17 Sunday C - Teach us to Pray - Homilies

Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration

We are assembled here, not as a bunch of individuals, but as distinct members of a single body. This is something that we recall in a special way today when we read a story about the first disciples asking to be taught how to prayer together. We are the people who can call God our Father, who gather now to thank him and praise his name, who gather to ask him for our daily needs, and who ask him to forgive us as we forgive others. We need to pause now and recall our need of forgiveness for ourselves, and Jesus’s call to us to forgive others.

Sean Goan
Gospel Notes 

Staying with the important theme of prayer, this week’s extract from Luke brings the teaching on prayer that accompanied the giving of the Our Father. In Luke, Jesus teaches this prayer because the disciples have asked for his help. The form of the prayer is the short one, as opposed to the longer version in Matthew which was adopted by the church as the version for use in the liturgy. In its short form we see even more clearly how this simple prayer has all that we need. We praise God as Father, we acknowledge that we want what he wants and that we trust him to look after us. We also recognise our need for forgiveness and our willingness to forgive. Finally we ask that in the life of faith we will not have to endure anything that would cause us to lose that faith. In what follows, Jesus uses the images of the unwilling friend and the caring parent to make us think about the relationship with God that should lie behind our prayer. God is the loving Father and in giving us the Holy Spirit he is holding back nothing.
Michel de Verteuil
General Textual Comments 

Jesus’ teaching on prayer in this passage has many aspects. There is no need to look for an overall logic in the passage; just choose the aspect that touches you here and now. 

Verse 1: the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray.

Verses 2-4: the Lord’s prayer. As the introductory words indicate, the prayer was given not so much as a formula, but as a style of prayer. The following verses will help you identify what this style is.

 The prayer is Luke’s version, which is slightly different from the one we are accustomed to which comes mostly from Matthew 5:9-13.

 Verses 5-8: this is a parable. As in last week’s meditation, discover what is for you the significant moment of the story; it will lead you to the word God has for you in this parable.

 In verses 9 to 13, the parable is interpreted by Jesus, although as a teaching it can stand on its own. To get the full teaching in verses 9 and 10, you must take literally the word “always” repeated three times. There is a tendency to water it down, and as a result the message is lost.
 Enter into the movement of verses 11 and 13, and the dramatic style of the teaching.

Gospel Notes

This story of the disciples asking for a lesson in prayer methods is only found in Luke; in Matthew (6:9-13) the ‘Our Father’ given in the context of an instruction forming part of the Sermon on the Mount.

So the first point to note is that in our memories we combine this occasion in Luke, with the text that is found Matthew. We see this common memory harmonising the t texts in many introductions to the ‘Our Father’ in the liturgy.

Second, the text here seems ‘simpler’ than that which known in the tradition or found in Matthew; and therefore cause we assume everything develops in a sequence from ‘simple’ to ‘complex’, it is often glibly stated that therefore this Lucan version is ‘more original’ or even ‘closer to the words of Jesus’. This often leads to attempts to derive the familiar fo from this one in Luke, and it is an endeavour that invariably calls for ever more subtle moves to seem convincing. The place to start is not with the written gospels — either Matthew or Luke but with the community of the church which preserved the memory of Jesus during those crucial early decades before papyrus and ink could freeze the shape of the memory. 

That Jesus taught some prayer that was distinctive in its approach to God is certain, as all the evidence coheres that ther€ was a common Christian prayer formula and that it addressed God as ‘father’. That this was taught orally can be observed two ways. Firstly, the well-rounded cadences and doublets (e.g ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done’) point to a text rounded off to allow for easy committal to memory. Secondly, the prayer has some minor variations in the various languages and in the manuscripts, and these variations show that oral transmission was the norm and that scribes followed their memories rather than their exemplars when copying Matthew. The most famous of these slight variations is the doxology (‘for the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever’) which was omitted in Latin. Moreover, we know that the prayer, in virtually the shape we know it, was part of the training of new Christians before the time of our gospels: we find it in the Didache (but with one or two tiny changes which prove that the scribe was neither copying from memory or from Matthew). So we can conclude that before 70 AD this prayer in our familiar form was being learned by heart as part of the basic formation of every Christian.

Since it was such a basic element of the Didache (the training), it had to have a place in the kerygma (the preaching). Consequently, Matthew incorporated it into his most formal sermon exactly as it was recited in Greek in the churches in which he preached. Luke, however, opted to explain its importance with an origin story, and either knowing or recognising that it was well smoothed for memory based recitation, gave it a more archaic feel in his text. His construction — which has never been a reciting text anywhere — is therefore the first commentary on the prayer in so far as his text highlights what Luke saw as its most important features. 

