17th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C ~ July 24, 2022
Prayer Opens our Hearts
Once St. Teresa of Calcutta said, “Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of Containing God’s gift of himself.” And I do believe in it because prayer changes our lives and brings us closer to the Lord “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” as St. Paul says in the Letter to the Romans (8:26-27). If you look at the Sacred Scriptures and the life of the saints, we can see the importance of prayer. Even in the life of Jesus though he was Son of God, still he loved to pray.
St. Ignatius of Antioch encourages us to be united in love and prayer because Jesus Christ dwells within us. “Let us not be insensible of Christ’s loving kindness. For if he had acted as we do, we would have been lost indeed. Therefore, let us become his disciples and learn to live in the Christian way; those who are called by any other name are not of God. Cast out the evil leaven that has become old and sour, and replace it with the new leaven, which is Jesus Christ. He must be the salt of your lives, so that none of you may become corrupt, since it is by your wholesomeness that you will be judged. It is absurd to profess Christ with the lips and at the same time to practice Judaism; for Christianity did not develop into faith in Judaism, but Judaism into faith in Christianity. It was in this that men of every tongue believed and were brought together unto God. I do not write this to you, my dear friends, because I have heard that any one of you is thus disaffected, but because, though I am a lesser man than yourselves, I would have you all guard against falling into the snares of false doctrine. Have a firm faith in the reality of the Lord’s birth, and passion and resurrection which took place when Pontius Pilate was procurator. All these deeds were truly and certainly accomplished by Jesus Christ, who is our hope; may none of you ever be turned away from him! May you be my joy in all things if I am worthy of it. For although I am in chains, I do not deserve to be compared with any of you who live in freedom. I know that you are not inflated with pride, for you have Jesus Christ within you. And I know that you blush when I praise you, as the scripture says: The just man is his own accuser. Take care, then, to be firmly grounded in the teachings of the Lord and his apostles so that you may prosper in all your doings both in body and in soul, in faith and in love, in the Son, and in the Father and in the Spirit, in the beginning and in the end, along with your most worthy bishop and his spiritual crown, your presbyters, and with the deacons, who are men of God. Be obedient to the bishop and to one another, as Jesus Christ was in the flesh to the Father, and the apostles to Christ and to the Father and to the Spirit, so that there may be unity in flesh and spirit.
I firmly believe that whenever we pray either individually or collectively, we not only pray for ourselves but also for our brothers and sisters those who need our prayers. We become guards for them in their temptations and suffering. The following story is by an unknown author who highlights the importance of prayer, and it may it change the way that we may think about prayer and the way we pray.
Upon arrival in the city, I observed two men fighting, one of whom had been seriously injured. I treated him for his injuries and at the same time talked to him about the Lord Jesus Christ. I then traveled two days, camping overnight, and arrived home without incident. Two weeks later I repeated my journey. Upon arriving in the city, I was approached by the young man I had treated. He told me that he had known I carried money and medicines. He said, “Some friends and I followed you into the jungle, knowing you would camp overnight. We planned to kill you and take your money and drugs. But, just as we were about to move into your camp, we saw that you were surrounded by 26 armed guards.”
At this I laughed and said that I was certainly all alone out in that jungle campsite. The young man pressed the point, however, and said “No sir, I was not the only person to see the guards. My five friends also saw them, and we all counted them. It was because of those guards that we were afraid and left you alone.”
At this point in the sermon, one of the men in the congregation jumped to his feet and interrupted the missionary and asked if he could tell him the exact day that this happened. The missionary told the congregation the date, and the man who interrupted told him this story: “On the night of your incident in Africa, it was morning here and I was preparing to go play golf. I was about to putt when I felt the urge to pray for you. In fact, the urging of the Lord was so strong, I called men in this church to meet with me here in the sanctuary to pray for you. Would all of those men who met with me on that day stand up?” The men who had met together to pray that day stood up. The missionary wasn’t concerned with who they were — he was too busy counting how many men he saw. There were 26. This story is an incredible example of how the Spirit of the Lord moves in mysterious ways.
We in our Catholic not only pray by ourselves but we do strongly believe in the intercessions of saints and other people as per in accordance with the Sacred Scripture. Here I would quote three references for you to reflect and meditate upon:
- “After theLord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has done.” So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them; and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer” (Job 42:7-9).
- “So, they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; and they turned to supplication, praying that the sin that had been committed might be wholly blotted out. The noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened as the result of the sin of those who had fallen. He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore, he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin” (2 Maccabees 12:41-45).
- “Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth yielded its harvest” (James 5:13-18).
