By Rev. Fr. Anacletus Ogbunkwu
Wait a moment! But what is prayer? Why worry and waste my time praying? I cant remember Christ ever answering my calls/prayers nor speak to me! When I am distressed I cant remember seeing him around nor hearing him console me yet I pray! I take care of my basic needs and emotions myself! Cant remember him (Christ) playing any role in my life! Evil keeps on the increase while people pray so also does hardship, enmity, human wickedness: man’s inhumanity to man! I cant even see him because he feels so superior and remote from humanity! When, how and why should I then pray?
The fact of our baptism as the second reading reports today makes us debtors to Christ by a common link tied in baptism. Hence a Christian is one who through baptism has become a part of the body of Christ. This link with Christ is chiefly and only possibly sustained by prayer. Thus prayer becomes the umbilical cord tying Christians and Christ like mother and child. Just as the nourishment/feeding and wellbeing of the child in the womb is dependent and highly determined by the mother so also Christians ought to pray in the mind of Christ, as Christ, to Christ, in Christ and through Christ.
For us, prayer is a graced moment when we stop what we’re doing, we put aside the things that preoccupy us and, from deep within ourselves, we reach out for God. It is a moment of communion with God in which our faith embraces him, and we surrender ourselves to him. It’s a response to the love of God whereupon our hearts make a move towards God while our life reflects our heart. Hence prayer is enliven by our life.
This activation, beginning and lure of this activity of the heart (prayer) is only possible by God Himself. Hence it all means we cant even pray if God does not influence and inflame our heart unto prayer. When the disciples observed their Lord in prayer, as Luke records for us in today’s Gospel, they aspired to mimic their master. One of these disciples, unashamed in his desire, approached on behalf of them all, asking if the Lord might help their faltering prayer-life: “Lord teach us to pray”(LK 11:1).
This reminds me of an experience with an elderly monk in a church. He came in and knelt, his hands folded on the pew in front of him, he bowed his head slightly, closed his eyes and didn’t stir a muscle for the next twenty minutes. Around him there seemed to be an atmospheric change. It was as though we were kneeling in a church in Indiana or practicing Yoga and he was kneeling before the throne of God. I, for one, could not take my eyes off him. I was indeed moved to pray too! What would it have been like to see Jesus at prayer? It was not unusual for him to pray alone in the presence of his disciples. Today we are told: ‘Once Jesus was in a certain place, praying, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said, ‘Lord, teach us to pray …’ Lk.11;1
At this request Jesus thought them how to pray. Nevertheless, there has been a long argument whether Jesus by the Lord’s prayer intended giving them a formula of prayer or a guide to prayer since he said ‘when you pray , say, Father, Hallowed be your name….” in spite of this argument, Jesus has given them and ourselves both a formula of prayer and a guide to prayer. Thus he thought them both how to pray and what to say. It should be recorded that the emphasis of Christ on the Lord’s Prayer isn’t more of a formula of prayer than a pattern, structure, context, skeleton of prayer. Thus by this format, he desires that we contour and model our prayers as his. Yes! One would ask, ‘what’s the model of Christ’s prayer’?
The official version adopted by the Church is Matthew’s (Matth 6;8ff) account of the Lord’s prayer, which is longer, more solemn, more harmonious in its seven petitions. Luke’s is shorter, containing only five petitions, but is more direct, more personal. The following table shows their different accounts
Instead of “Our Father who art in heaven,” as in Matthew, it begins with the simple cry “Father!”. By the very introduction of the prayer ‘Father’, though unlike Matthew’s presentation as ‘Our Father’ (Math. 6;9); Jesus declares that God is pleased to be our Father. In telling us to pray like this, the Lord Jesus was leading us, his orphaned people (our orphanage was warranted by the sin of our first parents when God deserted man after creation), back into the reconciling embrace of our Father. Furthermore, by ‘Hallowed be your name’ St. Thomas Aquinas explained that this signifies the purity of the divine goodness; an acknowledgement of divine sanctity. He also makes it known to us that forgiveness from God has a necessary condition; that is our ability to forgive others. Thus in prayers we ask for forgiveness while expressing our willingness to forgive others.
