The final chapter of Evangelii Gaudium, while attacking the missionary crisis from various angles, puts in the prayer of intercession as a finishing tackle. Citing from Saint Paul’s Letter to Philippines (1:4, 7), Pope Francis observes that “Here we see that intercessory prayer does not divert us from true contemplation, since authentic contemplation always has a place for others” (# 281). “When evangelizers rise from prayer, their hearts are more open; freed of self-absorption, they are desirous of doing good and sharing their lives with others.” Still more perceptive is his last remark: “The great men and women of God were great intercessors. Intercession is like a “leaven” in the heart of the Trinity. It is a way of penetrating the Father’s heart and discovering new dimensions which can shed light on concrete situations and change them. We can say that God’s heart is touched by our intercession, yet in reality he is always there first. What our intercession achieves is that his power, his love and his faithfulness are shown ever more clearly in the midst of the people” (# 283).
To put it differently, EG sees the active role of intercessory prayer in a missionary at four levels: 1) The missionary’s concern for people will never detract him from prayer and contemplation. 2) Prayer removes all suspicion and desperation that may arise from lack of success. 3) Prayer enables the evangelizers to be free of self-absorption and enkindles their desire of doing good and sharing their lives with others. 4) It is in prayer that one discovers God’s action in the midst of the people.
Now, all these four ideas of prayer were very much at work in the public life of the Mahatma Gandhi. Firstly, “You, whose mission in life is service of your fellowmen, will go to pieces if you do not impose on yourselves some sort of discipline, and prayer is necessary spiritual discipline” (T 41). The man of prayer will be at peace with himself and with the whole world; the man who goes about the affairs of the world without prayerful heart will be miserable and will make the world also miserable (T, 40-41).
Secondly, Gandhi says “Prayer is either petitional or in its wider sense is inward communion. In either case the ultimate result is the same. Even when it is petitional, the petition should be for the cleansing and purification of the soul, for freeing it from the layers of ignorance and darkness that envelop it. He therefore who hungers for the awakening of the divine in him must fall back on prayer” (T 40). As a result, then, Gandhi says: “A man of prayer, therefore waits in faith and patience always…. The test of faith is that having done our duty we must be prepared to welcome whatever He may send – joy as well as sorrow, good luck as well as bad luck. He will be like King Janaka who, when informed that his capital was ablaze, only remarked that it was no concern of his” (P, 204-205).
As regards the third point mentioned above, the following observation by Gandhi is really apt: “What a great thing it would be if we in our busy lives could retire into ourselves each day for at least a couple of hours and prepare our minds to listen in to the Voice of the Great Silence. The Divine Radio is always singing if we could only make ourselves ready to listen to it, but it is impossible to listen in without silence” (P, 92). Gandhi even alludes to St Theresa’s charming image of bees which return to the hive and says: “There they shut themselves up to work at the making of honey; and this will take place without effort or care on their part.” So also in prayer, God rewards the activist’s soul and disposes his senses to a state of absolute repose and of perfect contemplation and fructifies their work.
As to the final point it may be of use for us to recall the words of Gandhi which he wrote to a reader of Navajivan’s query: “Worshipping God is singing the praise of God. Prayer is a confession of one’s unworthiness and weakness. God has a thousand names or rather, He is nameless. Worship or prayer, therefore, is not to be performed with the lips, but with the heart. And that is why it can be performed equally by the dumb and the stammerer by the ignorant and the stupid. And the prayers of those whose tongues are nectared but whose hearts area full of poison are never heard. He, therefore who would pray to God must cleanse his heart. Rama was not only on the lips of Hanuman, He was enthroned in his heart. He gave Hanuman exhaustless strength. In His strength he lifted the mountain and crossed the ocean. It is faith that steers us through stormy seas, faith that moves mountains and faith jumps across the ocean. That faith is nothing but a living, wide awake consciousness of God within” (In Search I. 171). “These are precious moments in one’s daily life. The exercises are intended to sober and humble us and enable us to realize that we are but ‘clay in the hands of the Potter.’ These are moments when one reviews one’s immediate past, confesses one’s weakness, asks for forgiveness and strength to be and do better” (P,16). Further Gandhi says: “God does not need any praise or petitions. Being immanent in all being, He hears everything and reads our innermost thoughts. He abides in our hearts and is nearer to us than the nails are to the fingers….(So), when we speak out aloud at prayer time, our speech is addressed not to God but to ourselves and is intended to shake off our torpor… (In Search I.196).
In a word, then, both the Holy Father of ours and the Father of our nation reinforce one and the same point that the religious activist cannot but avail oneself of the prayer if one wants one’s service to be really fruitful.