An essay from a friend of Little Portion Hermitage.
The Power of Intercessory Prayer
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)
Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself. How often have we heard this said – from friends and neighbors, family members and priests, in church and elsewhere? Many of us can recall this passage in Scripture by heart, if prompted. Yet, seldom do we deeply reflect on what this means. What, truly, is Our Lord commanding us to do here?
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Yes, this we fervently strive to do all the days of our lives. But listen closely to Christ’s words: “And the second is like it.” The second commandment—to love your neighbor as yourself—is “like it.” Jesus correlates love for God with love for neighbor.
Maybe this reminds us of another passage of Scripture? “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25: 40) You did it to me. Mother Teresa used to repeat this phrase, pointing at her fingers one by one as she recited each word. You did it to Me. Just as Mother Teresa served and adored the presence of Jesus in the “distressing disguise of the poor,” so too are we called to serve Jesus in and through one another. These words—“you did it to Me”—are powerful, not just because they convey a need to put faith into living action, but also because they teach us that when we serve others, we are serving Jesus Himself.
Thus, it naturally follows that our love for God is measured in our love for others. In fact, Christ’s words heighten the intensity of this statement: our love for God is measured in our love for the least of these. Who are the “least of these?” As Christ says, these are the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner—but love goes beyond mere physical needs. Maybe the “least of these” is a searching soul, hungry for Truth. Or a divorced couple, whose trials and tribulations have left them with an insatiable thirst for authentic love. It is a friend, estranged after a conflict, in need of forgiveness and reconciliation. It is the young woman, left naked and vulnerable from the culture’s objectification, who needs to be clothed with dignity. It is an elderly man, sick and living alone, desperate for a joyful presence. It is the downhearted and discouraged, imprisoned within their own minds, who need to be shown the Light of Christ. The hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner—we see them everywhere, don’t we?
Aside from corporal works of mercy, there is a distinctly concrete way that we can love our neighbor as ourselves and serve the least of these. Prayer. It sounds so simple, and yet, intercessory prayer is one of the greatest gifts that we can give another. In our prayer, we seek personal transformation, giving ourselves over wholly to God, entrusting to Him the entirety of our lives; in prayer, we can also seek the transformation of the whole world, offering up the sufferings and needs of God’s people, entrusting everything to Him for the work of salvation.
Our pilgrimage to Heaven is not one that we partake on our own; rather, we are called to journey as the Church, as the Body of Christ, one in community. We build one another up in the Faith, walking alongside each other on this pilgrimage, carrying one another, caring for one another, supporting and sustaining one another. We can begin to do this through prayer.
We know that “the prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (James 5:16); by entrusting our petitions and the petitions of others into the hands of Christ—the most righteous of all men, mediator between humanity and God—we are assured that our cries will not fall upon deaf ears.
When we pray for one another, we draw closer to the unity that God envisioned for His Church. In selfless love, we take the burden of other’s suffering upon ourselves and lift it up to Our Lord for relief and healing. Likewise, when we share our needs and desires with others for prayer, we allow ourselves to become vulnerable in humility and experience God’s love through the care and concern of another.
Prayer sustains us, supports us, gives us the strength to continue this pilgrimage together to Eternal Life—difficult and strenuous, though, at times it might be. When we permit others to pray for our needs, and when we in turn pray for theirs, we tighten our bond as community. Our sight moves from an inward, self-seeking glance concerned solely with personal sanctification to a gaze of love into the eyes of the other—and through that person, into the eyes of Christ.
Let us pray—for the needs, intentions, and hopes of the world—by first looking around ourselves. Who are the least of these in my life? For whom can I pray? Who can I surround with love and build up in prayer so that they, too, may continue on this spiritual journey to Heaven with strength and grace?
Yes, Christ taught us well; for if we love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, and soul, we cannot help but love our neighbor—love the least of these—in equal proportion.
Please prayerfully consider how you can support the mission and ministry of Little Portion Hermitage, which relies solely upon Divine Providence coming through the spiritual, material and financial contributions of the People of God for its continued existence.