He then takes the opportunity to present some other teaching on prayer and the Father’s answering of prayer. First, he has the parable of the friend at midnight (11:5-8) — which is only found in Luke — which contrasts God’s concern with humanity with what one could expect from even base motives. Second, he has the statements on how the Father will answer those who ask for their needs. The interesting difference here with Matthew (7:11) is that while in Matthew the Father gives good things to those who ask him, here the Father gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask him. This fits with Luke’s overarching theology that it is the Spirit who dwells in, gives life to, and directs the church. 

Homily Notes 

1. This is a day when we really must learn from our history as the community founded on Jesus. 

2. The written gospels that we treasure came into their written form in the last third of the first century. Mark was probably written in the late 60s, John in the 90s, and very probably Matthew and Luke sometime in between. There are many subtle arguments moving the dates a bit this way or bit that way, but this is a broad consensus, and does for our purposes. The key fact is that the written gospels are not only at least a generation after the first disciples – a generation being about 25 years – but they are in the different cultural setting of the Hellenistic cities rather than rural Palestine.

3. Now we can ask a key question: was it a book or books that kept the people together and gave them identity during these early years, or was it something else? The simplistic answer is to think of Christians as, to use an oft-repeated but wholly inappropriate phrase, ‘people of the book’: so the key to Christian identity is that they accept ‘The Bible’ or ‘The Gospels’ or some such set of writings. But Jesus is the only re­ligious leader in history that. never wrote a book or dictated a book or even ordered a book to be written (writing in sand is hardly a good example of a desire for written records!). 

4. What kept the community in being was its regular practices as a community and its memories recalled in community. To be a Christian is to be a member of a group, the community of the People of God, not to be just one more individual who buys into a philosophy or a spirituality. 

5. How can we find out about these key practices? We can see them in three ways: first,· we see them in a wonderful little guide for training new members which predates our written gospels and is given the rather off-putting title of The Training (the Didache). It is wonderful as it tells us directly what they had to do as a group. Second, we see these prac­tices referred to now and again in the letters that are in the New Testament, most of which predate our gospels. Third, we see strange echoes of the practices in our gospels – they are ‘strange echoes’ as they usually are presented as an event which the first hearers of gospels would immediately see as the ‘original event’ that is the background and authorisation for what they are actually doing.

6. So what were these key practices? The first, and most import­ant practice, was that they gathered each week as a group ­and the groups were probably no more than 25-50 people in size – and ate together the meal of the Lord. In the midst of a proper community meal, they thanked the Father for sending his Son to gather up the scattered flock of Israel and celebrated this re-gathering ‘Jesus-style’ by each getting his/her share in the one loaf and then each drinking from a single cup of blessing as they all had a single life-force surging through their veins. At this gathering they recalled the memory of Jesus and welcomed new members through baptism. This practice would become our Sunday Eucharist – the actual meal disappeared, and the memories were fixed by being written down. Over the centuries there have been other changes that have made the basic facts of eating and drinking less obvious, but one can still make out the pattern. 

During the rest of the week they had fixed community prac­tices. Fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, and giving to charity were the two material practices of prominence. We see this given an ‘echo’ in the gospels in scene when Jesus tells the disciples to fast but not show off that you are fasting, to give alms but not ostentatiously, and to pray but not where everyone will see you (Mt 6). There was also a practice that was carried out each day: three times each day they re­cited the prayer we call the ‘Our Father’. This was done prob­ably at morning, noon, and in the evening. It is this practice that is being given an origin point and’ authorisation’ in the words of Jesus himself, and a specific purpose, in today’s gospel reading.

8. There is a strange aspect to this prayer that we usually miss when we say it during our Eucharist. It is the prayer of a group even when someone says it privately: it is a prayer to ‘Our Father, … give us this day … forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not, but deliver us from .. .’ What this tells us is that in those very first generations even when the group had not gathered together, the individuals had such a common sense of being part of the People of God, that they saw the fact that they were all pray­ing at the same time (even if the individuals were physically apart) meant that they were offering a single group prayer. At morning, noon, and evening, even when alone, the Christians prayed as the single body of Christ to their Father. 

9. This need for prayer at fixed times, and indeed to recite the Our Father, continued as part of the Liturgy of the Hours but this (with odd exceptions) is now something confined to ‘professional religious people.’ (You could show a volume of the Breviary as a visual aid at this point.) And, in any case, this is a far too cumbersome prayer for someone racing to get out in the morning, get the kids out, and get everything else done. However, saying the ‘Our Father’ – the bedrock of reg­ular Christian prayer – is not too difficult: it does not require formally sitting or standing, it does not need so much time that a household needs to be ordered around the prayer, and it does not need a book. 

10. Many Christians have today lost three precious understand­ings.

First, Christians have, to a large extent, lost the sense of the importance of formal prayer at regular times. Yet all human experience of religion – just look at the regular prayer times in Islam – not to mention our experience from the very first days of the church shows us that regular formal prayer is essential to preserve our sense of God.

