Pope Benedict’s fifth session of his school of prayer examines the prayer of the greatest Old Testament prefigurer of Christ: Moses. As with Abraham, our Holy Father chooses to focus on Moses as an example of intercessory prayer. The Pope tells us why intercessory prayer is important:
Intercessory prayer makes divine mercy so active within the corrupted reality of the sinful man, that it finds a voice in the supplication of one who prays and through him becomes present where salvation is needed.
The Scriptural basis for this class is Exodus 32, specifically Moses’ prayer of intercession found in Ex 32:11-13. Pope Benedict points out the approach that Moses takes in his prayer:
Moses’ prayer is wholly centered on the Lord’s fidelity and grace….The work of salvation begun must be brought to completion; if God were to allow his people to perish, this could be interpreted as a sign of a divine inability to bring to completion the project of salvation. God cannot permit this: He is the good Lord who saves, the guarantor of life, he is the God of mercy and forgiveness, of liberation from sin which kills. And so Moses appeals to God, to the interior life of God, against the exterior pronouncement….Moses had a concrete experience of the God of salvation; he was sent as a mediator of divine liberation, and now, with his prayer, he voices a twofold concern — concern for the fate of his people, but alongside this, concern for the honor that is owed to the Lord, for the truth of his name. The intercessor, in fact, wants the people of Israelto be saved, because they are the flock that has been entrusted to him, but also because, in that salvation, the true reality of God is manifested. Love of the brothers and love of God interpenetrate in intercessory prayer; they are inseparable. Moses, the intercessor, is a man stretched between two loves, which in prayer overlap into but one desire for good.
Then, our Holy Father sets forth Moses as the example of what authentic intercession is all about:
A mediator of life, the intercessor shows solidarity with the people; desiring only the salvation that God himself desires, he renounces the prospect of becoming a new people pleasing to the Lord. The phrase that God had addressed to him, “but of you I will make a great nation,” is not even taken into consideration by the “friend” of God, who instead is ready to take upon himself not only the guilt of his people, but also all of its consequences.
When, after the destruction of the golden calf, he will return to the mountain once again to ask for Israel’s salvation, he will say to the Lord: “But now, if thou wilt forgive their sin — and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written” (verse. 32). Through prayer, desiring God’s desire, the intercessor enters ever more profoundly into the knowledge of the Lord and of his mercy, and becomes capable of a love that reaches even to the total gift of self. (emphasis mine)
Then he proceeds to reveal why Jesus is the perfect intercessor:
In Moses, who stands upon the mountain height face to face with God, who becomes the intercessor for his people, and who offers himself — “blot me out” — the Fathers of the Church saw a prefiguration of Christ, who on the heights of the cross truly stands before God, not only as a friend but as Son. And not only does he offer himself — “blot me out” — but with his pierced heart he is blotted out, he becomes, as St. Paul himself says, sin; he takes our sins upon himself in order to spare us; his intercession is not only solidarity, but identification with us; he carries us all in his body. And in this way his whole existence as man and as Son is a cry to the heart of God, it is forgiveness, but a forgiveness that transforms and renews.
I think we should meditate upon this reality. Christ stands before the face of God and prays for me. His prayer on the cross is contemporaneous with all men, contemporaneous with me: He prays for me, he suffered and suffers for me, he identified himself with me by taking on our human body and soul. And he invites us to enter into his identity, making ourselves one body, one spirit with him, because from the heights of the cross he brought not new laws, tablets of stone, but rather he brought himself, his body and his blood, as the new covenant. He thereby makes us one blood with him, one body with him, identified with him. He invites us to enter into this identification, to be united with him in our desire to be one body, one spirit with him. Let us pray to the Lord that this identification may transform us, may renew us, since forgiveness is renewal — it is transformation.