Most days, you can’t turn on the news without hearing about yet another horrific tragedy happening somewhere. With terrorism, natural disasters and corrupt politics, it’s hard not to have a bleak outlook.
And when I try to pray for these things, I feel like an ant staring up the face of a mountain. The problem is so massive — and feeling my smallness before it, I fall into either apathy or despair.
The same is true for people. We’re asked to pray for others so often, so we sometimes treat it as just another thing we can do but probably doesn’t actually work. This problem, this evil, is just too big. We believe our prayers won’t actually change the outcome of the situation.
But these are lies. Prayer does work. We can — and should — intercede through prayer.
One proof that prayer works is St. Monica. She was a prayer warrior for the people in her life — and most of them caused her a lot of suffering. Her husband was abusive and unfaithful, and her mother-in-law disliked her and falsely accused her.
Her son, St. Augustine (who wrote famous works like “City of God” and “Confessions”), was no saint in the beginning. And by that, I mean that he was a total wild child. He led a loose life and even embraced heresy. (For more on St. Augustine’s conversion check out our recent blog post about him.)
But Monica prayed for them. Whenever her husband became angry and abused her, she would wait for him to calm down before speaking to him. When he was unfaithful, she never gave into jealousy, but rather silently bore his actions. When her mother-in-law mistreated her, she only treated her with kindness.
And when it came to her son Augustine, she prayed, wept and fasted for years on end. (How often do we pray with weeping and fasting? Gut check.) No matter what Augustine did, though, Monica was there with him, loving and praying for him — even when he kept a mistress, had an illegitimate child and utterly disregarded her.
Monica was acutely acquainted with suffering, especially at the hands of those she loved the most. But she never gave up on them, and Monica eventually came to see the conversion of her husband and a change of heart in her mother-in-law. And, after nine years of praying and weeping for Augustine, he converted before she died.
All that time, Monica never gave up hope of seeing her prayers answered. A bishop even told her, “It is not possible that the son of so many tears would perish.”
When she finally did see his conversion, she told him on her deathbed, “For my part, my son, I no longer find pleasure in anything that this life holds. What I am doing here still, or why I am still here, I do not know, for worldly hope has withered away for me. One thing only there was for which I desired to linger to linger in this life: to see you a Catholic Christian before I died. And my God has granted this to me more lavishly than I could have hoped, letting me see even you spurning earthly happiness to be his servant. What am I still doing here?” (“Confessions” IX.x.4).
So what can we learn from St. Monica’s story?
1. Intercessory prayer is powerful. God wants us to help Him in salvation, and He loves us so much that He wants to use us in His work of redemption. Because we are children of God, we can pray to Him as our Father, just as Jesus did — and we can expect to see results. They may not always be what we expect, but they are always for the greater good of our souls and others’.
2. Prayer is not a quick fix; it requires all of your heart and soul. God wants to teach us in the process of our prayers and in the midst of His answering them. Sometimes we won’t see our prayers answered right away. It doesn’t mean He’s not at work; it just means that He wants you to give Him your whole heart in the process.
3. Pray with love. When you intercede for people, pause. Don’t let your prayer just be words; place yourself in the presence of the Father and reflect on His love for them, and your love for them. Look at them the way the Father does. And then ask Jesus to show you how to pray for them. Let Him guide your prayer; after all, He is the one who intercedes for us before the Father and knows what they need much more than we do.
We are not, and never will be, the savior of others. But our prayers do matter, and they do work. Pray with hope and confidence. We may not see all of our troubles fixed, or suddenly find ourselves living in world peace, but we will see that God always wins in the end.