Second, Christians have often lost the sense that when we pray as Christians it is not my prayer and your prayer, but our prayer in Jesus. The sense of a common time uniting separated people is some­thing that used to be reinforced by the Angelus Bell just as in Islam it is done by the voice of the muezzin, but we need to recall that when we prayer simultaneously we are praying as one body and I pray at this time to join my prayer with that of the body. Praying simultaneously is a non-computer-based ‘virtual community’. 

Third, to be a Christian is to be a disciple, a disciple is one who learns over time and takes on the prac­tices, the discipline, of the master. The master prayed regu­larly – as we hear about Jesus in today’s gospel- so must we. 

11.A recovery of the practice of everyone saying the ‘Our Father’ morning, noon, and evening is the basis of a renewal programme for the whole church, that does not need a single meeting or handbook to get it started.

by Fr. Tommy Lane 

Since the apparition of Our Lady in Lourdes in 1858 more than twelve hundred physical healings claimed to have occurred there have been said by doctors to be scientifically inexplicable. The Church has strict guidelines on accepting a healing as a miracle and so fifty-four of those healings have been accepted by the Church as miracles (according to René Latourelle The Miracles of Jesus and the Theology of Miracles  pages 313-314 published in 1988). 

Since the mid 1990’s the amount of research in the US on the effects of prayer on health has doubled. The results of the research are very interesting. In May 1999 the Demography magazine published the findings of studies about the effects of prayer. The study was carried out on 22,000 people over nine years. Those who attend church weekly live 10% longer than those who do not. People doubted the results of the findings because they said regular church goers live healthier lives but the study had already taken that into account and had already made adjustments for lower rates of alcohol and tobacco use among church goers. So the researchers stood over their results. Recently Duke University released the results of a study on 4,000 people over the age of 65. Those who prayed regularly had significantly lower blood pressure than those who did not. Those who attended religious services had healthier immune systems. More findings from Duke University and from Dartmouth and Yale Universities show that people in hospital who never attend church regularly have an average stay in hospital three times longer than those who do attend church regularly. Elderly people who never or rarely attend church have a stroke rate almost double that of those who do go to church. Studies in Israel show that religious people have a 40% lower death rate from cardiovascular disease and cancer. So the data is there, the secret is out of the bag, prayer works. 

Why is prayer so good for one’s health? A scientist at Harvard, Herbert Benson, has conducted MRI brain scans on those who meditate. The scans have shown that physical changes take place in the body when someone meditates. (Intense activity takes place in the brain’s parietal lobe circuits, and a “quietude” envelops the brain, the frontal and temporal lobe circuits become disengaged, and the limbic system becomes activated.) The result is that the body becomes more relaxed and body activity becomes more evenly regulated. So prayer and meditation is good for you.

In the Gospel today (Luke 11:1-13) Jesus taught his disciples to pray the Lord’s Prayer, the “Our Father.” We listened to Luke’s Gospel today and you will notice that the Lord’s Prayer in Luke is slightly different to the version we pray. In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus teaches a longer version of the prayer and it is Matthew’s version that the Christian Churches use. After the prayer we see Jesus teaching to pray for what we need (Luke 11:5-13). If you go to your friend in the middle of the night for something and he is slow to get up to answer the door, if you persist your friend will get up to give you what you need. In other words, keep praying to God for what you need, do not stop praying, continue to pray until your prayers are answered. Jesus continued,

 “Ask and it will be given to you; search and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you. For the one who asks always receives, the one who searches always find, the one who knocks will always have the door opened to him.” (Luke 11:9-10)

Why did Jesus say to keep on praying? Jesus knew that prayer is good for us, we had to wait almost 2000 years for the scientists to discover the same but Jesus knew and so he emphasized the importance of prayer. 

There are many other reasons why Jesus said to keep on praying. Sometimes when we pray for something our intentions are not always good. Sometimes our intentions in prayer are selfish and need to be purified and by praying for some request over a long time our intention is purified. Often you would hear sick people who went to Lourdes say that although they did not receive physical healing they received the grace of acceptance.

There are also those occasions when there seems to be no answer of any kind to prayer, at least for now. This is a real test of faith and some people have crosses to carry, often silently and unknown, and that makes them real heroes. Suffering is a mystery and we do not know all the answers, we only see bits and pieces of the answer in this life. But as Jesus said, we keep praying no matter what. 

Not only is prayer good for your health, not only did Jesus ask us to pray, but we actually need to pray for our happiness. If we do not pray we will not be happy because the deepest part of our being will be starving for God. A beautiful Psalm, Ps 63 describes our longing for God like this, 

O God, you are my God, for you I long;
 For you my soul is thirsting.
 My body pines for you
 Like a dry weary land without water. 

