17ocHomily for Mass – Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

(Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Park Ridge: 8am;  Saint Catherine’s Church, Jimboomba: 5.30pm)

28 July 2013

(Genesis 18:20-32;  Ps 137;  Col 2:12-14;  Lk 11:1-13)

The message I’d like to leave you with today is this: there must be something – some activity – in our life, every day, that if someone asks us, “What are you doing?”, our answer is: “I’m praying!”  It’s my reflection that many of us, for a variety of reasons, have dropped the ball when it comes to prayer.

After Vatican II, we spent a lot of good energy trying to understand and celebrate well, the public prayer of the Church, particularly the Mass.  Because we were focused on that, we probably didn’t say as much about the personal prayer that each baptized person is called to do as part of their sharing in the priestly office of Christ.  We are reminded often through the Gospels, that Jesus spent time, on his own, in prayer to his Father.  This therefore is a central element of someone’s life who is trying to follow Christ.

In recent decades, in the reform of the Liturgy, we sadly lost a number of our “devotions” – our non-liturgical prayer: things like the Rosary, novenas, Benediction, devotions to particular saints.  There was also a bit of an attitude that looked down on “set prayers,” pre-determined formulas of prayer.  This attitude is interesting because when the disciples saw Jesus praying alone, and when they asked him to teach them to pray, Jesus gave them a formula of words to say.  A formula which unites every Christian person in history from the time of Jesus to now and into eternity.

Another attitude that has been common is when we say things like, “I make my work my prayer,” or, “when I walk and see the sunrise or sunset I think of God.”  Now, those are wonderful things.  If we can have a mindfulness of God all through our day, that certainly puts into practice Saint Paul’s injunction to pray always, to pray without ceasing.  If we can see our work as a share in the work of God, that’s as it should be.  But those things do not take away from the fact that – like Jesus – who also thought of God at all times, and who was certainly making his work a prayer – he also took time away/alone in prayer.  In that beautiful reading that we hear every Ash Wednesday, in talking about prayer Jesus says we are to go to our private room, close the door, and pray to the God who sees everything that is done in secret.

I have witnessed people’s lives change when they pray.  One of the things that happens constantly at World Youth Day – or when someone goes on a retreat – is that perhaps for the first time they actually make a personal connection with God.  They might have been to Mass all their lives, been to a Catholic school – but it never became personal.  And then when they’re in this “retreat” situation, away from their normal distractions and occupations, God touches their hearts.  A conversion happens.  The reverse is also just as true.  It is just as possible to see what happens to someone when they stop praying.

Today we need to ask the Lord – with the disciples – “Lord, teach us to pray!”  We need to be convinced that there is, in the life of the baptized person, no substitute for some time of personal prayer every day.  How long that prayer time is is a bit irrelevant.  All sorts of factors will come in there.  Some people will make a holy hour, or twenty minutes;  but five minutes of time given for God alone each day is just as valuable.  The point is: that we do it.  That we actually, consciously, stop doing other normal things, and enter into a conversation with God.  A good place to start is with the prayer that Jesus gave us;  we can be assisted in the dialogue with God’s word in the scriptures.  But that point is that we actively create a “moment” for speaking and listening to God;  a moment that becomes a symbol and sign of our whole life which should be about speaking and listening to God.

It has been said that there are only two things necessary for prayer: love, and the formation of a habit (1).  God’s love for us and our love for God should lead us to want to give some time in our day for God alone;  and then we build up that love – as in any relationship – by making a regular habit of setting some time in each day for God alone.

When it comes to prayer, what matters most is “practice, persistence, and faithfulness” – the very attitudes that Jesus commends in the Gospel today.  We persevere in prayer because it’s through prayer that God works on us, that God changes our hearts;  that God increases our love for His Name above all other names;  that God helps us to grow in love of his will and the desire to live that will on earth as it is lived in heaven;  that God nudges us to make the reality of the kingdom of heaven a reality here on earth, by living his ways of mercy, forgiveness, peacefulness, non-violence.

Our habit of daily, personal prayer, becomes then the living heart of all our other expressions of prayer: our mindfulness of God through the day and through our work;  our family prayer times;  our prayer times with others, and especially our formal liturgical prayer as a Church community.  For without the living heart of personal prayer, all these other expressions can easily become detached and meaningless.

Lord, teach us to pray, as you taught the first disciples!  May we love You above all things, and grow each day in that living love!

+ + +

(1)  Aidan Nichols, OP, Year of the Lord’s Favour: A Homiliary for the Roman Liturgy, Volume 3, The Temporal Cycle: Sundays through the Year.