I strongly believe that our obligation as Christian is to pray for one another because “Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him” as St. Augustine says. Through prayer our hearts are opened to accept the will of God and continue to trust in him who keep reminding us “come to me all that are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest”. St. Augustine says “pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you”. Isn’t it a wonderful reminder to let God work in his way? In prayer we converse with the Lord as he is sitting in front of us as the following story by the unknown author explains the importance of prayer.
A man’s daughter had asked the local pastor to come and pray with her father. When the pastor arrived, he found the man lying in bed with his propped up on two pillows and an empty chair beside his bed. The priest assumed that the old fellow had been informed of his visit.
“I guess you were expecting me,” he said.
“No, who are you?”
“I’m the new associate at your local church,” the pastor replied.
“When I saw the empty chair, I figured you knew I was going to show up.”
“Oh yeah, the chair,” said the bedridden man. “Would you mind closing the door?”
Puzzled, the pastor shut the door.
“I’ve never told anyone this, not even my daughter,” said the man.
“But all of my life I have never known how to pray. At church I used to hear the pastor talk about prayer, but it always went right over my head.”
“I abandoned any attempt at prayer,” the old man continued, “until one day about four years ago my best friend said to me, ‘Joe, prayer is just a simple matter of having a conversation with Jesus. Here’s what I suggest. Sit down on a chair, place an empty chair in front of you, and in faith see Jesus on the chair. It’s not spooky because he promised, ‘I’ll be with you always.’ Then just speak to him and listen in the same way you’re doing with me right now.”
“So, I tried it and I’ve liked it so much that I do it a couple of hours every day. I’m careful, though. If my daughter saw me talking to an empty chair, she’d either have a nervous breakdown or send me off to the funny farm.”
The pastor was deeply moved by the story and encouraged the old guy to continue on the journey. Then he prayed with him and returned to the church. Two nights later the daughter called to tell the pastor that her daddy had died that afternoon.
“Did he seem to die in peace?” he asked.
“Yes, when I left the house around two o’clock, he called me over to his bedside, told me one of his corny jokes, and kissed me on the cheek. When I got back from the store an hour later, I found him dead. But there was something strange, in fact, beyond strange-kinda weird. Apparently, just before Daddy died, he leaned over and rested his head on a chair beside the bed.”
As I gave three Scripture references about seeking the intercession and prayers from others, today’s First Reading is the fourth reference which is the intercessory prayer of Abraham for Sodom and Gomorrah. He pleads to God for protection of the cities even if there are five people and God did agree, unfortunately they found none and later those cities were burned to dust and became symbols of evil. Why did Abraham plead for the cities? First of all, I believe that Abraham saw the goodness and mercy of God who has power to change everything. Secondly, he must have heard about Noah’s flood and what happened, and the aftermath and he didn’t want to see that. Thirdly he didn’t want any righteous to die with the wicked. The First Reading does remind us to trust in the Lord and always repent from our sins because he doesn’t want any one to die in their sins. (Please read Ezekiel 18 & 32 chapters).
In the Second Reading St. Paul speaks about our relationship with Lord by reminding us not to forget about Baptism as we are buried with him in baptism and will also be raised with him in his resurrection. The life of prayer helps us to keep our relationship strong with him. St. Peter Julian Eymard says “Have confidence in prayer. It is the unfailing power which God has given us. By means of it you will obtain the salvation of the dear souls whom God has given you and all your loved one. Ask and you shall receive, our Lord said, be yourself good with Lord. St. Mother Teresa shares her experience when she was crossing into Gaza and at the checkpoint she was asked if she was carrying any weapons and her answer was; “Oh yes, my prayer books”
“THE SIMPLE PATH
The fruit of silence is PRAYER.
The fruit of prayer is FAITH.
The fruit of faith is LOVE.
The fruit of love is SERVICE.
The fruit of service is PEACE.”
