Presentation of the Lord’s Prayer to the Elect

Today’s readings: Hosea 11:1, 3-4, 8e-9 | Psalm 23 | Romans 8:14-17, 26-27 | Matthew 6:9-13

Today we did the RCIA presentation of the Lord’s Prayer to the Elect at our evening Mass. There are special readings for that, as above.

Where do you go when you’re at the end of your rope?

Bob was not accustomed to praying and didn’t really have a relationship with God.  But life, as it often does to us, started piling up: job concerns, health scares, relationship problems – everything.  And so he knew he couldn’t make it all work on his own.  So in his desperation, he looked at the old Bible he got for his first Holy Communion, and took it down off the shelf. Dusting it off, he realized he didn’t know where to turn so he decided to just open it up, point to a verse, and see what God had to say to him.  So that’s what he did, and on opening the Bible, he read “and Judas went off and hanged himself.”  

Now, obviously, we know God didn’t want Bob to go off and hang himself like Judas did.  But the point here is that Bob was doing it wrong: you can’t choose not to have a relationship with God and turn to prayer only when everything else fails.  That’s never going to work.  Prayer, for the believer, is an ongoing conversation with the God who longs to be intimately involved in our lives.  And so, the important thing is to work on that relationship first.

That’s why we are presenting the Lord’s Prayer – one of the great treasures of our faith – to you, the Elect, so late in the process.  You’ve been in this for a year or more, or almost two for the children, and we are less than two weeks away from the Easter Vigil, that night on which you will receive the sacraments.  And only now do you receive this treasure of prayer.  Why?  Because you had to work on the relationship first.  Praying authentically isn’t something you can do right away.  You have to come to know Jesus and in him, see the Father, before you can have that intimate conversation that we call prayer.

And the prayer we are giving you isn’t just any old collection of words.  This is the prayer that our Lord Jesus himself gave to us. He literally says “this is how you are to pray.”  And in that prayer, he covers all kinds of different prayers.  “Hallowed by thy name” is a prayer of praise to God who is the source of all holiness.  “Thy kingdom come” is a prayer that our world would be transformed into what God intends it to be.  “Thy will be done” is a prayer that opens ourselves up to God’s will for us and allows him to enter in and do what is best.  “Give us this day our daily bread” is a prayer that we would be filled up, not so much with what we want, but what we truly need, each and every day.  “And forgive us our trespasses” prays that we would be forgiven for the many ways we turn away from God, both in what we do and what we fail to do, while “as we forgive those who trespass against us” prays that we would be as merciful as God has been merciful to us.  “And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” is a prayer that we would continue to walk in God’s ways, and not give ourselves over to the evil one.

It’s a wonderful, complete prayer, and a prayer that very significantly begins with a statement of relationship: “Our Father…”  We pray not to a distant God who created us and then backs off to watch us get messed up in our own foolishness, but instead to God our Father.  That’s the kind of relationship God wants us to have with him: one that depends on him as a child depends on a parent, a relationship that sustains us and advocates for us in our need, but also corrects us in our wandering, and shields us from what is truly evil.  It’s a relationship that we can’t live without, a relationship that is there on our best days and also when we’re at the end of our rope.  It’s a relationship that the Church wants for all of you, so that you’ll never have to decide how to use that dusty old Bible you’ve left up there on the shelf.

Remember: this is how you are to pray:  Our Father, who art in heaven…

The Twenty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I have to say, when the Scriptures talk about prayer, I get a little uneasy. Not because I don’t like to pray, or think prayer is a bad thing. But more because I think mostly we misunderstand prayer, and usually a brief mention in the readings can do more harm than good. This week’s Gospel is a good example of that. The line almost at the end of the reading is the culprit: “if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.”

Really? Anything? I don’t know about you, but I personally have an example of something that my friends and I had been praying about, and just this week it was denied. You can probably think of examples too. So what are we to make of this? Well, I’d like to make three points.

