable qualities is that He sends.  He sent Moses to rescue His people from Egypt.  He sent Samuel to anoint David, the beloved king of Israel.  He sent the Angel Gabriel to a young virgin of Nazareth.  And He sent the second Person of the Trinity, Our Lord Jesus Christ, to redeem us from our sins and open Paradise to us.

Imaging the Father, Jesus, sends His disciples and all who would follow Him to spread His message of the Father’s love, saying, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” (John 20: 21)  What is Jesus sending us to do?  Quite simply, He is sending us to love.  “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.  Live in my love. . . . If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 15: 9-10)  What are those essential commandments?  Love God, and “love one another as I [Jesus] have loved you.”  We do not love in a vacuum.  It has been God’s desire since the beginning of humanity that we image the love of the Trinity by loving each other.  When we pray through Mary and the saints, we are making use of the communal love established by God in each of us to present our needs, thanksgiving and praise before Him; we are sending our petition to God through others that we love.

Intercession of Others on Earth

When we ask those still with us on earth to intercede on our behalf, we are asking help from persons who are as imperfect as we are.  Jesus encouraged this when He said, “Wherever two or more are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst.” (Matthew 18: 20)  Gathering as one in Jesus’ name is key to His dwelling among us.  This is reasonable because only through interaction with one another do we follow God’s law of love and become more perfect before God.  Saint Paul, Christ’s great Apostle to the Gentiles, voices, too, his need for communal prayer on behalf of himself and those who are with him struggling to plant God’s message of love wherever he is sent.  To the Colossians he states how important it is to pray not only for themselves, but urgently requests their assistance through intercessory prayer: “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.  At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word.” (Colossians 4: 2-6).

Intercession of Those in Heaven

For the saints in heaven, however, sin is a thing of the past, and no longer a hindrance to perfect love being effected in them.  These citizens of heaven are always pleasing before God and ready to help those striving to attain the same.  Why would God be opposed to them helping their loved ones now that they are in heaven, while He vehemently urges those on earth to pray unceasingly for one another?  God would contradict Himself were this the case, especially in His desire that we be a reflection of His perfect Trinitarian love.  Who better to urge us on our way than those who have trod the same hallways and fallen into the same pits?  Even those who are in purgatory are closer to God than we are, praying ever to God for those they love still on earth.  Mary, of course, being always sinless and completely in union with God’s will, conveys our prayers most perfectly, presenting them to her Son in a light we are not capable of seeing ourselves, in union with God’s divine plan for us.

Intercession as a Divine Gift

There are those who balk at the idea of intercessory prayer, insisting that every need and request must necessarily be strictly directed to God, without the assistance or interference of go-betweens.  Of course God hears all prayer.  He is perfect in goodness and mercy, and He sees into the heart.  As Jesus tells us, “Your Father in heaven already knows what you need before you ask.” (Matthew 6: 8)  This does not preclude that we should ask.  Often, too, God’s preferred context for receiving our petitions is in union with at least one other.  Even the Our Father, taught by Our Lord, is a communal prayer.  Thus, when some believe that it is wrong to ask the intercession of Mary and the saints (basically asking that they join us in our supplication), these miss the essential treasure to be found in such prayer.

Not only is intercession a gift given to humankind by God to help us image the perfect communal love of the Blessed Trinity, but we actually practice and grow particularly in two virtues very pleasing to God when we send prayer via a holy courier (although every virtue is strengthened).  One of these virtues is humility, the other is love.  Are there any two virtues more pleasing to our God than these?  To answer, we have only to see the two most striking virtues in our Savior and His Mother, Mary.

The Role of Humility

How is humility played out in intercessory prayer?  Perhaps it is best illustrated in Luke 7: 1-10, where Jesus heals the centurion’s dying servant.  The centurion sends his messengers with his request for the boy’s healing.  Why?  “I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.  Only say the word and my servant will be healed.”  Did Jesus take offense or feel belittled that the centurion did not think him important enough to come to him in person, but rather sent mere messengers with his request?  No.  Jesus praised the centurion for his faith, so humble, he considered that the love of Jesus, which he himself was not worthy of, would nevertheless reach out to heal his ailing servant.  Did the centurion feel that the messengers could get the job done without Jesus?  Certainly not.  Intercessory prayer, in its essence, is humble.

Love as Motive

The other virtue engaged in intercessory prayer is, of course, love; there is no higher motive.  By reaching out to God through Mary or any of the saints, we are growing our love, as mandated by Jesus, in relation to that “other” who lovingly assists us, as well as enlarging our love for God by conforming more and more to His will.  We become a “gathering,” joining earth and heaven, sending our supplications through Jesus to the Father.

Love born of God gathers strength in unity with others.  This is the way God created us.  There is no getting around it.  We must be in connection with each other to be in connection with Him. God cannot take offense at love reflected in His image, the very communal love Jesus enjoined on His disciples on Holy Thursday night.  It was such a communal prayer of love that brought the Holy Spirit down upon Mary and the disciples on Pentecost.

No, we do not reflect God’s love best in a “me and Him” approach to life or prayer, but in a life lived with and for others.  This is how we abide in His love, and image His love, until there is no more separation between those on earth and in heaven.  We will all have ushered each other Home, having interconnected in love through joys, work, sacrifice, and, most powerfully, through prayer, at last to behold and reflect always the Perfect Oneness of Love that carried us Home: The Blessed Trinity.

“Therefore, I ask Mary, ever virgin, all the angels and saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord, Our God.”                                                                                     –                                                                  —from the Order of the Mass

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About the Author:

Alita is the proud mother of two wonderful adult daughters, and a retired school teacher of both public and parochial schools. She credits her mom with the strong Catholic faith she enjoys today, and wishes to share the wealth of mercy and experience of divine love encountered in the Heart of Jesus throughout her life, in order to return praise and thanksgiving to Him, and draw others to know and love Him, too. She is a Secular Carmelite of St. Elizabeth of the Trinity Community in the St. Joseph Province, and holds a B. A. in Liberal Studies from CSULB, and a M. A. in Religious Studies from Mount St. Mary's University in Los Angeles.

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