21 Oct 2007
“Then [Jesus] told them a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.” (Luke 18: 1) In the name …
Fr. Randy Calvo
This past Thursday Rev. Killough and I went over to UMass to hear Fr. Andrew Greeley talk about The Great American Prayer Scandal. He’s a much published author, and he also used to write a regular newspaper column, as well. Since I knew he was coming and what he was going to be talking about, and since I knew what today’s readings were all about, I decided to do nothing with my sermon until after his talk. By Tuesday I’m usually thinking about Sunday’s sermon. This week I decided not to sweat it. I was figuring Fr. Greeley would say something on Thursday evening that would become the basis of what I could talk about today. But there was nothing. I still have no idea what the scandal was in The Great American Prayer Scandal. Rev. Killough and I looked at each other several times during the lecture wondering if were missing something. He even called-up a neighbour of his from the UMass sociology department, the department that hosted the lecture, and asked him the same thing and he got the same response.
Fr. Greeley has written and published several dozen books and has written hundreds of scholarly articles. His writings have been translated into 12 other languages. He’s both profound and proficient, but sometimes you just have an off day. My luck is that when I needed him to give me just a couple of ideas for what I’m doing right now, there was nothing. That’s when I learned the power of prayer. That’s when I said, “Jesus you gotta help me now.” These are the kinds of times in which we tend to turn to the power of prayer. It’s those moments when we need some extra help, maybe some divine intervention. There’s nothing wrong with this, but prayer is so much more than this.
And that so much more about prayer is not what I learned at Thursday’s college lecture series, but what I learned at Wednesday’s First Holy Communion catechism class. We were talking about faith. The catechism defines faith as a divine virtue, which means that it comes from God. God gives us faith so that we can then believe in God; it’s one complete circle from God to us and then back to God again. Faith is the realization that God is a part of our lives. But before I could get through that lesson, the kids kept interrupting me to tell me how they already knew God was a part of their lives. They were all excited about sharing with me how they experienced God. He was on the soccer field with them, the baseball field. In all kinds of ordinary places, these kids were able to see God. Their hands were going up one right after the other to let me know that faith in God isn’t just about catechism lessons on divine virtue. Faith is the confidence and excitement of knowing that God is a real part of our lives. And once you know that He’s really there and that He really cares, then it’s a whole lot easier to talk with Him. It’s a whole lot easier to have a prayer life, in other words, a life that is changed by praying, a life that can see God all around us.
This wholeness of prayer is the so much more than simply turning to prayer in times of special need and request. The wholeness of prayer changes us. People who pray regularly act differently than those who do not. That’s one of the tidbits of information I gleaned from Fr. Greeley’s lecture, and he can back them up with statistics from his surveys. Prayerful people look at themselves, others and the world differently. And this wholeness of prayer is the kind of prayer-life that Jesus is getting at in His parable that we shared today. There is nothing really commendable about either one of the parable’s characters today, and Jesus does this on purpose. The judge is corrupt and the woman is a nag. Jesus isn’t trying to draw-out our sympathy toward either one of them. Obviously the judge is a poor representation of God, and the nagging woman is a poor representation of people at prayer.
Therefore, the only lesson left in the parable is the message of persistence. Hang in there with your prayer, says Jesus to us today. It’s not that God doesn’t care, like the judge doesn’t care, and it’s not like prayer is supposed to be a nagging repetition of our requests to God, like the woman nags the judge until she gets what she wants. No, these are not characters we are supposed to emulate, and wearing down God is not in any way the message of why we should pray. Rather, the only message that remains after we sift out the unnecessary is the singular message that we must be prayerful people. Don’t pray to God only in desperation or want. Pray to God as those kids pray to God: Talk with Him in the ordinary course of a day’s events. Talk to Him with the assurance that He’s a real part of our lives. Talk with Him as if He really matters and as if we really matter to Him.
Jesus finishes off His parable with the question: “‘But when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?’” (Lk. 18:8) Will He find people who understand the difference between the occasional prayer of desperation and the kind of people who are prayerful? Prayerful people encounter God, meet Christ, naturally, almost instinctively. Their talking with God becomes relaxed and genuine. Prayerful people can speak with Him as a companion rather than as a genie to whom we only turn-to when we need wishes fulfilled. We can ask God for favours. God knows I do when the Red Sox and playing. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t, but every time I know God’s listening. They’re frivolous prayers when it comes to something like baseball, maybe it helps, maybe it doesn’t, but it can’t hurt. Prayer isn’t nagging until I get what I want; prayer is the ability to turn to God whenever I can. To turn away from prayer because the genie doesn’t respond is to remove faith from prayer, and that’s why Jesus asks at the end of His parable on the persistence of prayer whether He will find faith on earth. Let us pray this morning that He will, that we are sincerely prayerful people, and for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)