Sunday, February 19, 2012

Intercessory Prayer

Homily from the 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year B

This weekend 22 men from our parish and beyond are taking part in our Christ Renews His Parish weekend.  Helping them are 20 men on the leadership team who are serving as witnesses, table leaders, spiritual directors, coordinators, liturgists and sacristans.  And working behind these scenes are many more women and men who are cooking food and serving at table.  Not that cooking and cleaning is “woman’s work.”  The men will take their turn cooking and cleaning at the Women’s Christ Renews weekend next month.
There’s another group of people hard at work throughout the weekend.  The people “next door” in the chapel.  You see, while the men are on their Christ Renews weekend in the Spiritual Center, there are people who come to the chapel next door, and offer intercessory prayer for them all weekend long.
Many prayers are petitions.  That’s when you or I pray to God and tell Him what you or I need.  A typical petition goes something like, “God, help me with “X.”
However, intercessory prayer is when we shift the attention away from our own needs and focus them on the needs of another.  A typical intercessory prayer goes something like, “God, help them with “X.”
Today’s Gospel shows the beauty, power and necessity of intercession.  It’s a fantastic scene.  The paralytic is helpless on his mat, unable to move by his own power.  So he must rely on the power, the intercession, of others.
Four others carry him on his mat to Jesus.  And it’s beautiful isn’t it, how these four will do anything to get the paralytic to Jesus.  The house is so crowded, they can’t get in.  So they climb to the roof, break a hole in it and lower the paralytic in.
Then we hear the most amazing verse.  The Scripture says, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Child, your sins are forgiven.’”  When Jesus sees their faith.
What an amazing gift we can offer to one another.  To offer Jesus acts of faith for the salvation of others.
Lent begins this Wednesday.  Offer up your prayer, your fasting, your almsgiving, all your acts of faith for one another.  Offer up your daily sufferings for a friend or family member or fellow parishoner who is seriously ill in body, mind or spirit.  We make spiritual offerings and intercede for one another all the time, don’t we?  I mean, how many times have you asked someone or has someone asked of you, “Pray for me”?  It’s nearly an everyday occurrence isn’t it?  “Pray for me.”  “I’ll pray for you.”  “You’re in my prayers.”
We intercede for each other within the Mass.  After our Profession of Faith, we intercede for a great many people in the Prayers of the Faithful as we pray for the Church, our nation, the sick and suffering, and for anyone in need.  I ask for your prayers when I place the bread and wine on the altar.  “Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.”  We also offer intercessory prayers for others during the Eucharistic Prayer as we pray for the “pilgrim Church on earth,” for God’s “servant Benedict our Pope and Kevin our Bishop, the Order of Bishops, all the clergy and the entire people [God] has gained for [His] own.”
And not only do we ask our friends here on earth to pray for us, we also ask our friends in Heaven, the Saints, to intercede for us as well.  An entire section of the Eucharistic Prayer is our asking the intercession of “all the Saints, on whose constant intercession in [God’s] presence we rely for unfailing help.”
And sometimes we get everyone working together, our earthly and heavenly friends together.  In the “Confiteor”, the “I confess” we say, “Therefore I ask Blessed Mary ever-Virgin, all the Angels and Saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.”
I’ve been asked an innumerable amount of times by our Christian brothers and sisters who are not Catholic, “Why do you pray to Mary?”  And it’s a good question that deserves a good answer.  Well, to be accurate, we don’t pray to Mary per se.  Rather, we’re asking Mary to pray with us, to pray for us, to intercede for us.  After all, if I can ask you my sinful friends here on earth to pray for me to the Lord, our God, why can’t I ask the sinless Virgin Mary to pray for me too.  Plus, she’s right there, she’s in Heaven with God.  Mary and the Saints are the best prayer partners we’ll ever have.
When St. Peter’s tomb, located under the altar at St. Peter’s basilica in Rome, was excavated in the 1940’s, archaeologists discovered an inscription, along with many others, which read, “Peter, pray for the holy Christian men buried near your tomb.”

Which proves purgatory by the way, “Peter, pray for the holy Christian men buried near your tomb.”  If someone’s dead, buried and in Heaven they have no need of our prayers.  If someone’s dead, buried and in Hell, our prayers will do them no good.  The first Christians prayed for the dead so they would complete their journey to Heaven.
The early Saints and the Church Fathers spoke of offering intercessory prayer and sacrifice for the dead frequently.  In the year 216, Tertullian testified, “A woman, after the death of her husband... prays for his soul and asks that he may, while waiting, find rest; and that he may share in the first resurrection.”  In the year 392, St. John Chrysostom said, “Let us help and commemorate [the dead].  If Job’s sons were purified by their fathers’ sacrifice [Job 1:5], why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation.
I remember one time, a group of us were praying.  And at the end of our prayer one of the seminarians said, “Lord, we offer you these our prayers for the soul that has been in purgatory the longest.”  I hope someone prays for me that way.  What a great gift Jesus gives us huh?  Jesus gives us spiritual and even sometimes bodily healing, because of someone else’s faith offered on our behalf.
So, like the first Christians, we offer Eucharistic celebrations, the Mass, for our beloved dead as an offering on their behalf.  In the Eucharistic Prayer we ask God to “give kind admittance to [His] our departed brothers and sisters and to all who were pleasing to [Him] at their passing from the life.”
We offer intercessory prayer for the living and the dead. And we ask for intercessory prayer from our friends here on earth as well as our friends in Heaven.  Trusting in Jesus’ promise: that in seeing their faith and our faith, He will say to those for whom these prayers are offered: “Child, your sins are forgiven... Rise, pick up your mat, and go home.”

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