Monday, 14 October 2013

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Exodus 17:8-13; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2; Luke 18:1-8

Jesus himself gives us the theme of today’s Gospel when he tells his disciples a parable: about the need to pray continually and never lose heart. Persistence and hope are the qualities of good Christian prayer.

Do you believe in prayer?
Of course, I believe in prayer.
What sort of prayer? Grace before meals? Morning prayer? Night prayer?

It seems to me that the place of prayer in the life of a Christian is determined by the extent to which he has discovered in himself a need for prayer. Grace before meals can often be a habit learnt in the family, something similar to eating with a knife and fork. This kind of prayer runs the risk of being a mere formality. The same can be said for morning or night prayer; as commendable and necessary as they are, they can sometimes be little more than a hasty repetition of rote prayers which fail to engage the heart or mind.

The need for prayer (have you felt it?), which drives the disciple to reach out to the Lord from his own centre, produces a different kind of prayer altogether – and so the history of our prayer life will be the history of our desire for communion with God.

...the history of our desire for communion with God.

A young man who had lived an immensely, shall we say ‘interesting’ life, happened to sit next to me at a food hall in a Sydney food mart. My roman collar made him feel free to introduce himself and soon we were in serious conversation. He had with him a bible and he wore a decade-of-the-Rosary bracelet round his wrist.

He spoke to me of his conversion and it wasn’t long before we were speaking of prayer. In fact, the movement from repentance to prayer was instantaneous. It always is. The moment of turning from sin (self) to God is always the birth of the desire for prayer.

Of course, it was the Sacrament of Reconciliation which was the first step back into the Church, and then the Mass; he was going every day, as once he had offended God every day. But it wasn’t enough. Now he felt the need to say the Rosary every day, and to read the bible. He asked me to pray for him with really touching sincerity and urgency.

The strength of our desire for communion with God will determine the quality of our prayer life – or in other words – our desire for God drives our prayer. Or again, more bluntly still – If  an individual does not desire God he will not pray.

What impressed me about this young man was his newfound desire to come to know the God he had so long ignored and so often offended. This is why he was reading the bible. I couldn’t help but notice once again that deep attraction to the scriptures which so often takes hold of so many of the newly converted. They instinctively know that here, in the sacred pages of scripture, they will find the one who has called them and whose face they long to see.

At its heart all real prayer is an expression of our desire to draw near to and be pleasing to God; surely this is our highest goal and the fulfilment of our deepest longings. For this reason all prayer must have as its foundation a readiness to know and to surrender to God’s will. The unjust judge was badgered into giving the widow ‘what she wants’ but God only promises to give ‘good things (Mt 7:11)’ to those who ask. God will see ‘justice done to his chosen who cry to him day and night’ but it will be his justice. If he delays it is only so that his ‘good things’ and his ‘justice’ may come at precisely the right time.

Much of our prayer, especially the prayer that comes out of a need for things other than communion with God, is an attempt, however well meant or subtle, to somehow change God’s mind about something or other. This kind of prayer is usually very talkative.

How different is this prayer from the kind that begs God to change our minds; the prayer that seeks to know his will. This prayer is characterised by listening.

Last week I spoke of the words used by my doctor: Let us wait until the symptoms declare themselves more fully. We live in a world in which the symptoms of the absence of real longing for God, and consequently real prayer, are all too obvious, frighteningly obvious.

The world seems to be heading towards a precipice from which it will not easily be rescued. I said earlier that, at its heart all real prayer is an expression of our desire to draw near to and be pleasing to God. It is only those who are near to God, who are pleasing to God, who will restore peace and harmony to this world, whose prayer will be answered.

So let us recall the words of the Collect of today’s Mass: Almighty ever-living God, grant that we may always conform our will to yours and serve your majesty in sincerity of heart.

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