HOMILY FOR THE 17TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR C
THEME: Prayer, Vocal Prayer, and Meditation
BY: Fr. Anthony O. Ezeaputa, MA
HOMILY FOR SUNDAY JULY 24 2022
Our gospel reading (Luke 11:1–13) today has two parts. In the first part, the disciples of Jesus come up to him and say, “Lord, teach us how to pray the way John the Baptist taught his disciples how to pray” (Luke 11:1). Then, Jesus teaches them the prayer that has become known by its first two words: “Our Father.” Jesus goes ahead, in the second part, to teach them persistence in prayer through the story of a hungry man who had to feed his hungry friend because he would not allow him to sleep in peace (Luke 11:5-13).
Obviously, prayer, especially about how to pray and persistence in prayer, is the theme that runs through our gospel passage. Prayer is one of those terms that many people know, but when asked to do it, they appear to be at a loss.
In a meeting, I asked someone to lead us in an open prayer, and he paused for a while before responding, “You caught me off guard, Father. Let me do that in our next meeting.” What is the problem? Saint Teresa of Avila can help.
Saint Teresa of Avila understands prayer “as a way of life,” “a journey towards the center, the soul,” and “a hidden life in God,” which has both interior and exterior dimensions. She illustrated the interior and exterior dimensions of prayer with the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 17. The Prophet Elijah’s constant withdrawal to be alone with God was the source of his strength in challenging the evil and worship of false gods in his time.
Furthermore, two evangelical realities throw light on Saint Teresa’s explanation of prayer. The first is Jesus’ frequent and solitary prayers (Matthew 4:1; 14, 23), and the second is Jesus’ advice, “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matthew 6:6).
Consequently, Saint Teresa of Avila defines prayer as “an intimate sharing between two friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.” Prayer for St. Teresa is, indeed, a type of human friendship with God.
To pray is to withdraw from all the busyness of the world and to be alone with God. It is to be in communion, communication, or dialogue with a friend who loves you and wants to listen to you. That friend is Jesus.
“The Lord’s Prayer” is a form of prayer called vocal prayer. Other types of vocal prayers include “Hail Mary,” “Glory Be,” “Memorare,” “We fly to your patronage,” and “Saint Michael the Archangel.” Most of us have, over the years, memorized these prayers.
The issue with vocal prayers, though, is that we have become so accustomed to them that we may not reflect on them as we pray. When we pray aloud, there is a tendency to forget that we are addressing God.
The essential aspect of prayer, according to St. Teresa, is recognizing the abiding presence of God. She calls this reflection or meditation. Meditation or reflection is the entrance door to the spiritual journey of prayer and leads to self-awareness and detachment. Saint Teresa says that people who pray but don’t reflect or meditate about what they are saying are just moving their lips.
Prayer is like communication between two friends. And to have a good conversation with a friend, you require complete involvement and attention. This means that you should listen, make eye contact, use appropriate body language, and let your friend talk without interrupting them.
God wants us to communicate with him through prayer, with complete involvement and attention. It is the absence of this complete attentiveness and involvement in prayer that St. Teresa refers to as only lip movements.
Hence, in lip movements, one claims to be praying without being aware of whom one is communicating with. Meditation or attention to God is, therefore, a necessary ingredient for a good prayer.
Sometimes, we hear people complain that they have prayed for an intention for years, but they haven’t gotten what they asked for. And they ask, “Does it mean that Jesus doesn’t care about their needs?” Jesus loves you and he is interested in your needs. He even says, “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9).
It may be time to evaluate whether or not we have been genuinely communicating with God as a friend in prayer. You may have engaged in lip movement for this long. It is time to begin praying with your whole heart, soul, mind, and everything you have. This is the way of praying that Jesus answers, because prayer is not a lip movement but a conversation with a friend.
Prayer is a journey to the center of the soul, where God dwells. However, because we are human beings, it is normal that when we pray, we will encounter lots of distractions. And these distractions may make us want to give up on prayer. This is where the second part of our gospel passage comes to encourage us to persevere in our prayer life. We must be determined against all odds to persevere in prayer to reach the end, which is the union of our will to God’s will.
Saint Monica prayed for many years for her son Augustine. Even when it was almost impossible for her to continue praying for her son, she did not give up. And God answered her prayers at the perfect time, and today they are both saints.
Let us praise God for the privilege of calling him “Our Father.” Let us, like his disciples, ask him to teach us how to pray, and let us decide to persevere in our prayer life regardless of the distractions and barriers that may arise. Let us recognize that Jesus is our friend with whom we communicate through prayer. Let us resolve to reflect on the words of our prayers, especially on vocal prayers. May Saints Teresa of Avila, Monica, and Augustine pray for us.
Fr. Anthony O. Ezeaputa, MA.
Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time