Sunday, 28 July 2013
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Shaftesbury
As you may recall me mentioning last Sunday, I've been away this week on retreat. I've spent 5 full days in silence. Not saying anything. Time alone with God.
I go on a retreat like this every year, and whenever I refer to it to parishioners I'm always aware that it is quite a privilege for me to be able to go on a retreat (though I am also aware that a good number of you go on retreats yourselves).
On my retreat I spent about 5 hours a day in prayer: Talking to Him about my life, and about my sins, bringing many intentions and needs of parishioners before Him, but mainly just being silent before God. As the saintly Cure D'Ars used to say when asked what he did when he prayed: "I look at the good God, and He looks at me."
I don't pray that much usually, and I won't pretend I find it easy. To spend that long talking to God can be difficult because He doesn't talk back to us the way that others do. And yet, prayer is important for us, essential for us simply because we're human.
Prayer can sometimes be something that people talk about as if it is for OTHER people to do. Monks and nuns pray, but ordinary people don't. But the reality of human experience, and of what God has told us in the bible, is very different. In every ancient culture of the world, on every continent, we find that people pray. And they do so because there is a human need within us to contact God. The spiritual soul that we humans have within us yearns for contact with the spiritual God. Our soul seeks its home in the God, because it cannot find its home anywhere else. Prayer is where our spirit meets His, and if we neglect prayer, then we’re not fully human. To pray is to be human, it’s what we are designed to do. As the great St. Irenaeus said, and I think I've told you before, "Birds, fly, fish swim, people pray”.
That's why Jesus taught us to pray, as we heard in today's Gospel text: in the "Our Father" we just heard Him teach. And He taught ALL of His followers to pray, not just a special few of them. And in the Old Testament, too, God taught His people to pray. In Genesis, we heard how powerful the prayer of Abraham was in asking God to spare the people of Sodom. And that’s an example to us of the power of OUR prayer, as Jesus said, "Ask and you will receive"(Lk 11: 9).
Jesus promises us that He hears our prayers, which is important to remember, especially at those times when it seems like He's not hearing us.
But let me point out what many saints have said about prayer, including prayer of petition: it’s important not so much because it changes God as because it changes US. Yes, it somehow changes God in that He chooses to only grant things BECAUSE we ask them. But, it changes us too, and this seems to be key to what prayer is about.
We, small humans that we are, need to pray, need to make our petitions to God, because we need this way of remembering that we need to connect ourselves to Him, to Him Who is our life.
Let's be honest, if prayer was only about saying sorry, or only about saying how wonderful God is in praising Him, few of us would get around to it, few of us would bother. But ASKING for things, prayers of petition, THIS is something most of are much better at! And it benefits us too by putting us in touch with the spiritual dimension of our life that otherwise flounders.
As I said, I've just been on 5 days of intensive prayer. Most of you, I know, have your own patterns of prayer: daily, and weekly, and seasonal. Whatever we do, let us take our Lord's words to us this Sunday in the Gospel as a reminder of the importance of our need to pray.