17th Sunday - homily
We’re going to have a little poll today in Church: a survey on prayer. Now, don’t worry, you won’t have to raise your hands. In fact, we’ll go right to the results which are based on conversations I’ve had with many of you since I’ve been at St. Andrew’s. If I were to ask you, “how many of you pray?”, almost all – if not all – of your hands would go up. If I asked you “how many of you pray every day?”, less hands would be raised, but still it would be many. If I asked “how many of you pray every day from your hearts?”, there would be even less hands, but still a good number. It’s usually a question that catches people by surprise. Nevertheless, I have been impressed with how much of a praying community we have here.
Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel to pray. Pray! He says we are to ask, to seek, and to knock. He says we are to ask the Father to send the Spirit. Many of us want to do this, but don’t know how to ask, to seek, to knock, or to ask for the Spirit. Jesus, how do we pray? This is the same question that the disciples ask our Lord. We want to talk to God regularly, but don’t know how.
I think the question of how to pray is the same question of how to talk to a good friend. We don’t need to know how to talk to a good friend; we don’t look up in the “Best Friend’s Guide Book” to find the answer. We just do it! Prayer is the same thing. It’s talking to God from your heart. St. Jose Maria Escriva once said prayer is “to get acquainted” (with God and self). This is what happens when we talk with our best friend; we get to know the other and our self.
So, many of us want to make prayer a habit, but might be afraid to take the first step. We just need to do it! I did this fifteen years ago when I first began to pray. I was helping out at the youth group at St Mark’s in Hyattsville. At that time, St. Mark’s had Perptual Adoration where the Eucharist is exposed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in a chapel. With Perpetual Adoration, someone needs to be there every hour during the day and night. They needed someone from 6-7 am on Thursdays; so, I (foolishly) signed up. It was early!
I drove from Bethesda to Hyattsville every Thursday. I had no idea what I was doing when I went in the chapel. No clue! I had never done Adoration before. I got on my knees, but didn’t know where to look. I looked at the Crucifix, and then started to notice all the lights and candles in the altar area. I finally recognized the Host (in the monstrance), and got it. One of my first prayers there – after 21 years of ignorance about the Real Presence – was, “Jesus, I’m sorry. I didn’t know it was you. All these years, I thought that the Eucharist was just a symbol”. That was the Holy Spirit leading that prayer. I didn’t know how to pray. I just put myself in His Presence, and the Spirit took over. The Spirit shows us how to pray.
Now, some practical suggestions on how to pray. The greatest prayer is what we’re doing right now – the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The next best way to pray is Adoration which we have every Friday night here from 7-8 pm. The people who come love it. It’s great, even if you come in for just a few minutes! We can also pray in our rooms, as Jesus tells us elsewhere in the Gospel. Reading Scripture is a great way to get to know God and us. Finally, going to Jesus through Mary by praying the rosary is an excellent way to pray. We can turn off the car radio and pray a few decades of the rosary, or go for a rosary walk or something. These are all ways for us to make prayer a part of our day, and to men and women of prayer.
Finally, a plea to our parents: please pray for your kids. Every day. I just spent a week in Florida with a couple who are dear friends. Before every meal, they pray Grace, then a Hail Mary for their daughter who died at 28, and then a prayer for their other (grown) children which I will close with. It’s a powerful thing when parents pray for their children, just like Abraham in the first reading; Abraham is our father in faith who is interceding for his children to God. As your spiritual father, I will pray this prayer (of my friends) every day for you:
Lord, look kindly on your children fashioned by you from the womb
Keep fear, trouble, and harm far from them
And when life’s storms come, guide our children to safety
In days to come, give us all faith, hope, and love
And keep us always by your side