17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Fr. Francis)
A young man I was on a retreat with once told this story of prayer: “I was so angry at God because I had asked and asked him to help me stop doing drugs. And then before long I was getting high again. “I was angry at God and I was angry at my parents who told me that God would help me if I asked. And I was angry at my Catholic school teachers who taught me the same thing. I was especially angry one Sunday when I went back to church after a long time and the preacher said that we should be persistent in prayer and not give up. “But I wanted to give up. I could no longer trust God after being seemingly turned down, or worse, ignored, so many times before. And yet a few days later, after another terrible night acting in ways that left me shamed and empty and aching, I got down on my knees one more time. I uttered just two words: ‘God, help!’ “And I felt something. It was an inner click of willingness. Something inside shifted, and trust was born inside me. It only took that moment, and my recovery began. And now I’m glad for every prayer I said along the way. It took all that praying not to change God, but to change me.”
“Father, can you pray for me?” “Please keep me in your prayers?” “I will pray for you.” “Please know that we are praying for you.”
Today we meet Jesus praying in a certain place. And when he had finished his time of prayer, the disciples asked the Lord Jesus to teach them how to pray. This was a common practice for a master or teacher to teach his disciples a common prayer. The common prayer was a sign of relationship with the master. The disciples often learned a prayer and learned how to pray from the master. This is the first thing we learn about prayer today: we can learn to pray, and we need to be taught how to pray.
Prayer is something that we learn how to do. We learn from the Lord Jesus and we learn from his Church. We learn from the Scriptures and we learn from the saints. We learn from our priests and we learn from our Faith Formation teachers. And often, we learn to pray from our mothers on earth who prayed with us to our Father in heaven. We learn to walk. We learn to speak. We learn to read, and we learn to pray. That is the first thing we learn about prayer: we learn to pray.
The second thing that we learn today about prayer is that prayer expresses a relationship. The Lord Jesus invites us to call God our Father. No one had ever suggested that we could address the Lord of Heaven and Earth with a title of such intimacy as “Father.” No one had ever dared to address God as Father until the Lord Jesus did so. And Jesus addressed God as Father, because he is the Son. And the Son of God invites us to call his Father our Father. Our prayer expresses our relationship with God the Father through our relationship with God the Son.
We learn to pray. Our prayer expresses our relationship. Our prayer is humble and persistent. That is the third thing we learn about prayer today: our prayer is humble and persistent. We see Abraham, with humility and persistence, interceding with the Lord for the people of Sodom. Jesus tells us about the friend who persistently asks for food for his guests. Prayer requires humility, because when we pray, we admit our own need.
Admitting our need, The Lord Jesus teaches us to pray with confidence and expectation. However, the Lord is not teaching us that our prayer will be answered in the precise way that we want our prayer to be answered. The Lord Jesus teaches us that God the Father will only give us those things which are for our good and in accord with his will. The Father will not give to us something that will harm us. The Father will not give to us something that will lead us away from him.
We pray with confidence and expectation because we address our prayers to the Father who loves us. We pray with confidence and expectation because we pray to Father with the voice of the Beloved Son. In our baptism we were buried with Christ, raised to life, and united to Him so that our prayers to the Father are offered with his prayer to the Father. We make our prayer to the Father through Christ, and with Christ and in Christ.
Prayer is essential for Christian family life. To remain faithful in marriage, the spouses must pray, not only individually, but together. They must thank God and offer intercessory prayers for each other, for their children and for their dear ones. Daily prayer will help married couples to celebrate and reverence God’s vision of human sexuality and honor life from conception to natural death. Here is St. John Marie Vianney’s advice to a couple: “Spend three minutes praising and thanking God for all you have. Spend three minutes asking God’s pardon for your sins and presenting your needs before Him. Spend three minutes reading the Bible and listening to God in silence. And do this every day.”
The late Jim Reeves titled one of his songs: “Teach me how to pray”. In it, he recounted how his little boy confronted him: “Daddy, you have taught me every other thing, teach me how to pray, so that I can thank God and ask Him to bless you.” This is the request of a humble child, and we must also humble ourselves to learn how to pray and begin to pray.
As we celebrate the Eucharist, we join in the prayer of Christ our High Priest. We allow the Lord Jesus and the Sacred Liturgy of His Church to teach us how to pray. Our humble prayers at this Mass express our relationship with the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. And we offer this sacrifice of praise with confidence and expectation to God the Father who loves us.
Rev Francis Arulappan HGN