Intercessory Prayer

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
‘O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’   
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Beloved in Jesus Christ, The Gospel today shows us the power of earnest prayer. Jesus, who is God, knew the heart of this Canaanite woman who came for help.  And he new that if he first said ‘no’ to her request, her faith would become even stronger, and by this, she would forever be written down in the gospel as an example of excellent prayer.   
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There are many types of prayer, all of which should be part of our life.  Prayer of praise – praising God in gratitude – perhaps we don’t do enough of this.  Mental prayer or Meditation: time every day to just ‘BE’ with the Lord, to talk over things – this should be for 30 minutes. And then there is Intercessory Prayer: asking the Lord’s help, asking for favors, his assistance –  and this is our subject today: Intercessory Prayer.   
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For myself, Intercessory Prayer – asking God for things –  is huge: lists of many whose needs we must pray for: the sick, the dying, requests, the parish, the bishop, the Church, so many needs.  And I know that we all have lists of requests we are asking from God every day.  
In a thousand places in the Old Testament[i] God promises to hear all who pray to him:  ‘Cry to me and I will hear thee,’ says the Lord through the prophet Jeremiah.[ii]  And Jesus assures us: ‘ If you abide in me, and my words in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done unto you.'[iii] ‘Seek, and you will find, knock, and the door will be opened.'[iv]
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Now some people say,[v] it is pointless to try to change the Plan of Almighty God, since he has foreordained all that will be.  It is true, that God already knows all that will be, he knows from the beginning of creation.  So what is the use of prayer, of trying to alter the Divine Decree? The answer is that prayer does not attempt to alter God’s plan; we pray not against his Plan, but within it.  We pray because prayer is one of the forces which govern events in the world, just as God takes into account other forces.  
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We pray because in God’s Providence,  this prayer, that we just made, may be fore-ordained  to contribute to bringing about this event rather than another.  
So we always pray: ‘Lord, I want this; it seems good to me, it seems like it is best, please – but your will be done. You know best.’  When the Lord grants us what we ask, we should be very thankful, grateful.    It is easy to say ‘my prayer worked!’,  and then go on to the next thing without a word of thanks to God. We must be very grateful.  
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Sometimes we may feel, that when we pray,  we are petitioning a ‘hard, unmovable God,  in which it almost seems barely worth our effort,  as if God is a block of granite and we are trying to press out of him just one drop of water for our needs. Or as if our prayer is a mere lottery,  where we hope by some luck of the draw, God will hear us. But this is completely wrong.  God is our Father. He hears every single prayer we say to him. ‘Before they call, I will hear;  as they are yet speaking, I will hear,’ says the Lord.[vi]   
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St. James says, when we pray,  the Lord opens his hands and gives us more than we ask.  ‘Let him ask it of God, and it will be given to him; God, who gives abundantly to all men; but let him ask with faith,[vii] …… ‘and it shall be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over into your lap.[viii]  The Lord is not stingy in any way, but very, very generous;  he hears us, because he is our Father.  
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If your little child came and asked for help in something that was of great concern, wouldn’t we listen carefully to his trouble, and find the best way to help him? ‘What father, if a son asks for a fish would hand him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg would hand him a scorpion?[ix] Jesus said that.  If earthly fathers want to help their children, Our Father in heaven wants to give us good things, but we don’t always understand his gifts to us.   
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A little boy is being wheeled down the hall for a life-saving surgery. He is very afraid, and asks his father: ‘Why are you doing this to me? Children often don’t understand why their parents hurt them, why the Peroxide must be put on the cut, why the infection must be pressed out of the wound. Children don’t understand why they must go through pain. But we are children, of God, and we too often don’t know why God’s answers seem to hurt. We must pray daily; give God all our greatest desires and requests. Then trust his answer.  
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I was with the elderly at the retirement center last night, speaking on this same subject.  A lot of people there with physical problems.  I said, ‘Brace yourself now for what St. Francis de Sales says.’ He says: When we are sick, ask God’s help; obey your doctor, take the prescribed remedies. ‘Desire to be cured,’ he says, ‘that you may serve God more.’ ‘But do not refuse to be ill, that you may obey him, and be prepared to die should this be his will, to praise him.'[x]  
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St. Bernard says, when we pray, the Lord will give either the grace we ask, or one that is more useful to us.[xi]
St. Augustine says,[xii] ‘We owe this much to God: if he does not take away our trouble, we must not imagine that we are being forgotten, but we must await greater blessings.   God always hears our prayers.
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St. Francis de Sales wrote a letter to a person who asked why her prayers are not answered. Here is what he says: ‘all trees my dear child do not bear fruit at the same season; some of the best are the longest in coming to maturity.  I have heard it said that the palm tree grows a hundred years before it bears fruit. God has hidden within the secrets of his Providence, when and how he answers your prayers, and it may be that he will answer you by doing according to his views rather than yours. Be at peace, my child, within his fatherly arms and in his loving Care.[xiii]  
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So we pray hard and with confidence – and we trust God in his answers.  
St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi used to say, God feels as if he were under an obligation to the person that prays to him.  
St. John Chrysostom says, ‘the kings of the earth give an audience only to a few; but God gives an audience to all who wish for it.’  So let us pray daily and often for all our needs. We should all have a list of those things for which we beseech God. It is true, we do not always know what is best to ask for. So why don’t we put it all in the hands of Mary to bring to Jesus.  Mary, I entrust everything to you,  because you know best, how to bring everything to Jesus.

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[Entrusted to the prayers of St. Nicholas]

 

[i] Efficacy of prayer is nicely discussed in: Preparation for Death, St. Alphonsus, p. 301-303.

[ii] Jeremiah 33:3

[iii] John 15:7

[iv] Matt 7:7

[v] The Divine Pity, p. 109.

[vi] Isaiah 65:24

[vii] see James 1:5

[viii] see Luke 6:38

[ix] Luke 11:12; Matt 7:10

[x] Introduction to the Devout Life, p. 96.

[xi] Preparation for Death, p. 301.

[xii] Roman Breviary, Office for Thursday, 29th Week.

[xiii] Spiritual letters of St.Francis de Sales, p. 191.

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