"Most High, glorious God, cast Your Light into the darkness of my heart, and grant me a right faith, certain hope and perfect charity, sense and understanding, Lord, so that I may know and do Your holy and true command."
- St. Francis of Assisi: Prayer before the Crucifix
Saturday, July 27, 2013
Lord, teach us how to pray
HOMILY FOR THE 17th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 28, 2013: .
The new parish bookkeeper was
struggling in her first week on the job to open the combination on the safe to
count the weekend’s collection. She had
been told to commit it to memory, but for the life of her, she just couldn’t remember
it. After many tries, she finally went
to the pastor's office and asked for help. The pastor came into the room and
began to turn the dial. Bu, after
the first two numbers he paused, stared blankly for a moment and shook his head. Finally he took a deep breath,
looked serenely up to Heaven and his lips began to move ever so silently.Then he looked back at the
lock, and quickly turned to the final number, and opened the safe. The bookkeeper
was amazed. “I'm in awe of your faith and the power of your prayers, Father,”
she said. “It's really
nothing,” he answered. “The combination is written on a piece of tape on the
Our Scriptures today invite us to reflect
upon the power of prayer in our lives. Our
reading from Genesis gives us the example of Abraham’s determined prayers as he
steps forward in prayer to save the people of Sodom from God’s wrath. And in our Gospel the disciples make the most
import request that we can make in the spiritual life: “Lord, teach us how to
pray.” This is probably a question we’ve
all wanted to ask the Lord at one point or another. Everyone knows that we should be people of
prayer, but the search for the effective prayer isn’t always an easy one.
Sometimes we think that prayer is about
finding the right formula – if we say the correct words in the correct way,
we’ll get what we’re looking for.
Perhaps if we pray the right novena on the right days, God will answer
us. Now, I’m not looking for a show of
hands, but just think for a moment, how many of us have prayed the following
types of prayers before:
if only you would help me pass this test; get this promotion”
“God, please don’t let that police officer see how fast I was going. Let him get
the next guy.”
“Oh God, if you get me out of this mess, I swear I’ll become a priest.”
These are what we call prayers of
desperation, or 911 Prayers. As though all prayer consisted of were those
moments when we pick up the God phone, dial 911, and help is on the way.Now,
this isn’t to suggest that we shouldn’t be calling on God for help in tough
times. He should always be our first call.The problem with these prayers is that they view prayer as a Divine
Bargaining – God, You do this and I’ll do that.In other words, the question behind them is what do I have to give (or do, or say) to get the thing I want.
But, Jesus reminds us today that prayer
first and foremost is not about a bargain; rather it is always about relationship. Prayer is not merely an event that responds
to certain situations in our lives, it must be in fact our way of life. This is
what St. Paul is talking about in First
Thessalonians when he tells us to “be unceasing in prayer.” He means, we
should lead lives that themselves become prayer.
So prayer is relationship. But, what kind of relationship? Well, notice how Jesus begins and ends what
He has to say about prayer in today’s Gospel.
He begins by saying, “When you
pray, say: ‘Father’“ and He ends with
the words, “If you know how to give
good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father.”
Jesus sandwiches everything He has to say about prayer in the language of a
relationship between child and father, between child and parent. Prayer is a family affair based on a
relationship of familiarity and love, of tenderness and intimacy – not on power,
authority, or bargaining.
One way to think about this relationship
is to think of the word “FAMILY” as an acronym standing for: Forget About Me, I
Love You in opposition to a world that tells us to Forget about YOU, I Love
ME! The life of prayerful relationship
cares about God first, then others before ourselves. So, our prayer doesn’t
begin with asking God to do things for us in exchange for other things. It begins with getting to know a God who
loves us so deeply and so intimately that He wants us to think of Him as our
Father. Jesus understood this so well that He called God “Abba,” a title best
translated as “Daddy.” When someone
prays before their Abba, it isn’t about correct formulas; it is only about
correct hearts. Hearts that understand
family: forget about me, I love you.
You see, when we nurture our relationship
with God through prayer, He knows our needs just like we know the needs of the
people closest to us before they ever say them.
He knows our hearts when we share our hearts with Him each and every day
and so He can respond to what we need because we have been with Him in our
moments of prayer as a Father or Mother is with their child. Prayer is powerful and can move mountains –
but the power of prayer comes from its regularity, its depth of relationship.
Anyone can have powerful results in prayer, but they must nurture a daily relationship
with God to get there.
Let us ask with the disciples today,
“Lord, teach us how to pray.” I
encourage everyone to do a few simple things.
Take a few minutes at the beginning of each day to say, “Abba, Father, I
love you. I know that there is nothing
that can happen today that you and I can’t handle together.” In the middle of the day, say, “God, I’m
thinking of you. Be with me today.” At the end of the day, simply say, “God,
thank you for gift and blessings of this day.
I’m sorry for all the things I may have done wrong. I ask your forgiveness and strength to do
better tomorrow.” It really is that
easy! “Lord, teach us how to pray.”