Since my mum died in 2020 there have naturally been many things I have missed about her. One of the most glaring losses, however, has been the absence of her frequent prayer requests.
A fervent believer in the power of intercessory prayer—a quintessential part of prayer in the Catholic tradition—my mother was the major general of an entire brigade of “prayer warriors,” composed of the other Catholic mothers she knew from her home parish and beyond. Together, they shared their intercessions for all kinds of things, but the most important thing they prayed for was their children. And they loved nothing more than knowing exactly what they could add to the prayer chain for one of their kids.
For me, the idea of seeking specific intercessions has always been a bit fraught. As I think about Abraham’s interactions with God in the first reading, for instance, I find myself wondering if Abraham is really able to talk God out of destruction, or if the whole thing was a bit of a fabrication designed to teach Abraham a lesson.
Perhaps Abraham doesn’t change God’s mind. God is merciful after all, as the Incarnation reveals (see John 3:16), so what Abraham “convinces” God to be is basically God (a fairly common Christian interpretation of what is happening in intercessory prayer in the Old Testament). Which makes me ask if God was really going to destroy Sodom in the first place, or if, just maybe, God wanted to put Abraham in the position to make the case for his fellow humans, even the ones in Sodom and Gomorrah. What if it was an exercise in expanding Abraham’s heart, rather than God’s? (Notably, I’m not the first to think this way, either.)
Of course, none of this means we shouldn’t bring our intercessions to God. As I mentioned, intercessory prayer is one of the primary forms of prayer encouraged in our Church, and it teaches us to commune with God and one another in an important way. But I’m always a bit leery about bringing my direct requests to God, because it feels a bit presumptuous to do so.
My mother never had any of these compunctions. She took the words of this week’s Gospel to heart. In fact, for all intents and purposes, she read “if [the weary neighbor] does not get up to give the visitor the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence,” and functionally said, “Challenge accepted.”
There was never a moment when she hesitated to bring a struggle, or a joy, to God in prayer. And there wasn’t a moment when she doubted the impact of that communication with God. She knew that “everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds,” and she tried to show us all that it was true.
I sometimes think this is one of the most important lessons my mum taught me, although it is still one I struggle with because of my intellectual hesitations. When I look at the second reading from Colossians, for example, I hear the assurance that God is with us even in our darkest moments, pulling us out. This is what I know to be true of God’s nature, and it’s something I tend to rely upon without articulating it as a prayer request. My mum, I know, would have read that passage as an illustration of precisely why we should be reaching out to God in prayer, so that we can ask for precisely the kind of deliverance God has already proven can be ours.
When I think about this week’s readings, then, and my mother, I try to take it all as an invitation to sit with God in prayer and to be open and honest about my needs and the needs of the people around me. I wish I still had my mother with me to ask, directly, what she could pray for so that I would have the time and space to articulate it, but I also take comfort in knowing that I still have a prayer warrior interceding for me, and my family.
She’s just a lot closer to God, and, I’m sure, just as persistent as ever.