Intercessory prayer is an important aspect of every person's prayer life.
Have you ever had someone ask, “Can you pray for me?” It is an extremely common occurrence, one that highlights the importance of prayer, especially praying for someone else.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church encourages this type of prayer and explains, “Intercession is a prayer of petition which leads us to pray as Jesus did. He is the one intercessor with the Father on behalf of all men, especially sinners. He is ‘able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.’ The Holy Spirit ‘himself intercedes for us . . . and intercedes for the saints according to the will of God'” (CCC 2634).
Even before Christ, intercessory prayer has played a vital role in salvation history and remains to this day an essential part of Christian prayer, “Since Abraham, intercession — asking on behalf of another — has been characteristic of a heart attuned to God’s mercy. In the age of the Church, Christian intercession participates in Christ’s, as an expression of the communion of saints. In intercession, he who prays looks ‘not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others,’ even to the point of praying for those who do him harm” (CCC 2635).
For this reason, we should take seriously requests for prayer and figure out a way to fulfill that request. The good news is that there is no “formula” to intercessory prayer. In other words, most of the time you can’t get this type of prayer “wrong.” God hears our prayers, no matter how inarticulate we are in presenting them.
However, we can do a few things to more closely imitate Jesus and pray for someone with great diligence and care.
Often when someone asks us to pray for them, we say we will, but then quickly forget. That is why it is suggested to pray for them right away. This can be in your own words, or by praying a Hail Mary or Our Father for them and their intentions. A simple prayer like this is better than never praying for them at all.
Pray with your heart
As with all prayer, God loves to see us pray with our heart, not just our lips. It’s easy to voice a prayer of petition without any emotion tied to it, but it is much harder to take this petition into your heart and bring it before God with all sincerity.
Pray for your enemies
As the Catechism highlights, we should not only pray for our friends and family, but also for those who would harm us. Pope Francis even went so far as to say that praying in this way is a mark of a saint, “Are you merciful toward the people who have harmed you or don’t like you? If God is merciful, if he is holy, if he is perfect, then we must be merciful, holy and perfect as he is. This is holiness. A man or woman who does this deserves to be canonized.”
Just like Abraham, we are called to intercede for people not just once, or twice, but as many times as needed. We should make it a point to pray every day for someone, especially making use of the custom of praying novenas. Keeping a prayer list (a running tally of the names of people we pray for) is also a very common practice among Christians and is a beautiful way to remember these people on a daily basis. God appreciates our persistence and will always answer our prayers.