Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 17, 2016
How to Make Jesus the One Thing Necessary
There’s a wonderful story from the life of St. Francis Xavier, who was a close friend of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit religious order. Francis was one of the first Jesuits, and he was sent to be a missionary in the Far East: India, Philippines, and Japan. In most towns, he would successfully convert the local tribal chief, which would cause everyone else to seek baptism as well. He said that after he would baptize the people, for days after that they wouldn’t leave him alone because they would continually pester the missionary to teach them prayers! He would teach them the creed, the Our Father and Hail Mary and Glory Be, and they would still not be satisfied!
Even Jesus’ disciples asked our Lord the same question: “Lord, teach us to pray.” It’s a natural desire to want to learn how to pray. So let’s talk about some ways to pray! But first, let’s debunk two popular myths about prayer.
MYTH 1: Prayer is all about getting things from God. Religious education teachers and parents are particularly bad at perpetuating these myths. They say things to kids like, “Oh, you’re having trouble in school? Just pray and God will help you.” or “Aunt Millie is sick, let’s pray for her.” I cringe when I hear statements like this! Of course, it’s perfectly fine to pray when you need something. But asking for things is not the entire point of prayer. God is not a divine vending machine where we go up to Him, put in our three Our Fathers and pick out what we need (healing, forgiveness, help on a test, more money, a better marriage). That is NOT prayer. Prayer is a relationship – and what kind of relationship would you have with anybody if you only asked them to give you things? Not a very good relationship, I’d say.
Prayer, then, is sharing your life with the Lord. The goal of prayer is union with God. We pray so that we can grow closer to Him, so we begin to think like Him, so we can offer Him our love and experience His own love in our souls. Look at the example of Mary in today’s Gospel – she is adoring Our Lord, soaking in His Words…and not asking Him for anything!
MYTH 2: Prayer is always boring. If prayer is always boring, you’re doing it wrong! A lot of people think the only way to pray is to “recite your prayers”. And yes, that can be boring. But there are better ways to pray where we can actually develop a living relationship with the Lord! Again, look at Mary in the Gospel – she is riveted, with rapt attention totally focused on Jesus – not bored or distracted like her sister Martha!
So, then, how do we pray? There are many ways, and as an old, wise priest once told me, “Pray as you can, not as you can’t!” Let’s talk about some ways to pray to develop a living relationship with God.
First, The Mass is the highest form of prayer. As St. John Vianney said, “The Mass is greater than all other good works and prayers, because all of our good works and prayers are the actions of men, while the Mass is an act of God.” At Mass, Christ is present in His Word and in the Eucharist – we have a real encounter with Him. He makes present on the altar His one sacrifice for sins. Really, at Mass, it is Christ Who prays for us – we simply unite our prayers to Him. All things being equal, the Mass is the best way to pray!
After the Mass, Eucharistic Adoration continues the Eucharistic worship that was begun at Mass. I can testify that Adoration changed my life. My home church started Perpetual Adoration (Eucharistic Adoration 24/7) when I was in high school. My family started to go for an hour each week. Through spending an hour in silent Adoration of Jesus, truly present in the Blessed Sacrament, something began to slowly seep into my soul. I started to change – I realized how much the Lord loved me, and how much I longed to be with Him, both now and in eternity. God speaks loudly in the silence of Adoration. We are blessed to have Adoration frequently in Stamford – every Sunday from 3-7pm we have Our Lord exposed in the monstrance at St. Mary’s Church, and there is also an Adoration chapel at St. John Fisher Seminary on Newfield Avenue which is open every day from 6am-11pm. In Adoration, we get to be like Mary, sitting silently at the feet of the Master!
But can we develop a real life of prayer at home? Of course. One great way is through reading Scripture. The Word of God is living and effective. But don’t read it like a novel – reading Scripture is different. Start with the Gospels, read a short passage, and then reflect on it – how is Jesus speaking to you? What does He look like, sound like? What character would you be in the story? For example, as we read today’s Gospel, would you be more like Martha – worried, anxious, busy – or more like Mary, reflective, centered, prayerful? Are the Lord’s words things that you need to hear?
In addition to reading Scripture, other spiritual reading is an indispensable for growth in the spiritual life. There are lots of wonderful books out there – right now I’m reading one called “This Tremendous Lover” about God’s pursuit of our souls…I highly recommend it!
Finally, the Rosary is a great way to pray, because the Rosary is looking at the life of Christ through the eyes of Mary. When we pray the Rosary, our lips recite the Hail Mary’s but our minds ponder the mysteries. Reciting the Hail Mary’s help to calm our minds while God speaks to us through the mysteries of Christ’s life – we remember His birth through the five Joyful mysteries, His ministry in the five Luminous mysteries, His suffering and death during the five Sorrowful mysteries, and His resurrection and Kingship in the five Glorious mysteries.
My friends, we all want a relationship with God. Prayer is the way to grow in it. More than just words, prayer is really communicating with the Lord, both speaking and listening. There are many ways to pray – find one that works for you and discover the “one thing” necessary that Christ speaks of in the Gospel – that “one thing” is union with God!