Sunday, October 20, 2013


A special series starting this week...and a bonus feature: you can even listen to me preach...

   Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time    


On Prayer 
Part I:  Preparing to Pray

Friday night, I went to a friend’s birthday party.
Our hosts have a two-year-old son—Liam—
who provided us with constant entertainment:
he sings; he dances; he tells jokes.
It doesn’t hurt, of course,
that with a head covered in blond curls,
he’s cute as a button.
But beyond his showmanship,
I was just as enthralled to watch how this tike
interacts with his dad.
“Dad, come play with me!” (That request was frequent.)
“Dad, I need to blow my nose!”
“No, Dad, I’m not tired!”
Liam never tired of letting his father know
just what was on his young mind.
And Liam’s father never tired of hearing from his son.
The boy had complete trust in making his every request.
He might not always get what he wants,
but he has faith that whatever he’s going to get
is going to be good.

Over the past few months,
our parish Pastoral Council has been reading a book together
and discussing a chapter or two
at the beginning of each meeting.
One of the very first chapters was on prayer,
and a lively conversation ensued.
It was a common concern that prayer
is something we Catholics often take for granted.
We know we’re supposed to do it,
but many of us aren’t exactly sure how…
…and we worry about getting it wrong.
As a result, the Council asked if Fr. Tom and I
might do a little focused preaching on prayer.
And so this Sunday,
we’re starting a three-part series on the subject:
            I. Preparing to Pray;
            II. How to Pray; and
            III. Why We Pray.

Jesus teaches us this Sunday
about the necessity “to pray always without becoming weary.”
The parable he tells is equally a lesson about the fact
that God never becomes weary of our prayers.
If an unjust judge will eventually do what’s right
in favor of an annoying widow,
how much more our Father in heaven—
in a way surpassing even Liam’s very attentive dad—
must love us, and want what is best for us,
and delight in hearing from us over and over and over again!

St. John Vianney put it so well:
“Our dear God loves to be bothered.”

For us grown-ups who’ve lost much of our childlike spontaneity,
“to pray always without becoming weary”
isn’t our natural inclination,
so a little discipline is needed.
When it comes to preparing to pray—
to setting the stage to regularly bother God—
I can think of five simple steps that I hope you’ll find helpful.

Step 1: Make a decision.
“To pray always without becoming weary”
requires a commitment.
The vast majority of Catholics pray pretty sporadically—
when the mood hits or when crisis strikes.
But is it enough to pray just when you feel like praying?
“The most important part of praying correctly 
is doing it regularly.…
The soul lives on prayer.”  (R. Guardini)
And experience has proven the sad truth:
“Someone who does not pray regularly
will soon not pray at all.”  (YouCat #499)
Commit yourself to praying every day—
particularly, at the start of the day,
when your mind is still clear
and to get things off on the right foot.
Make a decision.

Step 2: Be faithful.
Getting in a regular habit of prayer takes a little work.
Beginners often get distracted or discouraged.
Usually, their biggest mistake is aiming too high.
Start small.
Set a manageable goal, and build up from there.
And even though you struggle,
even though it sometimes seems like it doesn’t help,
be patient and stick with it.
Remember: “Prayer is not a microwave. 
Prayer is a crock-pot.”  (R. Guarendi)
Make a decision.  Be faithful.

Step 3: Make time.
If prayer is going to be a daily practice,
then we have to make it a real priority.
From the very beginning,
Christians have prayed at set moments during the day—
in the morning, before bed, at meals.
Prayer asks us to schedule a regular time—
and it ought to be truly valuable time, not just “spare” time.
We don’t find time but make time to pray.
“But I’m so busy, Father!”
I know.
Here’s what St. Francis de Sales had to say to that objection:
“Each Christian needs half an hour of prayer each day,
except when we are busy; then we need an hour.”
Keep in mind that the more generous you are toward God,
the more generous you’ll find 
that God is with you. (cf. St. Ignatius of Loyola)
Make a decision.  Be faithful.  Make time.

Step 4: Have a plan.
Once you have some quality time set aside—
even if it’s only five or ten minutes to start—
you need to know what you’re going to do with it.
So find the right place—in your home, outdoors, in church.

Then consider your posture: 
standing, sitting, walking, kneeling.
And develop a routine for your prayer—
a set pattern, a ritual—
to which you return again each day.
Your prayer might take the form of daily Mass or the Rosary;
maybe it’ll be reading from the Bible or a devotional book.
It will probably take some trial and error, 
but try different things until you find one that fits.
Just keep trying, and don’t give up.
Make a decision.  Be faithful.  Make time.  Have a plan.

Step 5: Let God speak.
Part of our plan must always be to leave some room for silence.
We need to speak up when we pray,
but we also need to listen.
Our God is not distant.
Rather, God longs to be our personal friend, guide, and advisor.
Unlike a human parent,
our heavenly Father can give each and every one of us
his complete and undivided attention.
God is keenly interested in you and all that’s going on in your life.
So be listening for his voice.
Have faith that he only wants what is best for you,
and believe that discovering his will and then doing it
is the only real path to happiness.
The true value of praying “always without becoming weary”
is not that God will eventually hear us,
but that we will finally hear God.  (cf. W. McGill)
Make a decision.  Be faithful.  Make time.  
Have a plan.  Let God speak.

In the course of Friday’s birthday party,
a plate of food was prepared for little Liam.
After he was given his place at the table,
all he did was stare at it.
“You need to eat, Liam,” said his mom.
“But we no pray,” he answered.
So we all stopped and together made the Sign of the Cross.
But before we could say, “Bless us, O Lord…”
Liam added, “And turn off the music!”
Then we prayed, Liam shouted, “Amen!”
and dug into his dinner.
Even at two-years-old, Liam gets it!
A decision had been made and he was faithful to it;
time was set aside and he had a plan for it;
he even recognized the need for some silence.

Since Liam can do it, so can—so must—we!

Is prayer enough? Is it the whole of the Christian life?
Of course not.
But it is essential.
And—really—it’s where it all begins.

Prepare to regularly bother your heavenly Father.
Pray without becoming weary,
for God never wearies of hearing from you.


Anonymous said...

I knew, as I was reading your homily, exactly which Liam you were talking about. He is the sweetest little boy, and they are an incredible family.

Fr. Joe said...