So just as a desert is thirsty for water we are thirsty for God and we satisfy that thirst in prayer. So let us pray, it is good for our health, Jesus asked us to pray and prayer satisfies our thirst for God. 

Homily from ACP: 

Joined Together in Faith and Prayer 

An episode is beautifully told in the Acts of the Apostles, of how St Paul said goodbye to some of his Christians for what he thought was the last time, before leaving for Jerusalem, where he knew he would end up in prison. It gives us graphic insights into the change the new Christian faith had brought about in these converts from paganism, and the esteem and love they had for Paul. On the Turkish Mediterranean coast, Paul stopped at Miletus, the port serving the great city of Ephesus. The elders of the Church at Ephesus came out to hear his farewell message to them, and when Paul had finished we are told that he knelt down and they all joined together with him in prayer.

As soon as one ceases to pray, it is a clear-cut indication that one is no longer walking with Christ, Christ who, according to Luke, went out into the hills to pray, and even spent the whole night in prayer to the Father before selecting his Apostles (Lk 6:12). This obviously was one aspect of Christ’s life that made a deep impression on Paul. Time and again he reminded his converts of the need for prayer. “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing,” he warned the Thessalonians (15:17f), and to the Philippians he wrote, “Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything, by prayer and thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (4:6). And his last word of advice to those at Ephesus was to pray at all times in the Spirit, to persevere in their prayer, and to pray for one another. Why is it then, you might ask, that our prayers, especially our prayers of petition, seem so often to go unanswered?

The fact, however, is that every prayer of petition is answered, provided it is made in faith, made with a readiness to accept God’s will, and made with a heart devoid of any feeling of hatred or ill-will towards others. “Have faith in God,” Jesus said to his disciples; “I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you receive it, and you will” (Mt 11:24). The problem is, do we know how to pray, and what to pray for? When Jesus said, “believe that you receive whatever you ask for,” he was telling us that above all we must have faith in God. The only place Jesus could not work miracles was his home town, Nazareth, because people did not have faith. St James, moreover, in his letter has this warning (4:2), “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” We may in fact be asking for something harmful, and our heavenly Father will only give what will be for our good.

A certain man once asked a Carthusian monk how he should pray, and the reply was, “Pray in, not up” – just four words. It is indeed true that most of the time we imagine the One we are addressing in prayer as being somewhere above or outside ourselves. But scripture tells us that we are temples of the Holy Spirit, and we should focus on God’s Spirit dwelling within us. Furthermore, the Spirit pleads for us with sighs too deep for words, and intercedes for us according to the will of God. May we never leave off praying, but rather ask God daily for the gift of prayer, as did Matt Talbot, who set for us such an example of a life wholly dedicated to prayer, by day and by night, at home or at work. 

Lord, Teach Us To Pray 

Methods and techniques of prayer have always been in demand and the variety on offer has multiplied recently. Yet, when all is said and done, what can compare with the perspicacity of the disciple who, having watched Jesus praying, said, “Lord, teach us to pray.” The first step for us too is to ponder on the prayer-life of Jesus and the content of his prayer. Even a cursory glance at St Luke’s Gospel would justify our dubbing it the Gospel of Jesus at Prayer. How many times is Jesus found in the Gospels praying – alone, on the hills, with his disciples! 

Beginning with the prayer of Jesus takes our minds off the techniques and draws us towards that point where we too, like the disciple, will simply and humbly ask, “Lord, teach us to pray.” But, before that, we may have to wait for a long time in silence, just observing him and listening to his prayer. Then gradually, like the apprentice learning from the master, or rather, like the soil of the earth becoming fertile from the falling dew his prayer takes root and germinates in our hearts. Slowly, and over and over again, we too begin to repeat that prayer – the only one he left us – which is a relating of our whole being to him who is his Father and our Father. to him in whom both he and we – but we because of him – can call, “Abba, Father.” 

We are not used to praying Luke’s wording of the Lord’s Prayer. The official version adopted by the Church is Matthew’s, which is longer, more solemn, more harmonious in its seven petitions. Luke’s is shorter, containing only five petitions, but is more direct, more personal. Instead of “Our Father who art in heaven,” as in Matthew, it begins with the simple cry “Father!” It is a way of addressing God that would never have been heard on the lips of anybody except Jesus. It originated in, and revealed, the profound nature of his relationship in the Trinity. He was Son as no other man could know how to be son; he was the unique Son of God.

The early Christians, especially in the communities schooled by St Paul, cherished the moment of Baptism when they became children of God, “sons in the Son.” In the depths of their hearts they could hear the voice of the Spirit of Jesus urging them to make their own this word of infinite tenderness, “Abba, Father” (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6), a title of familiarity for every child, a title that expressed perfectly the sweet intimacy and total confidence of their new status. Even as it revealed the person of the Son in Jesus, it also brings out for us the dignity of our adoption as sons of the Father. Yes, there could scarcely be any better person to introduce us to prayer than Jesus himself and, of course, his Spirit!

