Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
Theme: TEACH US TO PRAY
By: Fr. Gerald Musa
Homily for Sunday July 28 2019
There are so many books written about prayer, but perhaps a few teach us how to pray.
Recently, I went to a library which contained a lot of theological books and books for spiritual growth. I was looking for a book on how to pray and could hardly find any. In general libraries we find books on how to do this or that. For example we can easily find books on how to cook, how to speak in public, how to preach or how to write an essay. We all want to be spiritually connected to our creator and we want to know how to pray in order to develop ourselves spiritually. No wonder, the disciples said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples.” It was a normal thing for Rabbis (teachers) to teach their disciples some form of prayer and so the request of the disciples was not out of place.
Jesus did not hesitate to respond to the wish of his disciples and he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation.” This prayer is commonly known as ‘The Lord’s prayer’ or ‘Our Father.’
This prayer is a model of prayers. I have listened and read sermons, which interpret the content of this prayer. One of the explanations I heard many years ago says this prayer is a model because it contains all the elements that should be found in a comprehensive prayer.
First, it contains the act of adoration – sanctification of God’s name (Hallowed be your name); second, it has the humility of contrition (forgive us our sins); thirdly, it expresses thankfulness to God (the entire prayer inspires us towards thanksgiving to God who provides, forgives and saves us from evil). Fourthly, the prayer is a prayer of supplication (petition). Furthermore, some spiritual writers observe six petitions in this prayer. Three of these petitions are related to God: asking that his name be glorified; that his kingdom comes; and that his will be done on earth. The three other petitions directly concern our needs: for daily bread, for forgiveness and for deliverance against evil. These essential elements of prayers are summarised with the acronym ACTS – Adoration, Contrition, Thankfulness and Supplication.
We get frustrated sometimes because our prayers are not yielding the expected results. Long time ago, St. James addressed this question of unfruitful prayers. He explained to his audience, “You do not get what you want, because you do not pray for it. Or if you do, your requests are not granted because you pray from wrong motives, to spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:3). St. Paul teaches that to pray effectively, we have to be in touch with the Holy Spirit who helps us in our weakness (Romans 8:26). No doubt, the Lord’s Prayer provides for us a great template for fruitful prayers. Prayers that yield the best results are:
i) Confident Prayers: It is often said: “It is not our prayers that God hears, but our confidence.” We learn so much from the confidence of Jesus in praying to his Father. For example, he commanded evil spirits to leave; he declared the Lord’s year of favour; he raised his voice to tell Lazarus to come out of the grave. It is also with confidence that we call God ‘Our Father.’ Anthony De Mello tells a story about Abbot Sisoes (leader of a monastery) who heard that one of his disciples Abraham had fallen into the trap of sin. The Abbot confidently rose up to pray and without mincing words he said, “God, whether you like it or not, I shall not leave him alone, unless you heal him.” God answered him immediately because it was a prayer full of faith and confidence.
ii) Persistent Prayers: In the Old Testament, the man of faith, Abraham gives a good example of persistent prayer. Abraham stood as a powerful intercessor for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. God was concerned about their grave sin and was considering whether or not to destroy the people. Abraham said to God, “Will you destroy the righteous with the wicked?” Abraham pleaded with God continuously to spare the people. God patiently listened to the plea of Abraham. In addition, Jesus gives us an illustration of persistent prayers. He gave a parable of someone who went to his friend at midnight to ask for three loaves of bread, which he would offer to his guest who just arrived on a journey and is hungry. The friend shouted at the man in need with several strong complaints: ‘Do not bother me’; ‘the door is now shut and my children are in bed with me; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ The man in need would not take ‘no’ for an answer and he kept knocking until the door was opened. Jesus concluded that persistence made the sleeping man to get up and heed to the request of the person in need. Jesus gave this example to teach his disciples an important point on prayer, which is persistence. He asserted, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened”
Let us continue to ask the Lord to teach us how to pray confidently and consistently. What have you consistently prayed for and you are yet to receive. You may be praying to overcome a challenge, praying to God for the gift of holiness. Two things we need are consistence and persistence (perseverance). Consistence has to do with focusing on the same prayer point and persistence is about praying without ceasing. Jesus also teaches us to be concise: Just say what you mean and mean what you say. Simply go to the point.
In her spiritual encounter, Catherine of Siena records these words of God the Father to her: “It is I who gave you the hunger and the voice with which you call me. Never lower your voice in crying out to me to be merciful to the world. I give to those who ask, and I invite you to ask. And I am very displeased with those who do not knock.” Therefore, in prayer, delay is never denial, so never give up. ‘Those who quit don’t win and those who win don’t quit.
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C; Genesis 18:20-32; Colossians 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13.