The Catechism, which contains Jesus' teaching for modern man, stands on four pillars: the Apostles’ Creed, the Seven Sacraments, the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. These four have such profundity a theologian could spend his life studying them. At the same time, I knew campesinos in Peru who learned them by heart and could explain how they applied to themselves and their families.
In today’s Gospel Jesus establishes the fourth pillar. When the apostles ask for instructions on prayer, he replies, "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name…” My goal this Sunday is not to explain the seven petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. I encourage you to read (or re-read) what the Catechism says about them. I promise you will discover something you had not considered before and it will help you appreciate this universal Christian prayer.
What I would like to do this morning is help you understand what prayer is. Today’s Gospel follows immediately upon Jesus’ praise of Mary for choosing the “better part.” In the subsequent verse we see Jesus himself “praying in a certain place.” (Lk 11:1)
At first glance it seems our prayer must be very different from that of Jesus. He, after all, is the only Son of God. His prayer is a direct communication with the Father who begot him. In contrast, we are weak, sinful, distracted. Yet in essence our prayer is the same. This might surprise you, but prayer is God speaking to God – or it is nothing. St. Paul tells us plainly in his letter to the Romans. “We do not know how to pray.” The Holy Spirit prays in us “with groanings that cannot be expressed in speech.” (8:26)
When a journalist asked the pope how he prays, he responded: “The pope prays as the Holy Spirit allows him to pray.” I talked to a priest privileged to attend morning meditation at the Vatican chapel. At first, he said it was very disconcerting, because the Holy Father emits groaning sounds when praying. But shortly, the priest got used to it and was quite moved by the profundity of his prayer. You and I do not come to God with such huge burdens as the pope, but our prayer is the same: the Holy Spirit taking us through Jesus to the Father.
While the essence of prayer is ineffable because it involves participation in the Trinity, it is for us a human experience. The Catechism begins it's exposition of prayer with this quote from St. Therese of Lisieux:
“For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.”
The Catechism then adds this classic definition: "Prayer is the raising of one's mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God." (#2559)
Before we can pray, we must recognize our need. Last Sunday after giving the homily mentioning embryonic stem-cell research, some people came to ask what they could do. It often seems hopeless when you consider how much our media, educational system, even medicine and government are given over to the culture of death. Yet we possess a resource we have barely begun to employ. Have you noticed how Jesus sometimes spent whole nights in prayer? Here at Holy Family we hold great power because day and night someone is always in our adoration chapel before the Blessed Sacrament.
Prayer is a sine qua non because of the death culture that surround us. But we do not need to look as far as the New York Times or Planned Parenthood to recognize a powerful opponent. Inside you and me are forces of acquiescence. Think about the citizens of Germany in the 30’s or Americans in the first half of the nineteenth century. It was easy to ignore unpleasant details like slavery or anti-Semitism. Jobs, prosperity abounded; progress seemed unstoppable. But there is always a price when humans treat others as things.
In today’s first reading Abraham prayed for the doomed city. In spite of God’s patience, they were unable to find even ten people not implicated in the sin of the Sodomites. An object lesson and a strong motive to come to Jesus with the request, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
From Archives (17th Sunday, Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (Report on School Renovation; What to Do with Frozen Embryos)
Stem Cell Research: Why the Controversy?
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Seattle Columnist Joel Connelly Responds to Anti-Catholic Stereotyping: "On issues from AIDS to stem cell research, Catholic teaching and 'the Vatican' get described as medieval obstacles to 21st century progress. Archbishop Alex Brunett is wondering whose agenda and what purpose is being served."
Germaine Greer on Birth Control
St. Mary of the Valley Album
(July of 2010)
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
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Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
(new, professional website)
KRA's & SMART Goals (updated June 2013)
A Homilist's Prayer