At a recent Parish Evangelization Seminar I conducted, I shared with the participants on the vital importance of prayer in evangelization, and more specifically, the power of intercessory prayer.
When we pray for those in need of evangelizing, we are asking for nothing less than divine intervention, because conversion (as the Catechism teaches) is a work of grace.
The human heart is heavy and hardened. God must give man a new heart. Conversion is first of all a work of the grace of God who makes our hearts return to him: "Restore us to thyself, O LORD, that we may be restored!" God gives us the strength to begin anew. (CCC 1432).
When we pray for those who have yet to receive the Gospel and who have yet to encounter Christ, we are asking the Holy Spirit to touch and soften hardened hearts and minds, in order that they would be properly disposed for the sowing of the gospel.
Throughout the NT, the Apostle Paul repeatedly underscores the importance of intercessory prayer in the work of evangelization.
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men…that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:1-4).
Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving; and pray for us also, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison, that I may make it clear, as I ought to speak (Col. 4:2-4).
Become an A-Lister
In speaking to the seminar participants on the importance of intercessory prayer, I encouraged them to consider becoming A-Listers (and not in the Hollywood sense).
The A in A-List refers to the Apostle Andrew. The Gospel of John introduces Andrew as a disciple of John the Baptist, whose testimony first led him, and another unnamed disciple of John the Baptist to follow Jesus.
The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples; and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother (John 35-40).
As a result of his encounter with Christ, Andrew personally introduces his brother Simon to him.
He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him, and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter) (John 41-42).
St. Andrew illustrates for us what the Church refers to as primary evangelization, which involves the joyful proclamation of the kerygma to those who have never heard it and thus introducing them to Christ. In this case, Andrew, after encountering Jesus, is filled with a holy zeal that compels him to share the Good News with his brother Simon and introduce him to the Lord.
It goes without saying that each of us is called to imitate his example. Like Andrew, we who have found the Messiah are called to announce the Good News to others and bring them to Christ.
And how should we go about it?
As the Good Lord himself and His saints throughout the centuries have instructed us, we should always begin with prayer. That’s where the A-List comes in.
The idea behind the A-List (Andrew List) is to put down on paper a list of the people we know who currently do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ - be they family members, friends, neighbors, or co-workers - and to commit ourselves to praying for them daily.
I began the practice of keeping an A-List after my own conversion experience in my mid-teens. I attended a youth retreat that was closely patterned after the three-day Cursillo. During the course of that weekend, the basic kerygma is proclaimed to the retreatants, who are then invited to make an act of faith in response to this saving message and receive Christ.
Little do the retreatants know, there are hundreds of people behind the scenes who are praying and interceding for them throughout the course of the weekend. One of the most powerful moments of the retreat is when the participants are presented with stacks of letters and cards prepared by family members, friends, (and even total strangers!) expressing their love and spiritual solidarity.
I remember how deeply moved I was to learn that so many people were praying for me – that I would come to know the love of Christ. I know that the spiritual awakening that I experienced that weekend was aided in large part by those intercessory prayers.
As a result of that experience, I began the practice of keeping my own A-list of names that I include in my daily prayers, devotions, and Mass intentions. I can tell you that by God's grace, this practice has not only benefited the lives of the people I have prayed for over the years, but it has also had a profound impact on me.
I have found that as I pray daily for the souls on my A-List, I am filled with an ever-deepening love for them. I am filled with a thirst for their souls, that they may come to know Christ. Praying for the souls on my A-List has cultivated in me a greater sense of humility. I become more aware of my own need for continual repentance and conversion. As I pray, I become more profoundly aware of the fact that I am but an instrument and vessel in the hands of the Lord and that it is He who ultimately converts hearts and minds. As Pope Paul VI noted in Evangelii Nuntiandi:
It must be said that the Holy Spirit is the principal agent of evangelization: it is He who impels each individual to proclaim the Gospel, and it is He who in the depths of consciences causes the word of salvation to be accepted and understood (EN,75).
I would recommend that you take some time to prayerfully consider the people in your life who do not have a relationship with Christ, or who have grown distant from The Lord and His Church. Write their names down on a piece of paper.
To make things more manageable, I would suggest you take that list and narrow it down to 10 or so individuals who you believe are in the greatest need of prayer. Then pray.
What should you pray for?
1. Pray for openness and receptivity
Pray that the souls you seek to evangelize would be properly disposed to receive the message. Pray that God the Father would tenderize their hearts and minds in order that they would be open and receptive to the Good News. Pray that God would bind whatever forces are at work, which impede them from receiving the gift of faith.
2. Pray for opportunities
Like St. Paul, pray to the Holy Spirit for "an open door" to witness the Gospel to them, and if not you, then someone who would be better suited to the task.
3. Pray for the spiritual gifts
Pray for a release of the spiritual gifts that will enable you to effectively communicate the Good News. Pray for wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. Pray and strive for personal growth in holiness.
4. Pray for a greater docility to the Holy Spirit
Pray for sensitivity and docility to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, that you would follow God's lead instead of your own. Pray always that His perfect will be done in all things.
5. Pray for Perseverance
Finally, it is important for us to commit ourselves to persevere in prayer, regardless of what happens. The fact of the matter is that oftentimes we will not see immediate results.
Jesus exhorts his followers to "pray always without losing heart" (Lk 1:18). It is important to know that we may not see the immediate impact of our prayers, but we should not give up or lose hope. Like St. Monica, the pious mother of the wayward Augustine, it may take many years and many tears before we see the fruit of our spiritual labor. Yet God is always faithful and there is nothing too hard for Him.
If you haven't already, I would encourage you to consider creating your own A-List today. Make it a point of beginning your evangelization effort with prayer and behold how God will infuse them with great power for the salvation of souls.
Saint Andrew, pray for us.