The Guardian of Us All 

The Old Testament uses “Father” of God as the guardian of the people or of groups within the nation (see Deut 32:6; Ps 68:5; Is 63:16; 64:8; Jer 3:4, Mal l:6,2:10). There is a more personal touch in Sirach 23:1,4, Wisdom 14:3. But neither in the Old Testament nor in the writings of Qumran is there the intimate tone such as one finds in Luke 11:2. The preservation of the word “Abba” in Romans 8:15, Gal 4:6 and Mark 14:36 are memories of Jesus’ intimacy with the Father. 

Jesus differs in the relative frequency with which he is portrayed as speaking of God as Father. Each stratum of the sources of the Gospels contains a number of examples Matthew alone has 44 references, while John has 120. Surprisingly, there is a general agreement among all the sources that Jesus spoke of this subject only to his disciples but not to the crowds. Apparently, Jesus restricted the right to address God so to those who by their loyalty to himself, had shown themselves entitled to regard themselves as children of the Father. Jesus’ view of God was not one far removed from their lives and struggles, but one who could be known intimately like their own parents (10:22,18:15-12.) 

The simplicity of Luke’s prayer contrasts sharply with many of the quite fulsome formulations used in Jewish and Greco-Roman prayers, not to mention some modern equivalents! Although “abba” can be translated “daddy,” one should not think of Jesus’ Father as a weakly indulgent “papa,” destroying his children by granting every whim and never chastising them. On the contrary, Jesus taught much about our duties to love our enemies and to trust, love and fear the heavenly Father who is the Lord God Almighty. 

The need for structured prayer and for set times has come across more and more to us in recent years. In contrast to the rush for personal prayer “at the time when one feels best,” it has often been forgotten what a structured prayer-life Jesus himself led – regular synagogue and temple-attendance, as well as the daily prayer life of a faithful Jew. Jesus and his family, and the apostles after them, are presented in the New Testament as faithful to the Jewish traditions. The Jerusalem temple was criticised by Jesus for failing to be a house of prayer for the nations of their world.

What about our prayer lives? Do we pray that God’s will be done by us, by me? Do we pray that God’s name as Father be really respected by all, especially by our Church and State leaders? How can we say it is respected if so many, say, are poor? Do we long and hope for the coming of the Kingdom which means the salvation of all people? Do we pray for so many undergoing trials, tests and sufferings of all kinds?
From Connections:
In today’s reading from Luke’s Gospel, the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray.  What is important to grasp is not the words of the prayer (Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer is shorter and more concise than Matthew’s version), but the attitude of prayer Jesus teaches.  To pray is not to impose our will on God but to ask God to make us open to his will; in other words, we pray not to change God's mind but for God to change ours.
Authentic prayer, as taught by Jesus and contained in the Lord's Prayer, has three elements:
  • acknowledging the goodness and love of God:  Jesus teaches us to call God “Father.”  God is not the cosmic tyrant out of whom gifts have to extracted through humiliating pleading; he is the loving eternal Parent who delights in providing for his children's needs.
  • asking that we may do his will:  Prayer worthy of God asks for the grace to do the work he calls us to do (forgiveness, reconciliation, justice), to become the people he calls us to become (brothers and sisters under our heavenly Father).
  • voicing our hope in the providence of God:  We come before God knowing that, just as a friend will aid a friend and parents will provide for their children, God will hear our prayers and give us what we need and more.  Even if it seems as if our prayers are unanswered, we live with the confident faith that the God is always present to us.

We often approach prayer as if we are trying to wring gifts from an unwilling God; in fact, we come before a God who knows our needs better than we do ourselves. 
Authentic prayer is not a formula or ritual but an awareness of God's presence in our lives, of God's hand as sustainer and nurturer of creation, of God's love giving breath to every moment of our existence.
Prayer is to realize the connection between the compassion of God and the love we experience in our lives, between God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness we extend, between the holy creativity of God and the work we do for our daily bread. 
The most dangerous words we pray

