Pope Francis has spoken many times of the value and power of intercessory prayer in Christian life. “When evangelizers rise from prayer, their hearts are more open; freed of self-absorption, they are desirous of doing good and sharing their lives with others.” (The Joy of the Gospel #28)
Have you ever run into someone who asked you to pray for him or her? Did you take the time at that moment to stop what you were doing and offer an intercessory prayer on that person’s behalf? Or did you say, “Of course I will pray for you,” and then go on your way?
Unfortunately, we live in a “culture of silence” where we do not openly share our faith. This “culture of silence” springs from many sources. We may want to pray for someone, but don᾿t know what to say. We might be embarrassed because we won’t say the “right” words. The truth is, putting words to our innermost prayers can make us feel vulnerable. Besides, uplifting someone spontaneously in prayer is not something Catholics are taught to do.
Intercessory prayer connects us more deeply to the suffering of others while at the same time encourages us to let the Lord take hold of our lives and our particular situations. It is an easy way to show compassion to people who are suffering. My friend Holly, who is a campus minister, has a creative strategy to engage young adults in spontaneous intercessory prayer. She calls it “share prayer.”
You begin “share prayer” by talking with someone who is having trouble. Take the time to hear his or her story and understand what he or she needs at the moment. After the conversation, ask the person, “Would it be OK if I pray with you?” If the person says no, remember to include her or him in your private prayers.
If the answer is yes, follow the steps below to “share prayer” or improvise as the Holy Spirit moves you:
- Call on God. You can use any of the typical ways we address our Heavenly Father: Loving God, Lord Jesus, Eternal God, Holy Spirit, etc. Beginning the prayer in this manner directs our attention to our Lord.
- Thank God for the person you are praying with. Recognizing that the person you are with is a gift to you is a great way to let someone feel valued and loved. Ask for God’s blessing upon the person. For example: “Thank you for my friend, your son/daughter. Please bless him/her and uplift him/her at this time.”
- Ask God for the person’s needs. Having talked to the person you are praying for, you should have a good idea of what his or her needs are. Bring these needs before God. For example: “We ask you to help Ann’s family to make the right decisions about the nursing home,” or, “We ask you to help Jason who is struggling with debt at this time.”
- Express gratitude. St. Ignatius of Loyola said that ingratitude is the greatest sin. Thank God for hearing your prayer by saying, “Thank you, Lord Jesus, for revealing yourself to us,” or, “Thank you for your blessings on this family.”
- Close the prayer. You may want to close by praying the Glory Be, the Sign of the Cross, or another common prayer. If appropriate, give the person a hug or shake his or her hand. Physical contact can strengthen the connection made in prayer.
This is an easy approach that also can be taught to children effectively. So the next time someone asks you to pray for him or her, how about sharing a prayer with that person instead?
I was taught many prayers as a kid, and reminded often to speak from the heart to God, but I don’t think I was taught the value of spontaneously sharing improvised prayers.