Because this is the final work of mercy, we might be tempted to think, “Well, if all else fails, I can always pray.” And it is true that there are situations in which only prayer avails. This is what Jesus told his disciples when they were unable to deliver a poor boy suffering from demonic possession: “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting” (Mk 9:29).
But it would be better to think of this final work of mercy as the companion to all the works that precede it. When we accompany our actions with prayer we will receive the discernment we need to carry them with sensitivity, respecting the unique needs of each individual. More importantly, when instructing us to carry out such works Our Lord said, “When you did it to one of these least ones, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40). Prayer reveals the presence of Christ in others, and this will help us approach them with reverence and not as some problem to be solved.
Prayer enables us in some mysterious way to touch the hearts of others and it dissolves the barriers of time and space. We are asked to pray for the living and the dead, a reminder that prayer unites us to the whole human family. It is somewhat surprising that, along with that adventurous evangelist, St. Francis Xavier, the Church names St. Therese as patron of the missions. This was a young woman who, apart from one pilgrimage to Rome, never left her native region in France; she entered a cloistered monastery at the age of fifteen and died there nine years later. The reason for this unusual choice can be found in her writings, in which she recorded that “The zeal of a Carmelite embraces the whole world.” As the Letter of James tells us, the prayer of a righteous person has great power in its effects (cf Jas 5:15-16).
It is above all in the Eucharistic Prayer that we get an insight into the way prayer unites us with others. We always ask the prayers of the saints and in turn we pray for the members of the Body of Christ all over the world. There is no one beyond the reach of God’s mercy, and thus there is no one beyond the reach of our prayer.
This is the fundamental truth that prayer underscores: we are instruments of God’s peace. It is God, not us, who is the source of mercy. One wise spiritual writer wrote centuries ago that if we make prayer the center of our lives, we will discover the difference between doing great things for God and God doing great things through us. Prayer is real in its effects and it has the added advantage of being hidden: this is the “stealth” work of mercy, because it is only God who knows about our prayer. Christ assures us that the Father who sees in secret will reward us.
The saints are our great models for this work of mercy, especially Mary, the Mother of God. At the wedding feast of Cana she interceded with her Son for the couple who were about to be embarrassed in front of their guests. Mary asked with absolute trust, not telling her Son what to do, but simply bringing the matter to his attention. How often we bring to God both the problem and the best solution to it! And even when it seemed that her Son would not act, Mary trusted him. Her final recorded words in Scripture are the simple directive for us to carry out this work of mercy, and all works of mercy: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5).