They are the most dangerous words we dare to say in church.
“Thy kingdom come.”
Every word Jesus teaches us in “his” prayer is fine: “heaven,” “daily bread,” “forgive,” “lead us not into temptation.”
But we dare to pray “Thy kingdom come.”
Have you read the fine print of those words?
What if we were to pray instead “Thy justice come,” “Thy peace come,” “Thy mercy come,” “Thy politics come,” “Thy economics come”?  In fact, we praying exactly that.
We are praying — hoping — for God’s kingdom to become a reality: a kingdom that knows neither border nor enemy; a kingdom that exalts humility and compassion over celebrity and wealth; a kingdom that treasures the poor and the sick; a kingdom that is ruled by the love of God, where compassion is the measure of all things.
And we are promising to be coconspirators with God in creating this kingdom right here and now.  It’s hard to keep religion safely personal and private if that’s our prayer.  We would be thoroughly justified in skipping that part of the Lord’s Prayer, being very uneasy at that point.
The kingdom God envisions doesn’t quite mesh with the kingdom we are building.
But it’s not our prayer.
It’s Jesus’ prayer — the one he taught us to say by heart.
By heart.
It is Jesus who puts all of our loyalties, all of hopes, all of our loves on the table, makes us look at them, then makes us pray those dangerous words, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
[Based on a sermon by Wesley Avram.]

“Thy kingdom come” — Your kingdom come, O God, in our homes, in our offices, in our workplaces, in our classrooms, on our playgrounds, your will be done in every moment and every place of our lives as it is in heaven.  That is the prayer Jesus teaches us to pray, a prayer that does not so much ask God to do what we want but prayer that asks that we do what God wants of us — and being ready and willing to make God’s will a reality in our everyday life.  Prayer worthy of God’s ear seeks the grace to do the work God calls us to do (forgiveness, charity, justice) and to become the people God calls us to become (brothers and sisters under our Father in heaven).  May the prayer of St. Thomas More become the heart of our prayer life:  “O God, give us the grace to work for the things we pray for.”
Scripture Prayer:

“The modern world listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if it does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”  Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi

Lord, remind us that the most effective way to teach others how to pray,
is for them to find us praying,
and when we are finished to ask us to teach them how we do it.

 Lord, many people today are learning to pray in traditions that are foreign to us – TM, yoga, Zen meditation.
We pray that, as Jesus did for his disciples,
his Church may hear the cry of its members
asking to be taught how to pray. 

In this world monopoly, do we ever ‘pass go’ or do we ‘go straight to jail’?”
David Rudder, Trinidad Calypsonian
 Lord, we thank you for moments of prayer
 when we find within ourselves a hope
 that your name will be held holy and your kingdom come. 

When I give bread to the hungry, they call me a saint;
 when I ask why the hungry have no bread, they call me a communist.”  Bishop Helder Camara
 Lord, help us, when we pray for the coming of your kingdom, to ask for it in its entirety.
 Keep us searching for the day when everyone will have each day their daily bread,
 when those in debt will be freed of all their indebtedness,
 and poor people will no longer be put to the test of survival.

 We should let ourselves be brought naked and defenceless before God, without explanation, without theories, completely dependent upon his providential care, in dire need of the gift of his grace, his mercy and the light of faith.”   Thomas Merton

Lord, you have revealed yourself to us as friend, and that has been helpful.
But it could lead us to become complacent, as if you owe us favours.
So every once in a while we experience you as someone who gives us our daily bread
not from friendship but because we persist in knocking at your door.
Thank you, Lord. 

“Prayer is the union of nothing with the Nothing.”  Augustine Baker, English mystic

Lord, forgive us that we have made prayer into a bargain,
where in exchange for our asking we receive your favours.
Bring us to that prayer which is merely knocking  at a door that is already open,
searching in the dark for something that is already found. 

Lord, we sometimes think we have to leave our experience to get close to you.
But Jesus taught us to start with what we have known.
So today, we thank you for those who love us,
friends, parents, spiritual guides, teachers,
the kind of people we know if ever we asked them for bread,
no way would they give us a stone,
or if we asked them for fish, no way would they hand us a snake,
and if we asked them for an egg, no way would they hand us a scorpion.
Lord, these people are good but their goodness cannot compare with yours.


1.     Daddy on a vacation: 

Once upon a time there was a daddy who had made a lot of money in the stock market (he had also made a lot of money in the commodity markets too). For every dollar he had invested in 1994, he now had ten dollars. Starting with a rather modest amount of money, he had become a millionaire. However, he as not the kind of person who could make his investments and stick with them because he knew that in the long run they would continue to grow. Quite the contrary, he was a real investor, that is to say, he bought and sold stocks almost every day to make money even more rapidly than did the ordinary investor who left it to his brokers and advisers to watch the daily opportunities. Our hero earned his living – and it was a good one – in other areas.

 However, he became obsessed with the daily fluctuations in the market. He exulted when his holdings went up, and grew depressed when they went down. He called up the DJA on his computer several times every day and then explored his portfolio in detail. WELL, he went on vacation with his family and of course brought his laptop along. It happened to be one of those times when the DJA rose and fell like the tides. So he spent most of his daylight hours on his laptop.  

