TUESDAY HOMILY: Faith in Action
A Year of Faith, therefore, needs to be a year drenched in intense prayer.
Pope Benedict highlighted the importance of prayer in his shocking decision last week to resign the papacy. He mentioned in his statement of resignation that he would "devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer," carried out in a monastery on Vatican grounds.
Throughout his papacy, in his catecheses on prayer over the last two years as well as in many talks to priests, seminarians, religious and faithful, he has repeatedly stated that the most important thing we do as Christians for God and others is to pray.
By resigning the papacy in order to continue to serve the Church through prayer is to declare that he believes the work of prayer is even more important than the ministry of the papacy. And if prayer is even more important than the work of the successor of St. Peter, then it's hard to argue that any other ministry in the Church - or any other human work - is more important than prayer either. There's probably been no greater illustration of the lesson Jesus taught Martha and Mary in Bethany than this.
Today in the Gospel Jesus teaches very clearly about how to pray well. First, however, he teaches us what prayer is not intended to be. "In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them."
Many Catholics believe that prayer means "saying one's prayers," as if all that the Lord asks of his is to repeat a few phrases a day when we get up, eat meals, and go to bed. Many of Jesus' contemporaries often behaved as if this was the meaning of prayer, mouthing throughout the day the words of the Psalms. We know, however, that their hearts were far from God: many of those who recited the Torah incessantly in fact ended up conspiring to murder Jesus, the Word made flesh.
That's one of the reasons why St. Cyprian taught the early Christians, prayer "is the work of the heart, not the lips, because God doesn't look at the words but at the heart of the person praying."
When we say vocal prayers - like the Rosary, Creed, Divine Mercy Chaplet, Memorare, Angelus, Act of Contrition, Stations of the Cross, Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus - it's important that our heart fully align itself with the words being said, lest our prayer become useless babbling.
Jesus, whose example inspired the disciples to ask him to teach them to pray, reveals to us today the real way to pray. At first glance, it might seem that he just gives us a vocal prayer, something that many times we can just rattle off our lips without really involving either our heart or our mind.
But the fact that St. Matthew and St. Luke recount slightly different versions of what we now call "the Lord's prayer" reveals to us that Jesus was not giving us a "formula" of magic words to recite, but showing us the principles that should guide all our prayer.
The prayer of the "Our Father" shows us, as St. Thomas Aquinas taught, not only what we should desire but the order in which we should desire them.
Jesus taught us to pray first for the Father's glory - for his name to be hallowed, his kingdom come and his will done - so that we could pray in imitation of Jesus whose ardent love to glorify the Father becomes our own. After we pray for these intentions for God to be glorified, we turn to our own needs, and Jesus teaches us the four most important ones: for daily sustenance, forgiveness, strength in temptation and protection from the evil one.
These petitions are also all basically found in Jesus' great priestly prayer in John 17, which shows much they influenced Jesus' own conversations with God the Father.
Let's together look more carefully what Jesus teaches us about prayer in the words of the Our Father.
The first expression and approach to prayer he gives us is that our first word should be"Abba!," which doesn't just mean "father" but "daddy." So many of Jesus' recorded prayers begin with this word. "Father, I give you thanks that you have hidden these things from the wise and the clever but revealed them to the merest of children." "Father glorify your Son so that your Son may glorify you." "Father, I thank you for having heard me; I know that you always hear me." "Father, if it be your will, take this chalice away from me." "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they're doing." "Father, into your ...
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