The Intercessor as Missionary
by Fr. Fio Mascarenhas
"I appeal to you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive (struggle) together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from..." (Rom.15:30, old RSV)
"I urge you, my brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me, that I may be rescued from..." (NIV)
"I urge you, friends, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love that the Spirit gives: join me in praying fervently to God for me, that I me be kept safe..." (Good News)
"I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in earnest prayer to God on my behalf, that I may be rescued from..." (New RSV)
The Greek word that in the different Versions above has been clearly and faithfully translated (or less faithfully) is "syn-AGONISASTHAI" = "struggle together". It gives us an important teaching of Scripture that the prayer of intercession is part of an intense "struggle" against the powers of darkness. (The latter two translations are deficient because they do not indicate this, but only seem to say that Paul desires that the other members in the Body of Christ should "help" him with their prayers). Notice here also that the "struggle" is not against God, but against the powers of darkness.
In the OT, the story of Jacob's dream about wrestling with God was a symbol of his prayer for a blessing. In the NT however, Jesus puts prayer into a new context, that of "family and familiarity" (of a child calling to his Abba, dearest Daddy). Hence Jesus does not recommend "wrestling/fighting with God" but asking Him confidently and lovingly. (Not everything in the OT is to be imitated, but we are to be authentic NT Christians!)
Let us now consider more deeply the "struggle" or "agony" aspect of intercessory prayer by looking first at Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. Jesus too underwent an agony or struggle in the garden of Gethsemane, but against whom was he struggling? Not against his Father, but against himself, against that human nature he had in common with all humanity, and which he received when "the Word became flesh". He was struggling to align his human will with his Father's divine will. Fr.Cantalamessa explained this point very well in his homily in Rome before the Holy Father on Good Friday this year. It was not the Father's will that caused Jesus pain but the weakness of his human will in wanting to run away from the difficult implications of his vocation to be Messiah and Saviour. However Jesus came out of that agony victorious!
Now let us look at Paul, who asks us to join him in his "struggle" for the sake of the Gospel. Paul has a clear understanding that he is not fighting "against flesh and blood but against the powers of darkness..." (Eph.6:12). And his advice is that we also be "strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might" and "put on the whole armour of God" (Eph.6:10f). For us therefore to intercede effectively or powerfully as missionaries, we must train as soldiers do for a battle. Not only external and involuntary persecution and suffering was Paul's lot but he also voluntarily practised self-discipline: "I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified" (1Cor.9:27). His whole life, body, mind and spirit, were totally immersed in God and his Kingdom.
Therefore, for us to qualify as intercessor-missionaries, it is not enough to intercede much at certain times, but afterwards start living worldly lives. We must ask for the grace slowly but surely to be "full-time disciples" of Jesus, that the whole of our lives will be aligned to the Father's will, that our every breath will be "in the strength of his might" and our daily lives consist of our putting "on the whole armour of God". Then our fight against not "flesh and blood" but against "the powers of darkness" at work in our sinful society will be successful, and our intercession bear much fruit for God's Kingdom.
Another point to remember in the above text is the focus of intercession: "that I may be delivered/rescued from..." Paul is intensely involved in evangelisation, and is facing a situation of danger arising from such evangelising activity. Hence he asks for prayer, not just for some grace for himself, but for the spreading of the Kingdom. So too, we Intercessors will merit the name Missionary (according to the title of this talk) only when we are interceding for the spread of the Gospel, and not at all times. (Other intercession for various human needs is good and must be done too, so that we fulfil the command of charity, but in this talk our focus is specifically on that intercession which can be called missionary.)
What then, are some of the areas of "missionary intercession"?
Obviously, pro-life issues (anti-abortion/sex discrimination, ecology, etc); efforts of evangelisation by proclamation, evangelisation by inculturation (John Paul's letter, Ecclesia in Asia, demands this), evangelisation by social justice (caste discrimination, the rights of the oppressed, etc.), evangelisation by inter-faith dialogue; Christian Unity (the success of Vatican-Lutheran/Anglican/Orthodox/etc. theological meetings); the spread of Gospel-values in human society (like rooting out corruption, pornography and child-abuse, illiteracy, disease, unemployment, etc.); and many many more!
Don't forget too that personal prayer is of urgent and perennial importance for every Intercessor, because it helps foster the right spirit of confident-asking, it fosters deep faith in the God and Father of Jesus Christ, it brings us Marian compassion, etc. etc. John Paul's letter "Put out into the Deep" devotes several pages to this...
"Training in holiness calls for a Christian life distinguished above all in the art of prayer... Prayer can progress, as a genuine dialogue of love, to the point of rendering the person wholly possessed by the divine Beloved, vibrating at the Spirit's touch... Our Christian communities must become genuine 'schools' of prayer where the meeting with Christ is expressed not just in imploring help, but also in thanksgiving, praise, adoration, contemplation..." (nn.32,3
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