 As a result he wasted his vacation, even though the weather was beautiful every day, the lake was warm, the winds were light, and everyone else in his family had a wonderful time. (Andrew Greeley)

2.     How do we pray? 

Some years ago, when Leonard Griffith was pastor of the famous City Temple in London, he wrote a fascinating book entitled Barriers to Christian Belief. In that book he dealt with some problems that have over the years been real obstacles and stumbling blocks for people in their faith pilgrimage specific problems that hinder people, that burden people, that disturb people and keep them away from the Christian faith. One of the barriers he listed was "unanswered prayer." It does seem to be a fact of our experience that many people do get discouraged and they do give up and drop out on the faith because they feel a sense of failure in their prayer life.
This leads us to ask then, "How do you pray?" "Why pray at all?" "When do you pray?" "Is there a special formula or a sacred language that should be used?" One thing is clear. There are many questions and there is much misunderstanding about how you pray and why. In a Peanuts cartoon Charlie Brown is kneeling beside his bed for prayer. Suddenly he stops and says to Lucy, "I think I've made a new theological discovery, a real breakthrough. If you hold your hands upside down, you get the opposite of what you pray for."

Prayer must be more than an emergency magical lamp rubbed in a crisis. The truth is that many people give up on prayer because they never understand what prayer is. Much that passes for prayer is irrational, superstitious, and self-centered, and is therefore unworthy of the pattern of the prayer that Jesus offered to us his disciples.

How do you pray and why? We are not the first to ask. The disciples of Jesus came to Him one day and said, "Lord, teach us. Teach us to pray!" Notice something here. When did the disciples ask for this? When did they make this request? Was it after Jesus gave a lecture on prayer? No! Was it after Jesus led a seminar on prayer? No! Was it after Jesus preached a powerful sermon on prayer? No! None of these. Remember how it is recorded in Luke 11… "Jesus was praying in a certain place and when he finished, they said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray.'" They saw the power of prayer in Him. They saw how important prayer was to Him. See the point. Harry Emerson Fosdick stresses it in his book, The Secret of Victorious Living. "Note that this awakened interest in prayer came not at all from new arguments about it, but from a new exhibition of its power. Here, before their very eyes, they saw a personality in whom prayer was vital and influential! The more they lived with him, the more they saw that they could never explain him or understand him unless they understood his praying and so not at all because of new arguments, but because of amazing spiritual power released in him by prayer. They wanted him to tell them how to pray."

The disciples sometimes were slow on the uptake, but at this point they were quickly and precisely on target. They saw in Jesus the answer to this question: how do we pray and why do we pray? And they learned from Him (as we can) what the elements are that lead to a meaningful prayer life. 

  1. Jesus Prayed Regularly.
  2. Jesus Prayed Sensibly.
  3. Jesus Prayed Confidently. 
James W. Moore, Encounters With Christ,

What you do is your history. What you set in motion is your legacy." Are you just pouring concrete or building a skyscraper? 

Every one of us wants to leave a "legacy." Something that outlasts our biological lives and can somehow continue to declare "I was here." For a very few this is achieved through intellect or infamy, greatness or great sacrifice. But for those of us who know we are not Augustine or Martin Luther, or Christopher Columbus or George Washington or Albert Einstein or Martin Luther King, Jr. - we still have a gateway to a large-than-life memory. What is it?  

3.     Our story.  

 Our family. Our siblings. Our spouses. Our children. Our great-grandchildren. Our "story," our life goes on, because we are remembered and recounted in the memories, in the roots, branches and leaves, of our family tree. 

In this week's gospel text we are taught the "Lord's Prayer," or more precisely, the "Disciples' Prayer." This prayer is the distinguishing, identifying marker for those who follow Jesus. It is the disciple's singular prayer, given direct to us from Jesus. Although Jesus spent a great deal of his life praying, we only have two prayers from him. This is one of them.  

We now have over two thousand years of remarkable prayers offered by remarkable followers of Jesus, but every one of them only shines a new light on the clarity of this first vision.  

For the first disciples, their first prayer, their first focus, was unwavering. Their appeal was direct and was to Jesus. The response they received was direct and was from Jesus...

4.     If you've listened to fairy tales,  

or if you've watched early classic Disney cartoons, one thing becomes unsettlingly clear: a lot of "poor little" princes and princesses shared a common family tragedy. In an overwhelming number of these stories the mothers were gone, dying long before the child in question could be influenced by them or even remember them. The single dads in these tales almost always had dreadful taste in women the second time around — bringing a whole host of evil stepmothers onto the fairy tale scene.