She continues to say “Everything starts with prayer. Love to pray–feel the need to pray often during the day and take the trouble to pray. If you want to pray better, you must pray more. The more you pray, the easier it becomes. Perfect prayer does not consist of many words but in the fervor of the desire which raises the heart to Jesus. “
In the Gospel today we see the desire and urge of apostles to learn “how to pray?” and Jesus give them the prayer of the prayers to make them understand that God is our Father, and he cares about us. He teaches them to begin their prayer with Our Father. These word are the “secret” of Jesus’ prayer, it is the key that he himself gives to us so that we too might enter into that relationship of confidential dialogue with the Father who accompanied and sustained his whole life. St. Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney says “Never forget that it is at the beginning of each day that God has the necessary grace for the day ready for us. He knows exactly what opportunities we shall have to sin and will give us everything we need if we ask him then. That is why the devil does all he can to prevent us from saying our morning prayers or to make us say them badly. Prayer is nothing else than a union with God. When the heart is pure and united with God it is consoled and filled with sweetness; it is dazzled by a marvelous light. What souls we can convert by our prayers. The one who saves a soul from hell saves this soul and his own as well. My little children, your hearts, are small, but prayer stretches them and makes them capable of loving God. Through prayer we receive a foretaste of heaven and something of paradise comes down upon us. Prayer never leaves us without sweetness. It is honey that flows into the soul and makes all things sweet. When we pray properly, sorrows disappear like snow before the sun. There are those who lose themselves in prayer, like fish in water, because they are absorbed in God. There is no division in their hearts. How I love those noble souls.”
Holy Father Pope Francis says, “With the name “Father” Jesus combines two requests: “hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come”. Jesus’ prayer, and the Christian prayer therefore, first and foremost, makes room for God, allowing him to show his holiness in us and to advance his kingdom, beginning with the possibility of exercising his Lordship of love in our lives”.
Furthermore, he continues to say “Three other supplications complete this prayer that Jesus taught, the “Our Father”. There are three questions that express our basic needs: bread, forgiveness and help in temptation. One cannot live without bread; one cannot live without forgiveness, and one cannot live without God’s help in times of temptation. The bread that Jesus teaches us to ask for is what is necessary, not superfluous. It is the bread of pilgrims, the righteous, a bread that is neither accumulated nor wasted, and that does not weigh us down as we walk. Forgiveness is, above all, what we ourselves receive from God: only the awareness that we are sinners forgiven by God’s infinite mercy can enable us to carry out concrete gestures of fraternal reconciliation. If a person does not feel that he/she is a sinner who has been forgiven, that person will never be able to make a gesture of forgiveness or reconciliation. It begins in the heart where you feel that you are a forgiven sinner. The last supplication, “lead us not into temptation”, expresses the awareness of our condition, which is always exposed to the snares of evil and corruption. We all know what temptation is!”
Jesus teaching on prayer continues with two parables, which he modelled on the behaviour of a friend towards another friend, and that of a father towards his son. Both are intended to teach us to have full confidence in God, who is Father. He knows our needs better than we do ourselves, but he wants us to present them to him boldly and persistently, because this is our way of participating in his work of salvation. Prayer is the first and principle “working instrument” we have in our hands! In being persistent with God, we don’t need to convince him, but to strengthen our faith and our patience, meaning our ability to strive together with God for the things that are truly important and necessary. In prayer there are two of us: God and I, striving together for the important things.
St. Faustina shares her experience, the Lord told her to keep a diary “I remind you, My daughter, that as often as you hear the clock strike the third hour, immerse yourself completely in My mercy, adoring and glorifying it; invoke its omnipotence for the whole world, and particularly for poor sinners; for at that moment mercy was opened wide for every soul. In this hour you can obtain everything for yourself and for others for the asking; it was the hour of grace for the whole world – mercy triumphed over justice. My daughter, try your best to make the Stations of the Cross in this hour, provided that your duties permit it; and if you are not able to make the Stations of the Cross, then at least step into the chapel for a moment and adore, in the Blessed Sacrament, My Heart, which is full of mercy; and should you be unable to step into the chapel, immerse yourself in prayer there where you happen to be, if only for a very brief instant. I claim veneration for My mercy from every creature, but above all from you, since it is to you that I have given the most profound understanding of this mystery. When I immersed myself in prayer and united myself with all the Masses that were being celebrated all over the world at that time, I implored God, for the sake of all these Holy Masses, to have mercy on the world and especially on poor sinners who were dying at that moment. At the same instant, I received an interior answer from God that a thousand souls had received grace through the prayerful mediation I had offered to God. We do not know the number of souls that is ours to save through our prayers and sacrifices; therefore, let us always pray for sinners.”
Holy Father Pope Francis says, “Among these, there is one, the great important thing we must ask is “Give me the Holy Spirit”. What a beautiful prayer, it would be if, this week, each of us were to ask the Father: “Father, give me the Holy Spirit!” who cries for us and makes us understand” “Abba, the Father” as St. Paul says.
St. Padre Pio compares prayer with the perfume “The prayers of the Saints in heaven and of the just on earth are a perfume which never will be lost.”
Other Sermons In This Series
March 24, 2023
January 20, 2023
April 21, 2023