I found this reflection on the ministry of intercessory prayer by St. John Chrysostom in my files (from a homily on Romans, chapter 14):
"...the gift of prayer used to come into one person in the church, and he would be the person set aside to ask God for the things which would benefit them all. Here the word Spirit is the name which Paul gives to the kind of grace and to the soul who receives it and intercedes with God on our behalf. The one who was counted worthy of such a grace as this would stand with great attention, and with many mental groanings he would fall before God, asking the things which were profitable for all. Nowadays, the deacon is a symbol of this, when he offers up the prayers for the people."The images of standing with great attention and the mental groanings John Chrysostom associates with putting these prayers forward certainly resonates with me. At times I feel as if the Spirit uses sandpaper on my skin, making me more sensitive to the needs of the People of God, to their pain and grief as well as to their joys.
In some sense the Prayers of the Faithful are rightfully ephemeral prayers, for the needs of this particular moment, for the needs of these particular people. But I wonder if we treat them too lightly. We subscribe to a set of intercessions for daily Mass, each page tidily tossed in the recycling when it's been prayed. Do we remember any of the prayers from this Sunday's Mass? Or do we just respond, "Lord, hear our prayer." regardless of whether the lector just read the first line of a grocery list. (I confess, I went last night and had to think hard to recall two or three — and I wrote the first draft of this set!)
For the grace to see God at work in unexpected people and places…we pray
For those whose lives have been uprooted by violence and diaster: for the people of Baltimore and of Nepal…we prayAs a community, where do we keep these prayers? Are they recycled after Mass, or do we post them on the parish website or tack them to the bulletin board in the vestibule where people can look at them again, perhaps carry them around in their hearts for a bit?
As we move from Easter to Pentecost to Ordinary Time, I'm going to try to hold onto one of these intentions for a few days or a week, pulling from the Liturgy of the Hours or other sources, willing to stand a bit in that precarious space between heaven and earth holding out a prayer for the needs of all. For this week (from the LOH):
Forgive us for failing to see Christ in the poor, the distressed and the troublesome — and for our failure to reverence your Son in their persons.