Sunday, October 23, 2016
'Lessons in Prayer' (Sunday homily)
If you’re looking for some thread
that links all of today’s readings together,
may I suggest it is “Lessons on Prayer.”
Let’s see what they tell us.
The first lesson – from the first reading –
is that if you want God to hear you, then hear the cry of the poor.
Scripture couldn’t be clearer:
if we stop our ears to those in need around us,
God will stop his ears to us.
Some practical applications: if you’re in school,
chances are there is someone who is smaller,
who might be new, who doesn’t fit in.
Will you stand up for that boy or girl?
As a society, there are lots of ways we hear the cry of the poor.
Our St. Vincent de Paul group is doing a great job
organizing efforts to feed the hungry.
Today you can pick up casserole pans after Mass,
and bring back home-cooked food to go to area soup kitchens.
I took four pans; it’s not that hard;
who else can make four casseroles for the hungry?
But beyond charity are issues of justice.
No one in our society is more poor and abandoned
than the unborn child.
So it’s critical that you and I never stop working
in every way to help them,
by helping their mothers who face terrible difficulties,
by bearing witness, and by working for laws to protect the unborn.
So, again, let me highlight some ways you can help.
Rustic Hope is gathering diapers for mothers,
and on Tuesday, many of us – including me –
will go down to Kettering to bear witness at the abortion facility there.
And in a few weeks, we’ll cast votes
for who will serve in many public offices.
Will the people we elect hear the cry of the weak,
the left out and the forgotten?
The second lesson we can learn about prayer comes from Saint Paul.
And that is to realize that prayer
isn’t about our telling God what to do;
but rather, it’s about us opening our hearts to God’s voice.
I’m not saying you and I shouldn’t pour out our hearts to God.
Look at Paul: he must have prayed for many things
while facing prison and trial and execution.
I imagine he prayed fervently for God to save him from death.
Yet that prayer wasn’t granted.
On the other hand, Paul also prayed
to be a faithful and powerful witness for Jesus Christ.
And that prayer was answered abundantly!
There’s a good reason why the Our Father says, “thy will be done.”
Isn’t that what Jesus said on the night before the Cross:
“not my will, Father, but thine”?
Or, to put it another way,
we recall the beautiful words of the poet Dante:
“In your will is our peace.”
The third lesson we can learn is from the Gospel.
Do we come to God in humility? Do we recognize our true need?
The Pharisee did a good job saying thank you, and that’s good,
but did you notice, he didn’t ask for anything?
Saint Augustine once said that God longs to give us good gifts,
but sometimes, our hands are full, and we aren’t ready to accept them;
we need to lose the things we’re holding onto,
before we can accept what he offers.
When things are going well, it is tempting to forget how needy we are.
If you and I lived in that time,
and we met both the Pharisee and the tax collector,
most of us, I think, would be more comfortable with the Pharisee.
He was respectable, lived an upright life, he followed the rules;
he was a good neighbor. He had it all together.
The tax collector, on the other hand, was a cheat, a thief,
someone who took sides with the Roman oppressors.
He might have had money and power, but he couldn’t be trusted.
These two men couldn’t be more different,
and yet they were equal in having access to God.
They were both able to come into God’s presence and pray.
So why did one go away justified, as Jesus said, and the other did not?
Because one came in humility, in need, and asked for something:
“have mercy!” The Pharisee could have done the same, but did not.
If we want our prayer to be heard, try starting with those words:
“have mercy on me, a sinner.”
And it’s not just words, but a profound recognition: I am a sinner.
I need God in the most fundamental way.
It’s not just that I need this or that thing from God,
and then I’m done; but that I need GOD. I need MERCY.
So, practical advice:
we might find our prayer gets deeper and more real
if we make regular visits to confession; and face our real needs.
Not avoid them; face them. “Have mercy on me, a sinner.”
One final lesson on prayer,
and it comes from the backstory of today’s Gospel.
Did you realize that we’ve heard
Jesus teaching about prayer and perseverance
over the last four Sundays?
These episodes come from the journey Jesus was making,
with the apostles, to Jerusalem.
And along the way, he kept teaching them about prayer.
Why might he have done that?
He knows what lies ahead in Jerusalem: his suffering and death!
He’d told the Apostles, yet they didn’t understand.
But Jesus did. He was preparing them.
Well, Jesus is preparing us, too!
You and I don’t know what crises lie ahead,
whether for ourselves, our community, our country, or our Church.
But lots of storms are brewing.
What can help us weather the storm?
Pray: pray admitting we need God.
Pray not to tell God what to do, but to hear God’s will,
and to accept it.
And remember the poor and needy who pray beside you;
God wants you to be their answer.