During the last years of my life as a Harvard undergraduate I had as my confessor and spiritual director Father William Hoffman of our Society. Father Hoffman taught me two intercessory prayer practices which I have found very helpful over the years. He emphasized the importance of responding spontaneously to a perceived need for prayer. For instance, when you see or hear an ambulance go by, you pray for the crew and the patient, or, when you go by a hospital, pray for those in the hospital, and so forth. It is the same when you read a newspaper or a letter from someone sharing some need. Father Hoffman also strongly recommended keeping an intercession list, which I have always found helpful. Praying using an intercession list has the very human element of keeping us in touch with people whom we might otherwise forget. I suggest keeping a person on your list until you come to a point where you can no longer see their face in your mind’s eye, then let them go. Or if you have been asked to pray for somebody, when you forget either the circumstances or the person who asked for your prayerful intercession, well then, stop.
Intercessory prayer has become even more important for me now for two reasons. Because of my age, I am much less involved in active ministry than I once was, and so I have the space and yearning to intercede for many people and many needs. Secondly, I have severe loss of hearing that does in some ways isolate me. Intercessory prayer is a great aid in keeping me connected to God’s broader world. In our own Rule of Life we quote an ancient monastic saying that “a monk is separated from all to be united to all.” I find this extremely important in my life today, when we are doing so many things in the Society that we never did before, especially the ministry through Saint George’s College, Jerusalem, and in our new ministries in eastern Africa. I really can be taking an active part in those ministries while still being at home in my cell as I pray for my brothers and for those places and people specifically.
I am sometimes asked why intercessory prayer is important, since we are presumably praying about something or someone already known to God. That God already knows everything we name is, of course, true. Our prayer is not bringing Jesus into some place where Jesus is not already present. Rather, our intercessory prayer is bringing ourselves into a relationship to God so that through our intercessory prayer for specific causes and people, we make ourselves more open to God to use us in the answering of those prayers or in the meeting of those needs. In actuality we are praying that we, somehow, become God’s answer to our prayer for this person or need.