Readings from July 24 (Feast of St. Ann)
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The Lord often uses physical, relatable examples in his teaching to his disciples. Today He uses a clear one of someone coming at midnight to ask for food. Every one of us knows that even if we don't want to get up, their persistence will lead us to give them whatever they want...even if we do it less than gracefully and kindly. He also uses physical things to teach in numerous other examples so as to help the people understand. He does this because He knows that we are good at understanding physical realities, but the more important for us is to understand the spiritual realities. Speaking to the disciples, Jesus told them that they know well the 'signs of the times' physically; how to read the skies and understand that when the wind blows this way rain is coming, or when plants change that seasons are changing, and so forth. They rightly read those things, but the greater gift is to be able to read the signs of the times in the Spirit. To know that when things are happening around us what is the work of God and what is the work of the evil one.
Reflecting these past few weeks on the Sunday scriptures, as well as the saints' feast days that we've remembered through the course of the week and the recent events around our country, it seems rather clear to me that the signs of the times are all pointing toward a common refrain: pray, pray, pray.
It is good for us to pray, but if we don't know how to pray or how to pray well, our efforts may be less fruitful than otherwise may be the case. The disciples recognize this and wisely ask Jesus for help: "Jesus us how to pray just as John taught his disciples." In response the Lord gives them a little catechism lesson on prayer. In it He gives us what we can discern as three main points today.
The first point is the fact that we need to pray. When the request is made the Lord doesn't shrug it off as something inconsequential, but rather immediately responds. Unlike many places where He asks questions or invites them to reflect, He acknowledges the importance of prayer and feeds them with the proper manner of prayer. The prayer He gives, an abbreviate form of the Our Father is what is given by St. Luke, even reminds us that we cannot provide our own daily bread - our legitimate needs and other desires - but that it comes from God. We can forget this sometimes and go through the course of our day forgetful that the gifts we have and exercise are there only because of God's goodness and we can implicitly take them as our personal traits or skills we've honed and developed. But it is the Lord who does these things and it is He to whom we turn for help.
The second point on prayer is that we must begin with the Lord first and our petitions second. St. Peter Julian Eymard, known often as an Apostle of the Eucharist and one who wrote and preached extensively on the Most Blessed Sacrament, said that when we go to prayer before Our Lord, we ought to begin by loving the Lord and pouring out our love for Him. This is modeled by Jesus as He begins the prayer with "Father, hallowed be your name...". Honored be Your name, holy be Your name. Saturday was the feast of St. Bridget of Sweden and the Office of Readings for her feast was a beautiful reflection on the Passion of Christ. What is different than most narratives is that preceding each portion of the Passion reflection is a line to the effect of 'Glory be to You, Lord', 'Honor be to You', 'Eternal praise be to You', and the like. She poured out her love and then would reflect on the petition or need. So, how often do you begin your prayer with "In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Lord, I need your help right now with...." or something to that effect? I know that I do it often because the time when we our to prayer most quickly and fervently is when we are in need. But the Lord reminds us to praise Him first, pouring out our love, and then after having done so being able to bring forward our petitions and needs which now have a new strength and power because they are purified by our praise and adoration.
The third point is the need for persistence in prayer. How many souls have been lost for the lack of persistence! How frequently have I seen in other and myself the struggle of faith when a petition is prayer about for week, month, or years and right when it seems like the Lord is about to move, the prayer is given up for lack of faith and persistence. Right at the threshold when the gift was to be given! Persistence in prayer is everything because it shapes our heart to become more like loving nature that is the Lord God's. The problem with persistence is that we often treat it like a great haggling match with God. When we hear the reading from Genesis today we can think that Abraham is talking God into not destroying the city, almost as if God is really angry and Abraham is the merciful one. Jesus' description of God as a good father helps us to reorient things. Abraham thinks he's going out on a limb asking God to preserve the city if there are 50 righteous ones there. Abraham sees bargaining but the Lord sees the call as way too little to ask - our Good Father wants to much more for us! As Abraham goes from 50 to 45, 40, 30, 20 & 10, it's as if the Lord is saying in response, "Abraham, I will go much farther than you think. I love you and these people so much more than you realize! To what depths I would not go to prove this!" It is not Abraham who is haggling for souls, it is the Lord haggling with Abraham in an attempt for Him to realize the Love that is within the heart of our Heavenly Father. Persistence was not so much about changing God's mind as changing Abraham's heart. In the end, there were not even 10 righteous people found and the city was lost (a testament to the wickedness of the people and not the vengefulness of God) but Abraham learned a valuable lesson that day about the Lord and His goodness toward us. We must persist in prayer. We must ask, seek, and knock continuously on the Heart of Christ. He is all-loving and wants to give us good things, more than we even want to receive them.
So we pray. This week we were asked by our bishop to pray and fast for peace. Join me in persisting in that prayer; let's keep it going. And let us pray that the prayers we have offered, the fasting we have taken up, and the acts of charity that we've shown may be taken up into the hands of St. Ann, where they can be purified, sanctified, and made fruitful in the sight of our good and loving Father and bring forth peace. Good Saint Ann, pray for us!