I recently spoke a bit about my trip to Rome and my encounter with the magnitude of the faith. Another thing that stood out to me is our connection to one another in the Body of Christ.
Before leaving on our pilgrimage, Dr. Sri invited us to gather the prayer petitions of friends and family to take with us. It turned out to be one of my favorite aspects of my trip! Not long after sending out my request, petitions began pouring in. I had no idea that it would happen this way, but so many of my friends and family sent me really important and deeply personal prayers to take with me. What an honor to be trusted with them, and what a tremendous blessing to carry them with me all the way to Rome.
I honestly think that taking petitions with me dramatically effected the dynamic of my trip. Though I went on the trip by myself, it was as if I was walking each holy site hand-in-hand with my loved ones. Taking their petitions with me truly opened my eyes to our opportunity to look after one another through prayer.
Making this a priority and following through with my promise to pray for all these people, reminded me of the moments in my past when I said I would pray for someone, but didn’t. I realize now that what I was lacking was charity. It’s so easy to throw out a quick “I’ll pray for you” to someone when we learn of any suffering or pain they’re are going through, but taking the time to actually pray for them is a tremendous responsibility. By praying on behalf of others, we are saying, “I care for you. I LOVE you. I want your good in life.” We are acknowledging that in the Body of Christ, when one of us suffers, all of us suffer.
Neglecting opportunities to intercede on someone’s behalf, means missing an opportunity to build up the Body of Christ. In the Body, we are all called to work together to take care of one another, not to pretend as if we exist alone and set apart. We are a community of believers, not a collection of separate individuals. We know through biblical history that intercessory prayer is powerful and effective. In fact, to pray on behalf of another is to pray as Jesus prayed. Jesus was our great intercessor who pleaded to God on behalf of all men. Similarly, all of us are called to pray on behalf of one another.
I’m so thankful I got the opportunity to pray for others in such a grand way. It was incredibly humbling and self-emptying, which I think is what God wants us to learn through this type of prayer. He wants all of us to look beyond our own interests to see those of others, and realize that through him, we are all deeply connected to one another.
In Rome, I was also able to experience this connection on a deeper level, by offering these intercessory prayers at the tombs of so many holy men and women who have already found their fulfillment in God. In this way, the petitions I was given were extended through the far reaches of time. Not only were my friends and family with me on my journey, but so were the saints. They were lending their ears to hear our prayers, and interceding on our behalf.
The tomb of St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine
So many people misunderstand what it means to pray to the saints. Some count that as pagan worship or idolization, but that is not what Catholics are doing. We don’t worship the saints or idolize them, because to idolize them would obscure God from our view and separate us from him. The saints don’t muddy our vision of God, they open us up to the wonder of his love and inspire us to respond to him with our whole hearts. By their example, they show us what it means to trust in God with unwavering faith, endure suffering with eyes of hope, and encounter others with perfect charity. They are icons to us of what it means to be a Christian, and to carry out most perfectly the Christian way of life.
The relic of Saint John Paul II’s blood on the left at Santo Spirito Church in Rome
In addition, praying for their intercession is an acknowledgment of the reality that the community of believers extends well beyond death. Just as we are called to lift one another up through prayer here on earth, the Saints in heaven desire our fulfillment in God as well. They pray for us and intercede on our behalf, because they know (more than any of us), that we are all truly connected in the Body of Christ.
The heads of Saints Peter and Paul at the Basilica of Saint John Lateran
It was something special being in Rome and offering the prayers of my loved ones, with the Saints, to God above. I now realize on a deeper level what it means that we all belong to an “organism”, not an “organization” (as Bishop Barron explains). As a living organism, we move and breathe together as One Mystical Body of Christ.
–Desire to pray more for others? When you say you’ll pray for someone, write their name and petition down in a small prayer journal you can keep with you. That way when you go to pray you have all of your petitions right there ready for you!