Such a Home Is Prayer

(Twenty-Ninth Sunday, Year C)

A few years back we revised the “job descriptions” for our parish staff (administrator, bookkeeper, receptionist, etc). Someone noticed that two people were left out – the parish priests! My parochial vicar, Fr. Pete Peterson, remedied the situation. He made a list of various priestly duties such as celebrating the sacraments, preaching, etc. However, the number one duty surprised some. On the top of the list he wrote: To pray for the people.

For a Christian, especially a priest, prayers should be assumed. However, we sometimes need a reminder. Today Jesus gives a parable about “the necessity to pray always without becoming weary.” (Lk 18:1) He uses the example of a woman who lacks the usual leverage – looks, money, power, husband. The only resource she has is persistence. Jesus tells us, when we pray, to imitate her.

Priests and deacons make a commitment to a regimen of prayer when we are ordained. We accept the obligation to pray the Liturgy of Hours, especially morning and evening prayer, but also office of readings, midday and night prayer. In doing so we strive to dedicate each segment of the day to God by praying certain psalms and meditating on brief scripture passages.

The Presbyterian poet, Kathleen Norris, has written beautifully regarding that rhythm of prayer. She spent time in a monastery and was impressed by “the monks’ ability to maintain a schedule centered on the liturgy of hours.” Speaking about their “submission to liturgical time,” she called it “poetic time, oriented to process rather than productivity.”

A parish priest, even as he chooses among a hundred tasks, must give first place to poetic time. People often say, “Father, please pray for me.” I say I will and do not want it to be a throw-away line. Yet only in recent years have I become more conscientious about recalling specific requests. The more dramatic ones – a sickness, job loss or a child in danger – do stick with me. Others I must write down to remember. Still, I admit that the majority of requests I assume into my times of prayer: for all those I promised to pray for, Lord, please give them what they most urgently require.

At this point someone might ask why pester God with so many requests when he already knows our needs. I would like to offer two reasons. The most obvious is that Jesus has told us to do so. “Ask and you shall receive. Knock and the door shall be opened.” He even proposes as a model the person who drives a public official crazy by her nagging. God evidently has a tender spot for such souls.

C.S. Lewis pointed out a second reason. In a sense, prayer is only one more way God has given us to affect the created world. I could say, “God knows I need salt on my eggs to enjoy them, so why bother picking up the shaker?” But no one says that because we know our participation is required to get results. Although we do not see it so directly (if we did, we would fall into magic) the same holds for prayer. God has ordered the world so that what matters most depends on our prayer.

Thus we must pray constantly. In Priests for the Third Millennium Monsignor Timothy Dolan observes that we have to eat daily, not stock up on food on Monday, then take off the rest of the week. Nor do we take ten deep breaths and say, “Good, that’s over for while, I won’t have to breathe for a couple of hours.” Prayer must become like eating and breathing. Bishop Dolan then gives a powerful quote from Abraham Joshua Heschel. With it I conclude:

“A soul without regular prayer is a soul without a home. Weary, sobbing, the soul, after roaming through a world festering with aimlessness, falsehoods, and absurdities, seeks a moment in which to gather up its scattered life…in which to call for help without being a coward. Such a home is prayer.”

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Spanish Version

From Archives (Homilies for Twenty-Ninth Sunday, Year C):

2016: Boots Laced Week 5: Little People
2013: Focus on Prayer, Part Two: Persistence
2010: Persistent Prayer - The Eucharist
2007: The Manly Task of Intercession
2004: A Significant Battlefront
2001: Such a Home Is Prayer
1998: All Scripture is Inspired

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