Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I Genesis 18:20-32
Reading II St. Paul to the Colossians 2:12-13
Gospel Luke 11:1-13
If you and I were to die today, what if before we go to heaven we would have a final exam? There is only one question on the exam: How is your prayer life? I think all of us would have a different answer. Probably we would start making excuses. “Look, God, my prayer life is not too bad. It is not as bad as you think. You know, I’m busy. I have to raise my children and that is a priority in my life right now. I made a Holy Hour last week and I just presumed that would carry me for a while.”
Jesus would say, “That’s fine. But when you want something you don’t hesitate to come to me. But when I bless you, you are very reluctant to welcome the blessing and return thanks for it.”
Then the next question comes: When we pray, how do we pray? Do we just say the “Our Father” or “Hail Mary?” There’s nothing wrong with that. Or do we pray when we go to bed at night for our blessings: for our house that we have, and that the family is all in this house and they are all well tonight; I was able to work this week and there is enough food in our house.
Prayer is the most beautiful gift that we have. The responsibility to learn how to pray comes first from our mom and dad, secondly from brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles. It comes from our teachers and catechists. It comes from a community like this one in our church.
“I don’t want to go to church!” your child might say.
“Jesus is there. Jesus is waiting for us to be there,” you answer.
If we all left and you sat here in church by yourself for an hour, you would discover that there is one thing about prayer that is important, and that is to develop the ability to concentrate. Your mind can go off in all kinds of directions — good thoughts but they are not staying in touch with the one to whom we really wish to pray. It is like being in love with some one. But instead of looking into that person’s eye and talking to them, you are talking to somebody else. “Do you really love me?”
When I was in the seminary, the Archdiocese of Chicago built a convent of the edge of the seminary grounds. The nuns who lived there spoke to no one on the outside. They were to have 24-hour adoration, and their sole purpose in life was to pray for the priests in the seminary of the diocese. We used to take a walk around the lake on Sundays and go into the chapel and without fail, there were always two sisters praying. I thought to myself, “Wow! What a calling.”
If you and I have trouble praying for five minutes, how do they handle the 24-hour adoration? They do it by rotating their prayer time. It is a 24-hour a day prayer chapel, no weeks off, and it just goes on all the time. Two sisters come out and pray before the Blessed Sacrament.
With the changes we have gone through during the last 50 years, the building is still there and it has been taken over by a group of Brothers. The Sisters eventually went home to Heaven and there are no Sisters in that community to maintain that house of prayer. But they gave their life so the church would flourish.
That is not everybody’s calling by any means. But the calling to pray is the calling we receive at our baptism. That’s why it is important to ask each other, “Would you pray for me — I am going to have surgery tomorrow. I would like to have The Anointing of the Sick so everyone in the parish can pray for me — pray that everything will go well in my life.” We should pray. But it is not about words. It is not just about kneeling, or sitting or standing. You can pray anywhere, and you can block anything out and just be with God alone.
The challenge for us is not to be like the Sisters, that is not our calling. Our calling is to be busy. We all have jobs, we have kids, we have families, we have lots of things we’re involved in and Jesus says, “That’s fantastic because I put you in those situations, but I did not withdraw the invitation to pray.”
If I came up to any one of you, or if I told you, “I’ll be at your house this afternoon about 3 o’clock and I am coming for one reason — I’m willing to spend as much time as necessary but I want you to teach me how to pray.”
You’d say, “Oh, that’s fantastic. Come right over.” Then you’d think, “Oh my Gosh! Why did he choose me? What am I going to tell him? I don’t know. I’m going to be stupid.”
“No. I just want you to show me your relationship with God.”
A few years ago where St. Vincent’s Home is today, there used to be the original St. Vincent’s Home that was located down the street from St. John’s Parish. It was an old building and it was three or four stories high. They had a chapel. My aunt and uncle had their final years there. I used to go out and visit my aunt because she used to live next door to us. When I visited her at St. Vincent’s I was always amazed with her. If I said one Rosary a day I just thought, “There I was, right there in heaven.” She said to me, “Usually, I say 12 to 13 Rosaries a day. I just sit here in the hallway and I pray the Rosary. We have Benediction every afternoon, and Mass every morning.” And I thought to myself, “Wow, 12 or 13 Rosaries.”
Now that I am closer to her age, I could probably do 12 or 13 Rosaries a day. But she no longer had any kids to take care of and didn’t have a job. She just had to pray and she told me who the Rosaries were for. She wasn’t just repeating beads. She said, “I say a Rosary for my Mom and Dad, I say a Rosary for you, and I say a Rosary for this family, and this family, and several others.” She had a list. Wow! But that was her point in life. When she was a young woman, her sister died and she moved into her sister’s home with her brother-in-law and their four children, and she raised their four children. She never married, but those four kids never forgot her. And raising those kids, like all you do with your children — that is your prayer. Changing a diaper is prayer. Fixing supper is prayer. Mowing the grass is prayer. It’s not just coming here for an hour.
So today Jesus is telling us to be persistent. Don’t give up on that gift when you know how to pray. You can pray in any language, pray standing up, sitting down, stretched out on the grass, however you choose. But always make sure that you are inviting God into every moment of your life — to sustain you, to give you life, to let you know there is someone way beyond who is in control of everything. He is not in control as someone to create fear, he is there to create love.
That’s why you and I need to pray. We need to know how to love, and we will never know how to love unless we are in touch with God.
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Monsignor Michael Kuse is pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Quincy, Illinois.
(TASCAM DR 40 file 0052)