The Bridegroom of The Song of Songs protectively and tenderly holds his sleeping beloved. His…
How easily the words “I will keep you in my prayers” can slip out of my mouth when I am moved by the need of another. Not that those words are insincere, but my good intentions intersecting my distracted mind can mean I easily forget my promise. A dear, older nun-friend of mine comforted me years ago when she told me of a saint who advised that when we agree to intercede for someone, we should immediately tuck that person into our heart, confident that Jesus, our great intercessor before the Father, from that moment on recognizes that dear one nestled there, along with all the others whose burdens I carry to the Father with Him. Thank you, dear Jesus, that you bypass my conscious memory!
St. John Paul II writes, in his encyclical Centesimus Annus, “God has imprinted his own image and likeness on man, conferring upon him an incomparable dignity.” It certainly belongs to that “incomparable dignity” that we are invited, as members of the Communion of Saints, to make intercession for one another. Inter-cedere, the Latin roots suggest “to come between in space and time”– a fitting description, in fact, of “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn1:14). Because we are baptized into Christ we share in His priesthood, in the constant incense rising to the Father of Jesus’ ongoing “I thirst” offered for a suffering humanity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the powerful, all-encompassing embrace of Jesus’ prayer from the cross, “All the troubles, for all time, of humanity enslaved by sin and death, all the petitions and intercessions of salvation history are summed up in this cry of the incarnate Word” (CCC 2602). How we console Jesus by joining the cries from our own and our loved ones’ crosses to His!
Jesus’ cry continues after His Ascension. Every Sunday we proclaim in the Creed, “He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.” Romans 8:34 describes “Christ Jesus at the right hand of God…who intercedes for us.” Hebrews 9:24 proclaims: “For Christ has entered not into a sanctuary made with hands…but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” Earlier in Hebrews (7:24) we read, “He is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he forever lives to make intercession for them.”
The invitation to join the “forever interceding” of Jesus in heaven to the Father is constant in Scripture. St. Paul pleads, “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all men” (1 Tim. 2:1). As Paul is leaving the Thessalonians, he pleads for them, “May the God of peace make you perfect in holiness. May he preserve you whole and entire, spirit, soul, and body, irreproachable at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls us is trustworthy, therefore he will do it.” and then immediately entrusts himself to their prayers, “Brothers, pray for us, too.” (1 Thes. 5: 23-25).
“He who calls us is trustworthy”… In a beautiful reflection on prayer, Father Iain Matthew writes, “Christ is the reason for confidence in prayer, since he has penetrated to the heart of the Father and takes us all with him. When we pray for others, we are placing them in that slip-stream of love between the Son and the Father.”
“That slip-stream of love between the Son and the Father”, who can imagine such intimacy? Our prayers insert the beloved for whom we intercede into the the very heart of the Trinity! That “slip-stream of love between the Son and the Father” is the Holy Spirit, not only the “glue” of the Trinity, but our Indweller, reinforcing our own intercession: “The Spirit too helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in speech. He who searches hearts knows what the Spirit means, for the Spirit intercedes for the saints as God himself wills.” (Rom. 8-26, 27).
Continuing his reflection, Father Matthew describes Sister Elizabeth of the Trinity’s way of interceding for a young mother who was in need: “I carry you in the center of my soul, right where the divine Guest dwells, and I am exposing you to the sweet rays of his love, while I say to him, “Master, Antoinette is there!” Saint Elizabeth concluded, “Dear Antoinette, my prayer is indeed powerless; but I possess within me the Holy One of God, the Great Supplicant, and that is the prayer I am offering.”
Such a relief, to rely on the Holy Spirit within me to align my intercession for a loved one with the eternal intercession of Jesus in heaven! And yet, are there ways I can tune into that slip-stream of love between the Father and the Son more actively? John 17, the “Priestly Prayer” of Jesus just before His agony in the garden beckons us into the Holy Spirit’s movements in Jesus’ heart as He intercedes for his disciples. Let us “put on Christ” in these ways as we groan with the Holy Spirit for our beloveds.
