This morning at Mass something prompted me to think about the path on which God has led me in learning to intercede for others.
There was a time when I did a whole lot more thinking than praying, and most of that thinking centered on myself, even though one could term it "thinking about God".
The Lord had to catch my attention before He could shift it, and in my case He did this by making me feel my needs and then by meeting them through other people. And after this, I began to feel the urgent need to pray for others.
Sometimes this felt need was extremely intense, and it seemed I could not escape it. I could not turn my heart to any kind of prayer at all without feeling this compelling need to pray for one or another specific person, or for some collective of people.
Out of this compelling felt need, I developed a discipline of daily prayer with this intercessory component. In other words, the need I felt to intercede overcame my natural haphazard, start-again-stop-again approach to everything in life. Where I once mostly lounged and lazed around in my general thoughts about God, His will and His ways, I was now steadily walking in prayer.
It is said that you can never remain angry at anyone for whom you pray. But there can be dangers as well as blessings in interceding. It is possible (ask me how I know... no, don't) to start to feel the good one is praying for to become one's project, one's possession, one's attachment. And as soon as a soul wants anything other than God, there is a need for purification in that soul. The way God led me when this happened was first to call me to penance. The penance followed the pattern of a compelling sense of my need to do this at first, and then a discipline. At first it seemed to me the process was mostly about penance I was offering for the good of others, but in due time I realized how much I needed it to purge me.
But there came a deeper purging, too, because the need for purification really goes deep. In this step, it seemed I simply could not deny that God knows through and through every desire I'd ever presented to Him. I had asked Him repeatedly, I knew He heard, and I was not seeing much if anything of the outcomes I had desired. But regardless of how intently God Himself seemed to beckon me earlier to pray, now it seemed God was simply saying, "Shhh. You, come to me."
Can I just say yes? Can I let go of ever seeing results? Can I realize that God's ultimate desire for me is that I grow in union with Him? Can I want that more than I want to see thousands of people exhibit tangible and measurable characteristics of conversion? I say I want to see the Lord Jesus be loved deeply by many, but it seems the Lord is content that I concern myself with my response to Him instead of theirs. Do I pray and intercede so that I feel or look powerful, or do I pray that I may know Love and hide in Him? How in the world do I reckon myself so terribly small that I really and honestly want nothing at all but God?
This, like everything else, is only a work of God's grace. It's utterly impossible for me. Just like causing my own existence, or sustaining the universe, or planning salvation, or creating a world-wide family of communion. Just like all the other things God gratuitously does for me and for all of us.