"Our Call to Intercession"
by Cyril John
What is Intercession?
According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary,intercession is a "prayer or petition on behalf of another". In petition God does something for us; in intercession God does something through us. Intercessory prayer is prayer for others. An intercessor is the one who takes the place of another or pleads another's case. Another striking definition of intercession is: "Holy, believing, persevering prayer whereby someone pleads with God on behalf of another or others who desperately need God's intervention." According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Intercession is a prayer of petition which leads us to pray as Jesus did. He is the one intercessor with the Father on behalf of all men, especially sinners"(No. 2634).
Jesus: The Intercessor par excellence.
"During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission" (Heb 5:7). Jesus spent the whole night in prayer before choosing His team of disciples. When Jesus forewarned Peter that Satan had sought permission to sift the disciples as wheat (Lk 22:31–32), He did not say, "I will stop Satan". Instead Jesus said: "I have prayed for you". He interceded even more fervently during His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (Jn 17:9–26). Jesus' ministry of intercession still continues at the right hand of God: According to St Paul: "Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us" (Rom 8:34). "Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them" (Heb 7:25).
Intercession in the Old Testament
Leaders in the Old Testament like Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Job and Amos were great intercessors. Speaking about Abraham, the Lord told Abimelech: "as a spokesman he will intercede for you"( Gen 20:7). It is because of his intercessory power( Gen 18:22–33) that Abraham deserved to be called a prophet (Gen 20:7). In fact, the prophets were men of prayer: Elijah (1 Kings 18:36), Samuel (Jer 15:1) and Amos (Amos 7:1–6). Jewish tradition remembers Jeremiah as a man who "prays much for the people and the holy city" (2 Mac 15:14. Intercession was considered to be an essential function of the prophetic office. "If indeed they are prophets, and if the word of the Lord is with them, then let them intercede with the Lord of hosts" (Jer 27:18). As the prophet is expected to be God's spokesperson in the midst of the people, so is he to be the mediator of their needs before God. That is why Samuel felt that it was a sin not to pray for his people: "Moreover as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you" (1 Sam 12:23).
Intercession in the Pauline Ministry
St. Paul understood this responsibility perfectly well. Something that Paul did as an apostle and minister of the Word was to intercede for the people under his spiritual care. "And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I am not indignant?" (2 Cor 11:28–29). There seems to have been a kind of 'burden' experienced by Paul on account of his 'spiritual anxiety' for the members of the churches he established. St. Paul went to the extent of saying that he was in pain like a mother's travail until the time Christ who was in them like an embryo was brought to birth. "My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you"(Gal 4:19). Such travail enabled him to intercede for them constantly: "Constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you" (Phil 1:4). It required prayer without ceasing: "For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding" (Col 1:9–10). Our call In Redemptoris Missio, Pope John Paul II emphasized the role of intercession in effective evangelization: "Prayer should accompany the journey of missionaries so that the proclamation of the Word will be effective through God's grace" (No. 78). St. Paul exhorted us: to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thes 5:17). "With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit. To that end, be watchful with all perseverance and supplication for all the holy ones" (Eph 6:18). Several people have testified a bout such a 'burden', a sense of urgency and conviction they experience to pray for the salvation of souls, restoration of unity to a group of divided people or to bring about revival in a particular place. There are people who wake up in the wee hours of the day to intercede for people, places and situations.
The history of the Church is replete with examples of men and women, canonized saints and others, who have interceded for their fellow men and brought many blessings to our world. The prime question is: Are we convinced about the various promises of God about the efficacy of intercession? "Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know" (Jer 33:3). For He is "able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us" (Eph 3:20). We have this assurance from Jesus: "If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer" (Mt 21:22). St. Paul also instills confidence in the intercessor "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Heb 4:16). The horse needs to be put before the cart. Intercession should, therefore be the detonator and the prime mover of all our initiatives.
International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services ICCRS – January 2010 Newsletter