Jesus prays. We hear about his prayer in the Scriptures. He spends time in the synagogue and Temple. He goes on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He goes to “deserted places,” so he can be alone with His Father. He speaks with His Father. He prays with His disciples. He teaches us to pray. Prayer is an integral part of Jesus’ life.
The gospel passage for today’s liturgy comes from The Gospel According to John, chapter 17. The passage is sometimes referred to as Jesus’ priestly prayer. The prayer comes as the passion is about to commence, just before Jesus is arrested. He is about to offer himself as the “lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Jesus’ prayer at this key moment is for us. He says: “I pray for them.” He prays that we may have life. He prays that we remain in His word. In the full passage, He prays that we will continue to live in Truth. He prays for everyone who comes to believe in Him through us. It is a rich prayer, but the point here is simple – he prays for us.
I cannot recall how many times I’ve spoken to people who tell their stories of people praying for them and how much support, strength, relief and help they received through those prayers. Numerous people of different ages and backgrounds all benefiting and grateful that someone is praying for them. I have several friends who pray for me everyday by name and find it a source of strength knowing that those prayers are there. Many people have had similar experiences and find the prayer of others a true blessing and help.
Today we are reminded that Jesus’ love for us is also expressed in His prayer. He prays for us and all who believe in Him through us. He who is “the Way, the Truth and the Life,” draws us to himself in prayer and presents us to our heavenly Father. He cares for us. He has compassion for us. He knows us. He helps us. He is there for us. He is constant. Jesus offers His prayer just as the passion is beginning. He opens the prayer calling for his glorification. On the cross Jesus is glorified as all will see the love of God fully manifest in the greatest act of love. Love is at the heart of prayer. Jesus prays for us because He loves us.
Just as Jesus prays, the Church prays. The first reading from Acts of the Apostles recalls the apostles gathering in the upper room just after Jesus ascended to the Father. The Eleven are named. Mary, some relatives and some women are also with them. “All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer.” As prayer was integral to the life of Jesus, so it is in the life of the Church.
There are so many different types of prayer and forms of prayer. Perhaps today we focus on praying for someone. Jesus’ prayer that he utters just before the passion has an eternal aspect to it. He is now seated at the right hand of the Father. He is there “interceding” on our behalf. He continues and is continually praying for us. Likewise, we can pray for each other.
Most of us pray for family or friends on a regular basis, and we pray for people who ask for prayers. During Mass there are several times where we specifically pray for particular people. There is also in the Catholic tradition an awareness of praying for people who don’t have anyone to pray for them. We can even pray for people we do not know.
For example, a friend of mine had seen an Evangelical author telling a story of his prayer-walk in an airport. He took up the idea with a Catholic twist and made a sort-of litany of his encounter. He was in a crowded airport. His flight got cancelled. He decided to go for a walk to pass the time. As he remembered the story he had heard, he would look at each person he passed and in his heart, invoking Jesus, Mary and all the saints, would say: “pray for her,” or “pray for him.” We encounter so many people each day. Many times we are unaware of their situation in life but can be pretty sure that they are in need of something and some help. Lifting them up to God in prayer is an act of love and compassion. And the God who listens, will hear.
“I pray for them,” Jesus says as he lays down His life in love. The prayer continues today and everyday, it is eternal; as is His love and mercy. In imitation of Him, let us pray.
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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