I follow an online forum of evangelizers and disciple makers, where we share stories of challenges, techniques, ideas, and successes in our Christian ministries. Last week, one of the members reported being “shocked” by a question from someone going through a conversion process. They had asked, “What does it mean to pray ‘for’ someone else?” Her point was that in sharing the Good News of our faith, we often assume many things that are not so self-evident to people. The question is a good one. What do you think? What does it mean to pray for someone? Have you ever told someone that you will pray for them? Have you ever asked anyone to pray for you? What do you mean? What do you expect?
Sometimes, it helps to get back to the basics – in many things, and especially in our practice of our faith. We get complacent, rusty, and lazy. Have you ever told someone “I’ll pray for you,” and then promptly forget – until you see them next and remember their woes? (I confess, I have) It’s a sign of allowing life to crowd out the essential goodness of our relationship with Jesus and with others. So, a return to the basics is certainly a good idea.
Jesus seems to be “belaboring” a point in today’s Gospel, doesn’t He? He talks about “remaining in my love” or “loving one another” eight times today; and between the Second Reading and Gospel, we see the word, “love” eighteen times. Okay, Jesus! I get it!
Or do I?
Do I really understand the power of that love? Does that love make a true difference in my life? Is that the real love that I show others – like the love that Jesus showed us through His sacrifice?
That love is the foundation of the entire Christian life. It is not something that we can invent or think up. Rather, as St. John says, “God is love.” If we want to show that love, then we have to be connected to God in an intimate way – ready to share Him with everyone. That is the love that must underscore our prayer – for ourselves and forothers. Because when we pray "for” others, we are making a promise: to ask God for what is good for them. We cannot really do this if we are not filled with love. Otherwise, they are empty words – an insult to others and a waste of God’s time.
The love that Jesus is talking about – the love that we hear eighteen times in the readings today – is Christ’s love that He showed throughout His life, and especially in His Passion and death. It is sacrificial love – love that hurts. That love is totally outward focused, just like God’s love. Therefore, John can say, “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.”
When we show that love, we are capable of great things – or better, God is capable of great things through us. Our prayer is effective – even prayer for our enemies – because we are filled with Christ’s love. This is the key to true holiness, since it is through love that we fulfill the Law. Pope Francis, in his recent exhortation to the faithful, speaks of this love that inspires our prayer. He says,
“Amid the thicket of precepts and prescriptions, Jesus clears a way to seeing two faces, that of the Father and that of our brother. He does not give us two more formulas or two more commands. He gives us two faces, or better yet, one alone: the face of God reflected in so many other faces. For in every one of our brothers and sisters, especially the least, the most vulnerable, the defenseless and those in need, God’s very image is found. Indeed, with the scraps of this frail humanity, the Lord will shape his final work of art. For ‘what endures, what has value in life, what riches do not disappear? Surely these two: the Lord and our neighbor. These two riches do not disappear!’”
So, when we pray “for” others, we are striving to see God’s face in them, and we are seeking what is good for them in God’s eyes. When we ask someone to pray for us, we are expressing a deep desire for them to see us as God sees us; and we are asking them to ask for what will bring us closer to Him, as we grow closer to one another. This is a basic element of our relationship with Jesus and with one another – so basic that we may take it for granted or even forget it. Christ reminds us again that the way to fulfill God’s will lies in the very basic task of “loving one another.” If we can get that right, we can change the world.