Last month I had the opportunity to go to Lisieux, France, and visit the tomb and home of one of my favorite saints, St. Therese of Lisieux. While visiting the Carmelite monastery where she lived, one thing that struck me was the hundreds of letters from soldiers fighting in World War I, letters thanking Therese for her intercessory prayer from heaven that miraculously protected them during battle. Not knowing how to thank her, these soldiers sent letters of gratitude to her religious order. It was these letters that opened her cause for canonization. St. Therese is now considered the patron saint of missionaries because of her powerful intercession. This experience brought me to reflect on the importance of intercession in our lives and how we can better live intercessory lives by imitating the model of St. Therese’s life.
It seems that asking for intercessory prayers is a part of the daily life of many Catholics, but what is our disposition when this happens? It can be so tempting to half-heartedly ask someone to intercede for a person or situation in your life, not expecting anything to happen as a result. Even more often, I find myself saying yes to intercede for someone and then not putting the intention and time into the prayer that I should. I think the main cause of all of these roadblocks in intercession comes from not understanding the power our prayer has, and this is a lesson we can learn from St. Therese.
St. Therese realized that our prayer has power because it is the cry of children to their Father, a Father who can’t resist saying “yes” to His children. She saw prayer not as bargaining with God, but as uniting her will and desires to God’s and asking that the same happen for whoever she was interceding for. Approaching prayer in this way radically changes the way that we intercede for others. We can step out and ask for prayer boldly and with confidence, because we can trust that the prayers will help bring about God’s will in our lives, not our own.
Another key part of St. Therese’s model for intercession is that she saw intercession not as her own work, but as God’s work. St. Therese called her spirituality “the little way,” and it involves recognizing our own weakness and littleness before God and asking Him to sanctify us and bring us closer to Him through our littleness. One of the most fundamental keys to intercession is believing in the power of our prayers despite our littleness and imperfection. To understand the power of our prayer, we need to understand that God delights in us and desires to use us in our littleness. St. Therese explains that when we become little, we make room for God to work. If we apply this same principle to intercessory prayer, we see that no matter how small or simple the prayer, God wants to use it for His greater glory. God doesn’t ask us for a big complicated prayer but for the honest prayer of our hearts, no matter its size.
Intercessory prayer is one of the most important parts of Catholic life, but often it can be overlooked. Looking at the model of St. Therese and her little way, we can learn that intercessory prayer is a beautiful part of our lives. Further, we see that it can make a real, tangible difference in the natural and supernatural realities around us when we offer our prayers with full confidence in God’s providence despite our littleness. St. Therese, pray for us, and teach us how to intercede like you!