July 24, 2016 — Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
There is no question that prayer is at the heart of this week’s readings. We understand that prayer is foundational to our faith and the practice of it. Jesus, though the Son of God and One with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is referenced as praying consistently. How many times do passages in Holy Scripture open with a statement like that in today’s Gospel from St. Luke: “Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples’.”
Prayer is what we consider to be one of the Four Pillars of Stewardship (along with hospitality, formation, and service). We may find it puzzling that Jesus prayed so often. First and foremost, He was setting an example for His followers and for us. Jesus’ human nature (He calls Himself often the Son of Man to remind all that He was human as well as God.) certainly sought solace and comfort from His Father God.
In our First Reading from the Book of Genesis it is pointed out that Abraham came nearer to the Lord. One of the best ways for us to be with and to be near God is through prayer. Abraham understood that. As is the case in this reading about Sodom and Gomorrah, prayer is a two way street. We pray to God, but we must learn to listen to Him in return. Abraham’s prayer is answered in effect when the Lord replies that if He were to find even a small number of holy prayerful people in the cities He would not destroy them. Prayer indicates that we know Who God is. Prayer, however, is not passive, but it encourages us to be active. The famous quote from St. Augustine indicates the active nature of prayer. He said, “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.”
St. Paul was aware that the Colossians were hearing many opinions as to what it meant to be a Christian and a follower of Christ. His letter to the Colossians, from where our Second Reading is drawn, addresses those issues. Paul emphasizes our oneness with the Lord and how we must strive for that. That is achieved in large part through prayer. It is through prayer that we come to the full realization of what the Lord has done for us. As Paul writes, “You were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God.”
Think of how often Jesus’ apostles and followers witnessed Him praying. There was most likely something about watching Him pray that made them want to learn to pray in the same way, a magnetism that was unique. Thus the appeal, “Lord, teach us to pray.” We need Jesus to teach us to pray as well. It is a fascinating aspect of prayer that even a young child can pray, but also the holiest people we may know or experience are still working at mastering prayer.
At no point in Scripture did the Lord say specifically “This is how you preach,” although He provided many examples of that. In Today’s Gospel, however, He says, in effect, “This is how you pray.” The key to that statement is that talking to others is important, but talking to God is the ultimate. Today’s Gospel includes what we call the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father, a prayer that we may say more often as individuals and as a community than any other.
The beauty of the Our Father is its simplicity and its succinctness. Prayer does not have to be complex or lengthy, but it does need to be direct and heartfelt. The Our Father is a powerful prayer put in simple terms. It is through prayer that we truly experience God. It is through prayer that we develop our close relationship with God. St. Charles Borromeo said, “We must pray before, during, and after everything we do. The prophet says, ‘I will pray, and then I will understand.’ This is the way we can easily overcome the countless difficulties we face day after day, which, after all, are part of our work. In prayer we find strength to bring Christ to birth in ourselves and in others.