The Revelation of Intercession

7392_Ivan-Kramskoy-prayer-of-moses-after-the-israelites-go-through-the-black-sea-600x376-628x393

On the feast day of a great saint with All Saints’ Day approaching, it seems to be a good time to reflect on the worth of seeking the intercession of the saints. I have often encountered people who find it odd that God would let the saints in heaven know things just so that they could turn right around and pray to God about them. While it certainly is mysterious, if we keep our eyes peeled while reading the Scriptures, we can see many places where God tells his saints on earth something that they wouldn’t otherwise know precisely so that they can pray to Him about it. Whether or not we understand the reason why, we can at least see that God’s providence works in this way. And if we reflect on this mystery with prayer, we can begin to see the wisdom and generosity which underlie the intercession of the saints.

We can first look to chapter 32 of the Book of Exodus. Moses had just ascended Sinai’s heights to receive the revelation of the Lord in that unforgettable theophany. He approached the blazing fire, then came the darkness, the trumpet blast, and the voice speaking words which caused those who heard them to beg that no further message be addressed to them. “Mount Sinai was completely enveloped in smoke, because the LORD had come down upon it in fire.” After forty days, with Moses still up on the mountain, the people of Israel feared they had been abandoned. At last they gave in to their temptation and fashioned a golden calf, paying divine honors to an image of metal.

High above the plain, deep in an encounter with God, Moses could not see or hear anything that was going on back in the camp. Suddenly, God interrupted the gift of the law to tell Moses of his people’s idolatry:

Go down at once because your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, have acted corruptly. They have quickly turned aside from the way I commanded them, making for themselves a molten calf and bowing down to it, sacrificing to it and crying out, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!” . . .  Let me alone, then, that my anger may burn against them to consume them. Then I will make of you a great nation. (Ex 32:7-10)

But Moses, as the Psalm says, “Withstood him in the breach to turn back his destroying anger” (Ps 106).

If we believe, as the Scriptures tell us, that with God “there is no alteration or shadow caused by change,” then it must be that God all along intended to pardon his people after Moses interceded on their behalf. St. Jerome, commenting on this passage, points out how God left an opening for Moses in the way he phrased his proposal: “Let me alone . . . that . . .” seems to indicate that if Moses did not let him alone, he would not carry out his threat. To save them, God did not need Moses. But he wanted to make Moses an instrumental cause in their receiving forgiveness.

This example is hardly unique. In Genesis, God tells Abraham what he is planning for Sodom and Gomorrah, and Abraham prays to save his nephew Lot. In the books of the prophets, examples of intercession abound. The prophet Amos tells us that “Indeed, the Lord GOD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets” (Am 3:7). God reveals his intention very clearly to the prophet Ezekiel, saying “Thus I have searched among them for someone who would build a wall or stand in the breach before me to keep me from destroying the land; but I found no one” (Ez 23:30). In other words, God wanted, and was actively looking for, someone to pray like Moses did.

Do we have to worry that God will look and find no one to intercede for his people? Now that Jesus has died and risen from the dead, the saints behold God face to face. They have arrived at “Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering.” Is he less intimate, less familiar with “the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven” than with his saints on earth? Then we can be certain that God grants the Blessed to know what they need to know to intercede for us. Are “the spirits of the just made perfect” less loving, less selfless than Moses? Then we can be certain that they do intercede. Heeding the testimony of divine revelation, confident that God wants us to intercede for each other, let us pour out our prayers for ourselves and others. And let us call upon the saints in heaven, confident that God wants them to be our loving intercessors.

Image: Ivan Kramskoy, Prayer of Moses after the Israelites go through the Red Sea

You May Also Enjoy:

A Saint Like Us I once came across a prayer card of St. Martin de Porres that referred to him as the “Glory of the black people”. This language may at first sound a bit jarring to our modern ears. Why mention the ethnicity of St. Martin at all? I don’t think the author meant harm by it. In fact, I assume it was done out of an attempt to connect the person of St. Martin with those who may hold that holy card. This seems to be something fundamental in our lives. W...
Spiritual Fathers The summer before I entered religious life my cousin gave birth to her first child, Owen. Later that summer the proud mother hosted a party at which the main pastime was holding baby Owen. As everyone took his or her turn with the newborn, I noticed something astonishing: all of the men held him in precisely the same way, and all of the women in another. As my sisters, my aunt, and my cousin held Owen, I noticed that each held him in both of her ...
Prayers for the Moment “For heaven’s sake, is it time to pray again?” I remember asking this question with great exasperation in my first weeks as a novice. It seemed that we were stopping every other hour or so for prayer. My idealism from the months before I entered—“Finally, I’ll be able to enjoy more time for prayer!”—was beginning to flag in the face of exhaustion at the new routine. You have searched me, O Lord, and found me sleepy. I felt this most keenly dur...
Show Us The Father Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works th...