Fr. Mark's Homily - October 31, 2010
Prayer – Growing in Prayer
In our second reading today we hear St. Paul tell the Christians at Thessalonica that, “we always pray for you.” At the end of his first letter to the Thessalonians he exhorts them to, “pray without ceasing”(1Thess.5:17). For St. Paul, prayer was a way of life, he lived what he taught. We continue to look at prayer which is foundational to our lives as Christians. Jesus Christ is the centerpiece and goal of human history, therefore to understand the meaning of history and the meaning and purpose of our lives we must get to know Jesus Christ. The way that happens is through prayer. To do a quick review we have learned that there is a battle to pray. We fight against the tempter (Satan) who will do everything he can to prevent us from praying for he knows prayer brings people into deep union with God, prayer brings people into the light of God’s truth(holiness), it strengthens the will to resist sin, prayer weakens and will eventually destroy Satan’s power in people’s lives and finally, prayer will bring others to salvation in Christ. Secondly, we fight against ourselves, our own pride in that we want to be self-sufficient. To pray requires us to humble ourselves and acknowledge that the source of our very existence, all that we are and all that we have accomplished is God. We fight against the false mentality of the world that to be of value we must be doing something that can be measured and seen by some human standard. In the battle of prayer we fight against comfort and worldly pleasure which can distract us and prevent us from praying.
Last week we saw that pray is lifting our mind and hearts to God. It involves the mind (intellect) and our hearts, the core of our being – the place of decision, truth and the place where God communes with us, deep calling to deep (Ps. 42:8). Prayer is the path to holiness. Holiness involves an inward transformation in two things: 1) the renewal of our minds and 2) the transformation of our hearts, so that we can begin to reflect the image of Christ (Col.3:10). Prayer is a gift and a determined response on our part. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is our response to God’s thirst of us (CCC#2560). On the Cross Jesus said, “I thirst” (Jn. 19:28). Jesus revealed to St. Faustina that His thirst was for souls. God is always the initiator in our relationship with Him – He is the One who seeks us out- He ordains the circumstances of our lives so that we will respond with our free-will to His love for us. Prayer is how we have a personal relationship with the living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Just as human relationships require time, attention and care in order to grow, the same is true of our relationship with God. Prayer is responding to the One who created us in love, who has redeemed us and Who desires to know us individually in deep, intimate relationship. All the saints speak of the power and the simplicity of prayer. St. Therese of Lisieux says this about prayer, “How great is the power of prayer…I say simply to God that which I wish to say, without composing difficult sentences and He always understands me…prayer is something great and supernatural, which expands my soul and unites me to Jesus.” What St. Therese says is the same thing that St. Augustine taught, and that is, that we are so limited in our capacity to receive the good gifts and graces God wants to give us – prayer opens and expands our hearts so we will become receptive and able to receive them. Lastly, we pray not because God does not know our hearts, or our thoughts or our needs, but we pray to express our desire to know and love God. God wants us to express our desires to Him just as we do in human relationship to those we love.
Today, I would like to give us a model for a structured time of prayer. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says what the saints have always taught, “We cannot pray at all times if we do not pray at a specific time, consciously willing it” (CCC#2697). We are called to stay in a state of union with God throughout our day in the midst of our daily activities and we cannot do that unless we have a specific time which we pray. St. Ignatius of Loyola offers us a seven step guide to having a time of prayer:
• First, acknowledge that we are in the Presence of God. God is near. Ask the Holy Spirit within us to assist us in prayer. It is the Spirit who assists and makes intercession for us (Rom. 8:27; 1Cor. 2:10-16).). We most often do not know how to pray and what to ask for. We need to call on the Holy Spirit and He will help us pray according to the will of God. For it is the Spirit who reveals the mind of God to us. A simple prayer to start our time of prayer is , “Come Holy Spirit.”
• Begin by giving thanks and praise to God for His love, His good gifts and blessings and for saving and redeeming us in Christ. Ask the Lord to help us pay attention to Him and open us up to hear His Word (s), to what He wants to say to us.
• Pick out a passage of Scripture, a scene from the Gospel, a mystery of the Faith (Trinity, the passion, resurrection, some aspect of Christ’s life or the life of Mary etc.) and begin to mediate on it. St. Jerome once said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Prayer begins with our effort in mediation on some aspect of our faith and then God begins to give us inspirations into what we are meditating on. For instance, we may begin to mediate on the passion and death of the Lord and then you may become overwhelmed with how great God’s love is for us and perhaps we then feel sorrow for our sins. Or as we mediate God drops into our mind an insight or revelation of His truth that we had never thought of before or grasped. As we show our desire to know, love and understand God, He responds by revealing more of Himself to us and showing us what we need to do so He can inhabit more of our hearts and minds. We should keep in mind the primary purpose of our time of prayer is not study but to grow in love for God, in virtue (holiness) and the life of discipleship.
• As affections rise up such as gratitude to God for His mercy, awe of His greatness, majesty, holiness and love, sorrow for sin, a desire to be more faithful, a sense of God’s peace or joy, a renewed sense of hope - yield to them
• As a result of the inspirations/movements/promptings of the Holy Spirit in our prayer time come to some practical resolution or action we will take in response. For example, we may resolve to be more faithful in prayer, to be more charitable and generous with our resources, to watch our tongues and how and what we say to people, resolve to be obedient and honour parents, to be more diligent and faithful to our work or studies, more determined to resist sin and go to Confession, to be willing to forgive or to get involved in a program, ministry in the parish that we sense the Lord is calling us to. Out of our time of prayer should come some practical actions in response to the movement/inspiration/prompting of the Holy Spirit.
• At this point we turn to a time of intercession for the needs of others and our needs. We should pray for others first as it is an expression of selflessness which we are called to follow as Christ’s disciples. We can pray for the needs of others in such areas as health, strength, comfort, gainful employment, protection, ability to forgive, reconciliation etc. The greatest thing in terms of our intercession for others is to pray for the salvation of souls; that others would come to know God’s love, forgiveness and healing through Jesus Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer. We should also pray that after coming to know God through the Lord Jesus that they may grow in the light of God’s truth and be built up and rooted in Christ. After praying for the needs of others we should present our needs to the Lord who tells we should come to Him will all our needs, concerns and burdens for He cares for us.
• Finally, we give thanks once again to God for His inspirations/affections/promptings in our prayer time and any illumination of truth that He has given us. We should thank Him for hearing and answering our prayers, according to His perfect will in His time and way. We can then offer ourselves once again to Him in all that we are; offer our lives in union with Jesus to the Father as He offered His life perfectly to the Father.
This is one simple model for a specific time of prayer. You can see how quickly 20 minutes would go by using this model. The time of day we pray will be specific to all of us depending on our state of life and our personalities – for some of us the morning is the best time of day, for others it is the evening. For some lunch time may be the best time to have quiet time with the Lord. It will be different for each of us but we all need that specific time of quiet prayer each day. Prayer begins as discipline, becomes a habit and then a way of life. Next week we will look at, “Hearing God’s Voice.”