“I pray for them,” Jesus says to the Father in his prayer before the passion. The prayer is ongoing as he returns to the Father and continues uninterrupted for all eternity. He prays for us. The prayer is an act of love. Jesus cares for us and desires that we may have a share in the life that is His. The prayer is for life and it is a prayer of love.
In the Gospel portraits of Jesus, prayer is an important part of his life and ministry. He prays often. At critical times in the mission he prays. This Sunday’s Gospel passage is an example of this. The context for this prayer is his impending passion. He prays before significant decisions and events. For example, before he appoints the Twelve as apostles, he prays.
He prays often. We hear, many times in the Gospel accounts, that Jesus goes away to a deserted place to pray. He urges his disciples to prayer. He encourages them and us: “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened to you.” He teaches us how to pray when he offers the “Our Father.”
All these point to prayer as being an essential part of Jesus’ life and ministry, and of the disciple’s life and ministry.
When Jesus prays to the Father, in today’s account, he prays that we might have life and says: “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.” Prayer and life go hand in hand. Prayer is fundamentally a vehicle for relationship. Sometimes it is described as a conversation with God. In prayer we come to know him who knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows not only what we desire but what we need.
In prayer we are invited to participate in the eternal relationship of divine love. A few weeks ago, in the Sunday Gospel, we heard Jesus describe himself as the “sheepgate.” It is through him that we enter into the relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit. “Knowing” him is “knowing” the Father, for the Father and he are one.
The manner and variety of prayer is rich and manifold. Intercessory prayer is one of the most common. Jesus’ prayer today is of that sort. He is interceding on our behalf before the Father. He prays “for them” — for us — in this prayer.
We often share in this prayer when we pray for someone other than ourselves. We pray for our family, our children, our parents, our friends, our neighbors, our spiritual leaders, our civic leaders. We pray for the poor, the needy, the sick and the dying. We pray for our neighborhood, our country, our world.
Sometimes we pray for particular gifts. We might pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the gifts he brings (especially helpful as we head to Pentecost next Sunday). We might pray for patience, understanding, wisdom, prudence, courage. We might pray for help with overcoming a difficulty in life or challenges we face in loving or forgiving, for healing, help with finding work, help with giving advice, assistance with making an important decision. We pray for health and a peaceful death. These days most in the community are praying for an end to the pandemic.
Being part of the communion of the church, we also pray for each other and we have others praying for us. One aspect of this that we highlight during the month of May is the prayer of our Blessed Mother. She also intercedes for us with her son Jesus. Our prayer might include the rosary, the Salve Regina, the Hail Mary, the Miraculous Medal novena or any one of the Marian devotions.
The prayer of Pope Francis in these days of pandemic has a particular reminder for us of the intercessory influence of our Blessed Mother. The prayer seeks Mary’s help. Toward the middle of the prayer are the words: “We are certain that you will provide, so that, as you did at Cana of Galilee, that joy and feasting might return after this moment of trial.”
The words recall the wedding feast at Cana when the wine ran short. Mary intercedes with Jesus. At first he replies, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” The immediate response, as only a mother could do with such great confidence, is a direction to the servers: “Do whatever he tells you.”
Jesus prays for us to the Father and this prayer is a witness to love. His prayer is a reminder to us of the importance of prayer. Jesus says elsewhere in the Gospel, “I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
Prayer feeds the relationship of love and helps it to grow. Our celebration today encourages us to keep praying, to make the time for prayer, to enjoy the prayer — for it is an act of love and life.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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