The readings this Sunday (17th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C) spoke of prayer and persistence. We heard Abraham bargaining with God over the fate of Sodom & Gomorrah. We heard Jesus tell his disciples to be persistent in prayer and to ask with the confidence of a child approaching a loving parent for something needed.
Our pastor, Fr. Ron Shirley, spoke of prayer in his homily. With his permission, I’d like to share it with you.
July 24th, 2010
I’ve had a very rough week this week and I have found myself spending extra time in prayer. The Gospel this Sunday triggered some things about prayer that I had not thought about for a while, and I would briefly like to share them with you.
The first thing is that it is important that when we pray we must be honest and completely open with God; we must use real words that express how we feel and what is going on in our lives. Our relationship with God should be one place where we can let it all hang out – no safe and appropriate roles to play – no masks to hide behind. In a hospital waiting room, the following scene was observed. A man had been waiting as the doctors and nurses treated his brother. When told that his brother has just died, he yelled and screamed at the Cross on the wall. Family members tried to make him stop, but a wise chaplain in the room simply assured them, “God is big enough to handle it.”
The second thing I was reminded about through the Gospel was that when I say I am too busy to pray (which I do at times), I may really be saying I am afraid to pray. Also, if I am so busy with what I want from God, I may miss what God really has to give me.
The third thing is, if we are to take prayer seriously we must dispel from our minds the notion that it is some kind of magic. Prayer is not an “Aladdin’s Lamp” which, if properly rubbed, will grant our every wish.
A student, rather lazily inclined, noticed that a classmate always recited her Spanish lessons well. One day he asked her, “How is it that you always recite your lessons so perfectly?”
“Before I study,” she told him, “I always pray that I may remember my lessons and repeat them well.”
“Do you?” asked the boy, somewhat surprised. “So that’s her secret method,” he thought. “Well, then, I’ll pray too.”
That night he prayed up a storm, recalling as many prayers as he could remember. However, the next day he could not even repeat one phrase of the lesson. Quite perplexed he looked for his friend, and, finding her, confronted her for being deceitful.
“I prayed,” he told her, “but I could not repeat a single phrase from yesterday’s homework.”
“Perhaps,” she told him, “you took no pains to learn the lesson!”
“Of course not,” said the boy. “I didn’t study at all. I had no reason to study. You told me to pray that I might remember the lesson.”
“There’s your problem,” she said, “I told you I prayed before, not instead of, studying.”
I close with a final thought on prayer: A friend of mine used to drop by his Church every evening around 5 PM, for an hour of meditation before supper. Every evening he noticed the same old man sitting in one of the back pews. The man was always there when he arrived and still there when he left. It began to haunt him.
One evening curiosity got the better of him and he approached the man, greeted him, and hoped he wasn’t praying: “I have seen you here for several months now, and I really admire your constant devotion. But I was wondering . . . I notice that you are always just sitting here quietly, never using a prayer book, Bible, or rosary . . . still obviously praying…I just wondered, when you pray to God, what do you say; what do you talk about?
The old man looked up at my friend calmly and gently: “I don’t talk to God; God talks to me.”
A lot of people think prayer (or meditation or religion or spirituality) is supposed to be like Alka Seltzers in a glass of water: non-stop, bubbly, effervescent, supernatural excitement. Wrong! Sometimes, maybe. But most of the time prayer is like any love relationship: it involves a lot of giving and listening. It’s like learning to talk: first, you have to listen, in the sure peace of God’s presence.