Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 28, 2019—Year C
Readings: Gn 18:20-32 / Ps 138 / Col 2:12-14 / Lk 11:1-13
by Rev. Mr. Eddie Craig, Permanent Deacon
Picture this theatrical scene: a nice cul-de-sac in a quiet suburb outside of some city. There is a woman there, frantically running around. She is a Mom and she has been called home early from work because one of the children got sick at school. She’s running back and forth between the stove and the counter, where her laptop is sitting, because she had a very important meeting, which is going on now through Skype. She’s trying to participate in this meeting while fixing dinner for the family.
Suddenly, there is a sound. The father has gotten home from work. You hear the door open. You hear, “Hi Honey, I’m home.” The woman replies, “Hello, Dear, how was your day?” The man replies, “Oh it was just terrible, just awful. Everything was going wrong. I’m so tired and so hungry. Do you have dinner ready yet? I’ve got to sit down. I’m tired. Do you think you could bring me a beer? I have an important meeting tomorrow. Did you remember to take my suit to the cleaners? Great. And I noticed that the grass needed cutting as I pulled into the driveway. Do you think you could get to that tomorrow?” At this point, a frying pan comes flying into the room, clocks the guy in the head, and the scene fades to black.
This is ridiculous, right? But if we are honest with ourselves, lots of times our prayer life sounds exactly the same way. How many times do we sit down to pray with a constant stream of “Help me, help me, help me” or “Gimme, gimme, gimme.” And that’s it. On a casual reading of the scriptures, you can understand this interpretation of prayer. If you just read casually, all you get is the message of persistence; persistence in prayer. That means, if I persist, I’ll get what I want, right?
As with most things, there’s a little more to it than this. Our common definitions of prayer reinforce this idea. If you look up the word prayer, the first definition that comes up is: a solemn request for help or expression of thanks. If you look at the derivation of the word prayer, it actually comes from the Latin, precarius, which means obtained by earnest or humble request. So that image of something given to me is reinforced.
But prayer, in a Christian sense, is a little more complicated—and far more beautiful. Fundamentally, prayer is spiritual communication. Many people associate prayer directly with worship. While certainly, worship always contains prayer, prayer does not always qualify as worship. (For example, when we pray to Mary or the saints, we are not worshiping them, but are rather, communicating with them.)
If you dig a little deeper, you’ll find some wonderful resources. Bishop Barron has a short video about prayer that is excellent; I encourage everyone to watch it.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is divided into four parts, and the fourth part is Christian Prayer—an amazing resource. The Catechism, at the beginning of this section, makes the point that prayer comes from the heart, not so much from the head.
When we talk about relationships, we use the same terms: “I love you with all of my heart,” not, “I like being around you because I’ve done a cost benefit analysis and the numbers come out in your favor.” Prayer can fall into that same groove. Prayer can be more intellectual, and not so much a response from our core.
The Catechism goes on to make the point that prayer is a communion; prayer is a relationship. To be Christian is to pray. As Christians, we believe that we are in a fundamental relationship, a relationship to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We believe that when we are baptized, the Spirit enters into our core. A lot of our music will say, “Jesus, come into my heart,” because prayer is a relationship. Relationships, by definition, are not one-sided. Relationships are strong when there is communication. Often, we forget that an important part of prayer is listening.
Prayer’s purpose is not to change God. Often we think that if we pray enough, we can change God’s mind. God doesn’t change. Boethius says that God exists in the eternal now. That’s the best expression of this reality that I’ve ever heard. We look back to the past. We look forward to the future. God exists purely in the now. How often is our prayer looking backward or forward, completely ignoring the now. The now, the active relationship, is where we encounter God.
For me, the most beautiful part of today’s readings is one simple phrase: Knock, and the door will be opened. What’s on the other side of the door? Our eternal Father who loves us and wants to be close to us. All we need to do is take a little time to be in His presence.