First, in the line right after this, Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Notice how he says, “in my name.” So it’s not like a couple of us can get together and pray for something crazy and hold God accountable for granting it. If we’re gathered in anything less than the name of Jesus, we’re in the wrong place, and you don’t get what you want, or even what you need, when you’re in a place other than where Jesus is.

Second, reflecting on that same line, I would point out the last phrase: “there am I in the midst of them.” Sometimes God doesn’t answer all our prayers in the way we think he should. But he definitely always answers them with his presence. Sometimes that leads to resolution of a problem that is greater than we could have imagined. Sometimes it makes us a stronger, more faith-filled person. And sometimes the answer to a prayer means that we have to change, not the situation. So the abiding presence of our God, most perfectly experienced in community, when two are three are gathered in his name, is the most important answer to every prayer.

Finally – and I can’t say this often enough, nor stress it strongly enough – prayer is not a magic wand. You might read in this brief little passage that all you have to do is pray and you get it. Prayer is always experienced in relationship: relationship with God and relationship with others. That’s why this brief little passage mentions praying together, and praying in Jesus’ name. Those are important points, and it’s best not to overlook them.

Prayer is a relationship, prayer is work – sometimes hard work, prayer is a way of life for the disciple of Jesus. We enter that relationship at our Baptism, and it’s our task as disciples to nurture that relationship our whole lives long.

Saturday of the First Week of Lent

Today’s readings

So, there’s our mission statement for Lent: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Our righteousness needs to exceed that of everyone else, or we will be missing out on the kingdom of God.

So how far do we go with that?  Love our enemies?  Pray for those who persecute us?  I mean, that’s real easy to hear until we actually think about it, isn’t it?  Those people who gossip about us, cut us off in traffic, make a ruckus in our neighborhoods until all hours of the night, tell off-color jokes in social situations – well it’s nice to hold onto a grudge against them, isn’t it?  And are we supposed to be forgiving of terrorists, and all those people who hate us and our way of life?

Well, yes we are.  We are if we want to be called children of our heavenly Father.  And who doesn’t want that?  Who knows: maybe when we stop letting them irritate us and instead begin to pray for them and even forgive them, maybe then we will start seeing them in a new light.  They might not change, but we will, and we need to be concerned about our relationship with God – that’s what’s really at stake in all these situations.

Who do I need to forgive today?

Monday of the Thirteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s first reading has always intrigued me, ever since I can remember hearing it as a child. God intends to destroy the city of Sodom because of its pervasive wickedness. Abraham, newly in relationship with God, stands up for the innocent of the city, largely because that was where his nephew, Lot, had taken up residence. In what seems to be a case of cosmic “Let’s Make a Deal,” Abraham pleads with God to spare the city if just fifty innocent people could be found there. God agrees and Abraham persists. Eventually God agrees to spare the city if just ten righteous people could be found in the city of Sodom.

It is important, I think, to know that Abraham’s prayer does not really change his unchangeable God. Instead, God always intended to spare the city if there were just people in it.  What I love about this reading is Abraham’s line, “See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord, though I am but dust and ashes!”  It seems Abraham is testing the relationship, seeing how far it will go.  What happens is that he learns something great about our unchanging God: he learns that, as the psalmist sings today, “The LORD is kind and merciful.”

All of this leads us to an important issue at stake for the praying disciple: that is, prayer must come out of a relationship with God.  Abraham may have been somewhat presumptuous to speak to God the way that he did.  But if he didn’t know God, if he didn’t have a relationship with God, well, then his conversation would have been completely offensive, wouldn’t it?  But he did know God, and was getting to know him better, so his pleas for the just people of Sodom were completely appropriate.

We too are called to relationship with God, a relationship that finds its source in our prayer.  We can persistently plead for loved ones, but we also have to spend time in adoration and praise and thanksgiving, and even quiet contemplation so that this most important of our relationships can grow.  The LORD is kind and merciful, and he longs to reveal his mercy as we come to him in prayer.

 

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