One of the most common requests a priest receives in the course of a day is for prayers. The request can happen anywhere: on a bus, at Whole Foods in the checkout line, walking down Main St. and in the back of the church. Sometimes the request comes with an explanation that indicates a family problem, a sickness, or a personal struggle. At other times, there is no explanation, merely a look of sadness or stress in the eyes of the person. In whatever circumstance, I always receive the request seriously and take it to heart.
Over the years, my understanding of prayer for another has evolved. Frankly, I have probably forgotten the exact theological teaching on the matter and simply know in my heart that prayer undertaken in earnest for another is powerful. You see, it is first of all an act of faith. Faith in the power of God to heal, comfort, console, and accompany another in the struggle of life.
Nothing is more powerful than belief in God. Prayer for another is an act of belief in the omnipotence of God and the capacity of God to reach into one’s life and affect the heart, the spirit. We believe that God can do all things and acting on this belief frees God to act. Over and again Jesus insisted on faith. He explained that it was the faith of a person that brought about miracles he achieved. “Your faith has saved you”, He would proclaim after some expression of His omnipotence.
Not long ago, a young woman who had asked for prayer came to me to explain that her cancer had been cured, although the prognosis several months earlier had been dim. She stated emphatically that it was prayer that had brought about this healing. I do not doubt her. At the same time, I recognize there is enormous mystery in these matters and rarely are things the black and white some might like them to be. My faith does not insist that all turns out according to my wishes or intentions. Rather, my faith in prayer takes the person and presents the person lovingly to God with a firm belief that God’s love for the person will bring circumstances to a good end.
In Lent, the Church urges us to embark upon a routine of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These are the cornerstones of our Lenten journey. Prayer has many expressions and a prayer of petition for another is one of them. At its root, it is an expression of my personal faith. So for me, an excellent place to begin this prayer is in the powerful petition of the Centurion from scripture: “Lord I believe, help my unbelief”.