Sunday, October 21, 2007

Pray Always Without Becoming Weary

(29th Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year C; This homily was given 21 October, 2007, at St. Mark's Church, Cranston, R.I.; Read Luke 18:1-8)

Fr. Michael Najim, our diocesan Vocations Director, was preaching at my parish of St. Mary's this weekend, giving me the opportunity to preach at St. Mark's. Please pray, and when you pray, ask for more vocations to the priesthood and religious life in the Diocese of Providence and throughout the Church.

What are you praying for in your life right now? What are the intentions or petitions that you are bringing before God on a regular basis?

Recently there was an experiment conducted by a major university on the effectiveness of prayer. A number of patients who were seriously ill in hospitals volunteered to be part of the experiment, and they were divided into two groups. Information on the first group was given to various religious organizations to pray for, while the second group was not prayed for at all.

Now none of the patients knew which group they were in. The results of the experiment showed that the patients being prayed for did not survive or recover any better than the ones who were not prayed for. Other studies have yielded different results, but based upon this university study we may be tempted to ask ourselves: “Why bother to pray at all?” All of us have offered prayers that seem to go unanswered. Why keep praying?

Firstly, as people of faith we are called to “pray always without becoming weary” (Luke 18:1), as we hear in this morning’s Gospel. Jesus Christ challenges us to pray. He teaches us by His own example and by the constant attention He gave to prayer that this is the way of life for the Christian. But even with all of that said, and from a purely practical point of view, we can recognize that there are several factors which that university study did not take into account.

For instance, what about the spiritual effects on the patients? Were they drawn any closer to God? Were they being prepared for eternal life? Were they becoming more and more open to the eternal relationship that God is calling all of us to in heaven? No scientific experiment can give us the answers to those questions. And aren’t they the most important questions of all?

Secondly, what about the effects on the people who were doing the praying? Jesus calls us “to pray always without becoming weary,” because when we pray, God changes our own heart, and makes us more and more like Christ. It might seem like a lot to ask—this making us more like Christ—and it can even be painful at times, but He is able to accomplish it, if we’ll let Him, and if we remain steadfast in prayer.

Several years ago, while I was still working for Stop & Shop, I bought a nice new pick-up truck, one of those 4-wheel drive sport models, fully loaded. Each day I could hardly wait to get out of work, to go and drive it.

One day I went out to do just that and I discovered—to my great astonishment and discontent—that there was an empty parking space where my truck used to be! After three days they found it, or at least what was left of it. It had been stripped of everything, and the Club/anti theft device that was on the steering wheel had been placed back into the truck, where the seats would have been.

And being a person of faith, I began to pray. What I prayed for was justice. It was justice bordering on vengeance! And for a few days, to be quite honest, that prayer felt really, really good! But before long that feeling faded, and I could sense that God was asking me for a bit more. I began, little by little, to pray for the grace to forgive, to let go, and eventually even for the gift of faith for whomever it was that had stolen my truck. But it took a while. It didn’t happen overnight.

And that is why Christ challenges us this weekend “to pray always without becoming weary.” When we pray, our prayer does not change God. It is not as if He is in heaven, waiting to be coerced or manipulated into following our own good counsel. And we may not always see the changes that take place in the people around us. But when we “pray always without becoming weary,” we come to realize that our prayer is changing us and making us more and more like Jesus Christ.

And so I ask once again: What are you praying for in your life right now? I am here today in this parish of St. Mark’s because our Vocations Director, Fr. Mike Najim, is speaking in my parish about the need for more vocations to the priesthood. We constantly ask God for more vocations, because we know that He is calling men and women to the priesthood and religious life. Yet it can be so discouraging to pray so often and not see, right away, the results that we hope for.

This month is Respect Life month in our Church. How often have we prayed for an end to abortion and the protection of the unborn? Yet year after year nothing seems to change.

And how many times have you prayed for your own families, your own personal intentions, and felt discouraged or disappointed that things were not working out the way you had hoped? Christ challenges us again this weekend “to pray always without becoming weary,” because prayer works, even when we do not see the results or understand how God is accomplishing His eternal plan for us. Prayer works, and when it works it changes the world we live in. It changes us.

So let us begin our own experiment of prayer here at St. Mark’s, and not be so concerned about the immediate results. Let us be concerned, instead, with the way God is working in our lives as we pray, and trust that He knows what is best for us and for those we pray for. And one day we will see the results of all our prayers, and understand completely why Christ calls us “to pray always, without becoming weary.”