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"Prayer"
Homily of October 21, 2007
by Fr. Brian Timoney



The description of Moses praying that we had in our first reading
from Exodus, it’s interesting because it demonstrates the posture
for prayer that was prevalent in those days. And the early
Christians, most of whom of course were Jews, carried on the same
posture for prayer. We find it in the catacombs in Rome, those
underground places where the early Christians used to take refuge.
There are paintings on the walls, and some of the paintings depict
people in prayer. It shows them standing up, not kneeling down,
standing up with their hands raised. This was the posture for prayer
that was common in the very earliest days of the Church, and that is
described here with Moses. Moses, we are told, was there all day
praying. So he got tired, and I guess a little bit sleepy, whatever,
and his hands were coming down. So his two friends held up his hands,
so that his prayers would be heard.

Have any of you ever fallen asleep trying to say your prayers? You
know, the Society of Prayer Sleepers is more numerous than we might
think. I recall that, every year, in the seminary, we had what was
called the “Forty Hours Devotion.” Some of you will remember that,
the Forty Hours Devotion, when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed on
the altar in the monstrance, and then you kneel in adoration for an
hour or so in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Well, we
seminarians used to have to take turns, two by two, and spend an hour
in prayer and adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. So you can
picture me and a companion at two o’clock in the morning, TWO O’CLOCK
IN THE MORNING, wide awake. No, far from it! Far from it! Dozing
off.... dozing off, and then hearing my companion go, “Huh humm, huh
humm....” trying to wake me up. St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little
Flower, as she is called, used to fall asleep in Chapel. And the nun
beside her would give her a nudge to wake her up, and, one day,
confronted her with this fact that she was falling asleep. Therese
answered, “God loves his children when they are asleep just as much
as when they are awake.” I think you parents can relate to that.
Can’t you?

You see, the important thing is to keep up our prayer life. It’s not
really important if we are good at it, whatever that might mean. Why
is it so important? We need a relationship with God. We know well our
human weaknesses and hopefully we recognize, as the Twelve Step
Programs insist, we recognize that we need a higher power in our
lives that will give us the strength to become more mature,
responsible human beings. And to have a relationship with God, we
need to communicate. We need to talk to God. We need to listen to
God. In other words, we need to pray. For any relationship to be
good, and I am sure you understand this very well, if it’s to be a
good sound, nurturing relationship, there has to be communication,
honest, open communication. And it must be frequent and regular. And
that is what we mean when we speak about prayer. It’s conversation,
communication with God that is frequent and regular.

I guess for most of us the word “prayer” brings to mind, first and
foremost, a prayer of petition, asking for things, now certainly a
very common and important part of prayer. But it’s only one of many
forms of prayer. We have vocal prayer where we use words. You can
hear the words, or we can say the words. And then we have what is
called mental prayer or meditation where there are really no words,
but we’re just in the presence of God and reflecting on God and
reflecting on our own lives. And then there is prayer of praise,
prayer of thanksgiving, prayer of adoration, prayer of remembrance.
I’d like to suggest that you listen very carefully to the form of
prayer that we have in the Mass. The Mass is really a template of
what our prayer should be. We begin, for example, with a prayer of
repentence. And then there is a praise of God in the Gloria. There is
a profession of faith. There is then, at the very heart of the Mass,
the Eucharistic Prayer, as we call it. There is a prayer of recalling
God’s wonderful works down through the ages, culminating in the life
and the death and the resurrection of Jesus himself. And then we go
on to ask God, who has given us all these wonderful gifts and
blessings, we ask God to continue his blessing on us, on the Church
in general, and indeed on all of human kind. The Prayer of the
Church that we have in the Mass takes us beyond our individual
selves, our individual needs to really have a broader embrace of all
of God’s creatures, all of those who are united with a caring God, a
forgiving God, a loving God. So it broadens our prayer, takes us out
of ourselves and helps us to understand the needs of the whole world.

Now, the thrust of the readings, both from the Book of Genesis and
from the gospel that we had today, the thrust of these passages is
perseverance in prayer. And the clear implication is that if we
persevere in prayer our prayer will be heard. It will be granted. Is
that your experience? It’s not mine. I have many times prayed for
things and I certainly did not get what I was asking, not in the
precise way that I wanted. My prayer was not heard. For example, we
come here Sunday after Sunday and we have a list of sick people that
we pray for. Not all of them are healed. We storm heaven with our
pleas for peace, but violence continues to rock our world. We ask
ourselves then, “Is God deaf?” or “Is there something wrong with my
prayer?” Neither....neither. But I think that, first of all, we have
to be realistic, really realistic, and remember that sickness
happens. It’s natural to our human state. We will all, one day, die.
Accidents happen. Nature is not always calm and predictable, as we
would like it to be. And we humans do have a vicious tendency to fight.

So, what do I believe, that prayer is useless, that it’s a waste of
time and effort? Certainly not! Far from it! I believe that, although
God may not answer every single prayer the way that I want, God does
answer persistent prayer in a way that’s going to be helpful to me.
And I think that this belief of mine finds validation in the gospels.
Remember Jesus saying once, “If then you, who are evil, know how to
give good things to your children, how much more will your heavenly
Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask!” The Holy Spirit,
given as a source of guidance, as a source of resilience and
strength, and as a consolation, and what more do we really need in
life? Guidance, resilience, strength, consolation. The Holy Spirit is
going to get us through life, and surely that is the ultimate answer
to all of our prayers. Amen.