In the first reading Abraham does not want God to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. He pleads for these cities by talking directly to God and asking God to change his plans. But he doesn’t just ask, he is persistent in asking, pushing for more and more mercy each time just as the Lord demanded of us in prayer today. If we look at the two readings a little more closely we may see other parallels as well. In the first reading we have a section of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Sometimes, this story is often used to show that homosexuality is the sin which is so grave in those cities. But that is not the case. The sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is the sin of being inhospitable. For some weeks past, the theme of hospitality as one of the primary virtues of the Mediterraneans has been showcased. Travelers often journeyed late in the evening to avoid the heat of the midday. Travelling was so difficult so much so that hospitality was an imperative. Also the poorer Palestinain house consisted of one room with one little window, the floor was covered with reeds and rushes. Thus it was difficult for a man to get up in the night amidst this tight room when the members of the family are already asleep in the dark night. Imagine this difficult! Yet following the persistence of the friend the other had to wake up and walk out of such room at night to attend to a visitor. I just pray he wouldn’t match on anybody nor injure anyone! It was expected, and people were seen as virtuous who were hospitable. God sent two visitors to test the hospitality of the people, but only one person in the town was hospitable. So in the end, God saved the one person but destroyed the cities. Despite Abraham’s constant petition, nagging and lowering the number of good people he must find someone in order to allow the cities to be saved, he was unable to find even ten hospitable people there. But God kept listening to Abraham, and Abraham did manage to get it down from forty-five to ten.
Children trust their parents to always do what is in the children’s best interest. “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?” (verses 11-12). God’s children should likewise come to God with a spirit of trust and expectancy, knowing that God will always do for them whatever is in their best interest. Children, like the friend at midnight, refuse to take no for an answer. Say no to them and tomorrow they are sure to come back with the very same request. Jesus teaches us, as God’s children, to show the same spirit of perseverance in prayer. He makes this point with the Parable of the Friend at Midnight who refuses to take no for an answer.
The Disciples of Christ teach us today that we should be desirous of prayer. They wanted not only to pray, they wanted to learn to pray well. The first lesson here for you and me is clear – the first requirement for real prayer is to want to pray – desire. Moreso, they teach us that our prayer ought to be within the prayer of Jesus, within the unfolding plan of God. It is also clear that inability to forgive others makes our prayer ineffective. Also placing our priority right is highly essential for our prayer to be effective. You may find this notion a little surprising, even puzzling, but it is possible for us to pray in such a way that our prayer has little or nothing to do with God. Without realizing it we can become so self-absorbed that our horizons shrink and we become entirely focused on our own anxieties and concerns. Then God becomes merely a supermarket or a welfare agency, the handy repository of those things we think we need.
Prayer is an attitude that is translated into action. It is something that requires my full attention, something in which I put my whole heart. Because it comes from the heart, it reaches and touches the heart of God. The organ God gave me with which to pray is my heart, not my mouth. IF THE HEART IS NOT PRAYING, THE TONGUE IS WASTING ITS TIME. Remember the Lord bemoaned such prayers with these words: “These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” If prayer is to change anything at all, it is to change us — to change our minds, to change our attitudes, to change the way we live. Genuine prayer puts us at God’s disposal. It allows us to see what God dreamed we could be when He created us in the first place. Ask yourself what is more real, the self you see, or the self God sees? The self God sees is what we can be, not what we have been, or done, or accomplished. Prayer, in other words, takes hold of God’s presence and gives us power over ourselves, not over God. Prayer gives us the chance to see ourselves in God’s eyes and therefore to live with self-respect, to leave in peace, and to live with the power not only to change ourselves but also the power to heal, love, and free others so they can see themselves in the same Light of God. Prayer liberates us. LORD MAY THE WORDS OF OUR MOUTH AND THE MEDITATIONS OF OUR HEARTS BE ACCEPTABLE IN YOUR SIGHT TODAY.
Join Sunday homily with Rev. Fr. Anacletus Ogbunkwu on www.anacletusogbunkwu.com