Fr. Mark's Homily - October 24, 2010
What is Prayer?
Last week we began to look at prayer as the foundation upon which our lives must be built as Christians. That is because Jesus Christ is the “chief cornerstone” of the Church and the Rock upon which our lives must be built and prayer is how we get to know Him. Prayer is not optional for the Christian, it is like breathing. If we do not breath, we die physically, and if we do not pray the “life of grace” within us received at baptism will eventually die. We saw last week that the Church has consistently taught that the Lord Jesus Christ is the centerpiece and goal of all human history. Therefore, it is impossible to understand the meaning of human history apart from the person of Jesus Christ. This being the case, the Lord Jesus Christ needs to be the center and goal of our lives, if we are to understand the meaning and purpose of our lives. If we miss Jesus Christ we miss the meaning of our lives and the purpose of our existence. The only way we can know Jesus Christ personally, not be hearsay knowledge (what others have told us about Him) is to pray. If we are to “reflect the face of Christ” to others we need to be a people of prayer.
As Christians we find ourselves in a spiritual battle and this is confirmed by the Catholic Catechism which states, “The spiritual battle of the Christians new life is inseparable from the battle of prayer” (CCC# 2726). In this battle of prayer we fight against the tempter (Satan) who will do everything he can to prevent us from praying for he knows the power of prayer. We also fight against ourselves, our pride which says we can be self-sufficient, whereas to pray we must humble ourselves. In our first reading today we hear, “The prayer of the humble pierces the clouds” (Sir. 35:21). In fact, it is only the prayer of the humble that God hears and answers. We cannot approach a holy, majestic, all-powerful, yet all-loving God in any other way, as Jesus makes perfectly clear in our gospel. Those who approach God thinking they are worthy go away unjustified. Yet, those who approach God with a humble and contrite heart find mercy and grace in abundance. In her Magnificat, our Blessed Mother proclaimed prophetically, “He has scattered the proud in the imaginations of their hearts, He has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted the lowly, He has filled the hungry with good things” (Lk.1:51-53). Yes, God hears the prayer of the humble and He grants them “good things” but the proud are sent away empty.
So what is prayer? Prayer is lifting our hearts and minds to God. Prayer involves the mind (intellect) but also our heart, which is the core of our being. The heart in Scripture is the place we are, where we live, the place to which we withdraw to recollect deeply about who we are, the meaning of life, and our eternal destiny. It is the place that God communes with us, where deep calls to deep (Ps. 42:8). It is the place of decision, the place of truth; it is the place where we choose life or death (CCC# 2562; 2563). If our hearts are far from God, our prayer will be in vain. The Catechism says this about prayer, “…prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond measure, with His Son, Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit…thus the life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God and in communion with Him” (CCC#2565). We can see that prayer is all about relationship, intimacy and communion with God. It is how we get out into the “deep waters of faith.” Prayer is the path to holiness. Holiness is about inward transformation. As we spend time with the One who is all-Holy we are transformed inwardly and we who are of earth can begin to reflect the image of Him who is from heaven.
In John’s gospel chapter 13, the Lord Jesus does something profound. Jesus knows that His passion and death is approaching and after celebrating the Passover Meal transforming it into His own Passover and giving us the Holy Eucharist, He washes the disciple’s feet. He then gives them a new commandment to love one another as He has loved them (sacrificially and laying down His life). He promises that after His resurrection He will send the Holy Spirit as their guide, comforter and advocate. He says, “I am the vine and you are the branches…apart from Me you can do nothing”(Jn. 15:5). The Lord then says that as He has shown His love for His Father by His perfect obedience to His will and that His disciples are to show their love for Him by keeping His commandments which is doing the will of God. He says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you”(Jn.15:14). He calls the apostles His friends, this is profound. He goes on to say, “No longer do I call you servants but friends. For a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things I have heard from My Father I have made known to you”(Jn.15:15). This is the language of intimacy. Friends share their deepest thoughts, desires and secrets and this is the type of relationship Jesus wants with each one of us. But notice it is conditional; conditional on whether we abide in Him, in His love and keep His commandments and do them. Many people today think God would never ask anything of them, well they are ignorant (explain) of the Scriptures. The Lord Jesus does ask something of those who follow Him and He will not share his heart, his secrets and his wisdom with those who are not spending time in prayer desiring to know and love Him and who do not strive to keep His commandments. The way God works is as we begin to seek Him, He will give us insights into His heart, He will asks some things of us and if we are faithful and obedient He will trust us with more. God begins to build a foundation in our lives, “precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little there a little” (Is.28:13).
Do we want to be His friends? If we do, we must begin to pray each day. The great early church theologian St. Augustine gives a wonderful insight into why God wants us to pray even though He knows our hearts, thoughts and needs. He writes, “…the Lord God does not want to know what we want (for He cannot fail to know it) but wants us rather to exercise our desire through our prayers, so that we may be able to receive what He is preparing to give us.” By praying we exercise and express our desire for God; to know and love Him and to do His will. Just as we need to express our desires to our loved ones; our husbands, wives and friends etc., God want us to express our desire for Him. St. Augustine goes on to say, “His gift is great indeed, but our capacity is too small and limited to receive it.” Prayer expands and makes our hearts receptive to receive the good gifts and graces that God wants to give us. We will continue to look at the wisdom and insights of St. Augustine in prayer as we continue our study of prayer.
I want to conclude today by saying prayer is a discipline. St. Augustine calls it a task. A discipline though can become a habit, and a habit can become a “way of life.” This is where we want to go so that prayer becomes like breathing, we do it automatically and couldn’t imagine a day without praying, spending time with God. If we begin by disciplining ourselves to spend time in prayer each day, it will become a habit and pretty soon it will become a way of life. It is not hard to spend time with someone who is beautiful. I am not speaking of physical beauty. It is not hard to spend time with someone who is loving, kind, generous and compassionate. The Lord Jesus is the most loving, kind, generous and compassionate person there is. How can we not desire to spend time each day with the One who has lavished such love upon us and who indeed is the “fulfillment of all desire.”