23 May 2007. Wednesday in the 7th Week of Easter
John 17, 11-19 Praying in behalf of others
The first few verses of the Gospel today tell us that Jesus prays in behalf of His community of disciples. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us that Paul prays with the Church of Ephesus at Miletus. In both cases, Jesus and Paul’s hearts go out to their people. Such is their passionate love for people, that their desires for their welfare are greater than their power to give them. These desires made them “lift their eyes to heaven” and pray.
At the mass, this is what we call the intercessory prayer: the Prayers of the Faithful. We pray for various needs. We pray for continuous blessings when we offer the mass in thanksgiving. We pray for specific and personal needs when we mention the needs for a safe trip, enlightenment in exams, healing in times of sickness, a relationship that needs repair. We pray for the repose of the souls of our relatives and friends who have died.
We have been empowered to pray in behalf of people. When Joshua led the Israelite army to battle against the Amalekites, Moses went to the mountain overlooking the battleground and lift his hands over them and prayed. As Moses got tired, Aaron and Hur helped him lift his hands in prayer. Joshua was in physical combat, while Moses, Aaron and Hur became his prayer army. The success of the battle was attributed to all of them. Thus, when we go before God on behalf of others, we practice our common priesthood; the universal priesthood of all Christians.
What is the basis for this ability to pray in behalf of others? The basis is Jesus. He backs us up. He is the go-between. He is the translator when we are not understood. Paul said, “Christ Jesus, who died, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us” (Rom 8, 34). The Gospel of John (13-17) tells us that Jesus has enabled us to pray for others. St. Ambrose said, “Unless He intercedes, there is no intercourse with God either for us or for all saints.”
But there is something more powerful: when we pray together as one community in behalf of others. Our love for each other is seen when we pray for each others’ needs — and for those who do not have others to pray for them. In other words, as Jesus said, we are in the world, but we do not belong to the world. Only when we are in both — that we can become intercessors too.