“For these I pray…for those you have given me, for they are really yours…” (awareness, as we intercede, Whose our beloveds are first–God is more invested than we are!)
“O Father most holy, protect them with your name which you have given me…”(confident familiarity, yet humble reverence for the Father; the holy safety of protection–Jesus’ priority!).
“I kept careful watch” (Jesus’ alert gaze already upon those we lift up).
“that they may share my joy completely” (the bigger picture…the end-goal of all our intercession!).
“I do not ask you to take them out of the world, but to guard them from the evil one” (Jesus already praying against the enemy in our beloveds’ lives).
“They are not of the world any more than I belong to the world” (assurance, no matter the appearances, that those we intercede for are under ours/Jesus’ care, and do not belong to the world).
“I consecrate myself for their sakes now, that they may be consecrated in truth (intercession involves sacrifice–a dying we may be called to–for the good of the other).
“I pray that all may be be one as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that the world may believe that you sent me” (the well-being of our beloveds–their interior integrity, their peace and unity one to another, the sharing in the communion of love which is the Trinity-this is the first goal of our intercession. All else follows–including this conversion as a witness to the world, drawing it to Jesus. Our intercession has exponential repercussions!)
“Father, all those you gave me I would have in my company where I am to see this glory of mine which is your gift to me because of the love you bore me before the world began…that your love for me may live in them, and I may live in them” (Jesus’ yearning joining ours, that our beloveds for whom we intercede will slake his thirst to share his glory, the glory of the Father’s eternal love for them, alive in them…)
We are invited into the heart of Jesus as he intercedes for his disciples in these lines. Truly, as we read in the Prologue to the Song of Songs, “The King has brought me into his chambers,” to be imbued with his very own heart of intercession for his beloveds. There is an urgency in this “Priestly Prayer,” prayed as Jesus was about to sacrifice Himself for our sakes. Jesus promised Sister Marie Marthe Chambon, “I will grant all that shall be asked of Me through the invocation of my Holy Wounds…With my Wounds and my Divine Heart you can obtain all.” Jesus’ wounds are the power fueling His intercession for us before the Father. St. Paul promises us that “In our suffering we make up for the suffering of Christ for the salvation of the world.” Our wounds, too, our suffering, our fasting and penances, joined to Jesus’, are powerful currency in the Kingdom of God, firing our intercession. Let us not waste a moment of the “mourning and weeping in this valley of tears” which rings so true as we pray the “Hail, Holy Queen!” Let us rely on “our life, our sweetness and our hope,” our Mother of Mercy who shared the chambers of her Son’s heart so completely, to teach us how to intercede. In her plea for the about-to-be-embarrassed young couple at Cana she noticed the need- that hallmark of the “feminine genius”–brought it to her Son, and then… let go of control, trusting the Holy Spirit who animated her Son in all the ways of John 17, to be at work.
As we lift others into the ongoing intercession of Jesus before the Father, let us not forget ourselves! Jesus’ intercession for us goes on eternally at the Father’s right hand, too. In moments of indecision, anxiety, loneliness, anguish, let us whisper, “Jesus, how are you interceding for me before the Father in this moment?” and enter the slipstream! Sister Ruth Burrows, a Carmelite nun from Norfolk, England, writes so simply, “He has said that if I ask I will receive, that if I seek I will find, and that when I knock the door is opened. I believe him. I am sure that all is well, that God id doing everything for me, that Jesus praying in me… all my concern is that God should have what he wants: the chance to be good to me to his heart’s content. And this surpasses all my understanding. I have staked my all on the God who never disappoints.”
Dear Jesus, in this month of your Sacred Heart, let our interceding hearts beat with yours and your Mother’s. “I surrender myself (and all my loved ones) to you. Take care of everything.”