Sadly, until later in the twentieth century, the chances of children losing their mothers and being raised by stepmothers was common. The overwhelming threat to a woman's life was childbirth, especially if any sort of infection set in after delivery. For example, John Milton's first 2 wives, Mary Powell and Katherine Woodcock, both died in childbirth. Among upper middle class in 17th century London, one mother died for every 40 births. By the early decades of the 20th century, things hadn't changed much. In 1929, the wife of the Prime Minister of England, Lucy Baldwin, pointed out that pregnant women were as likely to die as soldiers had been in the trenches in the 1914-1918 war. When a woman gave birth, she said, it was just like "going into battle – she never knows . . . whether she will come out of it alive or not." (As quoted in A. Susan Williams, Ladies of Influence: Women of the Elite in Interwar Britain [Allen Lane The Penguin Press, 2001]). The single father raising motherless children was an all-to-common occurrence. 

Single parent households are even more prevalent today, but for different reasons. Most single parents raising children on their own today are women. Medical advances have made childbirth safer, and have raised women's life expectancy above that of men. But good hygiene and antibiotics haven't helped keep families together. In any given American classroom a conservative estimate finds at least one-third of those kids living in a home without a father. Whether by death or divorce, choice or chance, more and more children are growing up in a home that has no consistently present father figure. 

Along with the abuse of sheer absence, which is bad enough, there is the worse abuse of presence. Although child abuse is not confined to one gender, an abusive father figure has a huge affect on children. And a father who is "occasional" as well as "abusive" magnifies all the negatives of his influence. 

Why is the lack of positive father figures such a critical issue for the Church?

Consider this: the prayer Jesus gave to his disciples, the prayer we are all taught as children, begins with the audaciously familiar "Our Father." What happens to our images of God when our images of "our fathers" are so tattered and torn?...

5.      Keeping God Alive in Our Hearts 

Jesus prayed: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. In the novel "The Great Hunger," a newcomer comes to a farm community. He refuses all friendship with his neighbors and puts out the no trespassing sign. One day a little child from the town climbs underneath his fence to pet his dog. The vicious animal leaps on her and kills her.  

Hostility spreads throughout the community. When the newcomer comes to town no one will speak to him. Clerks refuse to wait on him. Spring comes and the merchants refuse to sell him seed. Finally, the father of the girl who was killed comes over and sows his field. This act of kindness is too much for the insufferable newcomer. "Why-you of all people?" he asks. The father responds: To keep God alive in my heart.

The experience of forgiveness is basic to our spiritual health. It is the way that we keep God alive in our hearts. But there is more. The petition says: Forgive us as we forgive others. In other words, we are asking God to forgive in proportion to our forgiving. We become our own judge and jury.  

How do we forgive the unforgivable? By remembering that God forgives us for our sins against him.  

6.     God Changes Us 

A mother sent her fifth grade boy up to bed. In a few minutes she went to make sure that he was getting in bed. When she stuck her head into his room, she saw that he was kneeling beside his bed in prayer. Pausing to listen to his prayers, she heard her son praying over and over again. "Let it be Tokyo! Please dear God, let it be Tokyo!"

When he finished his prayers, she asked him, "What did you mean, 'Let it be Tokyo'?"

"Oh," the boy said with embarrassment, "we had our geography exam today and I was praying that God would make Tokyo the capital of France." 

Prayer is not a magical means by which we get God to do what we want. Prayer is an inner openness to God which allows his divine power to be released in us. Ultimately, the power of prayer is not that we succeed in changing God, but that God succeeds in changing us. 

Robert L. Allen, Greatest Passages of The Bible, CSS Publishing Company
7.     Active Prayer 

God is not passive, and neither are we. In fact, Jesus calls us to an active life. We tend to think of prayer as a passive affair, which in many ways it is. After all, prayer is listening before it is speaking. However, it is active listening. You know the difference between passive and active listening? Passive listening is the husband who has one ear to the television when his wife speaks. Passive listening is the wife who has her "to do" list between her and her spouse. Passive listening is the young person who hears everything through ears that are "bored" with anything and everything that isn't more exciting than what is possible. 

Active listening, on the other hand, is giving 100% attention, and facing toward the One who speaks, putting aside remote-controls, "to do" lists, and boredom. Active listening is anything but passive. It's really hard work, when you think about it. It's not "zoning out." Far from it. Prayer is, in part, active listening. How do you receive daily bread from God, if you're not faced in his direction, attentively reaching out? How does forgiveness become a reality if we don't step into it - and how are we to step into it if we're not walking in the direction of, toward the One from whom forgiveness flows? The Lord's prayer, whether it be the version Matthew remembers, or the one Luke recalls, encourages active movement toward God on our part.

Peter L. Haynes, Asking...Seeking...Knocking
8.     Prayer to the Outside Observer 

Father Barry Foster, a priest in Dublin, Ireland, parked his car on a rather steep slope close to his church. His little cairn terrier was lying on the rear seat and could not be seen by anyone outside the vehicle. Father Foster got out of the car and turned to lock the door with his usual parting command to the dog. "Stay!" he ordered loudly, to an apparently empty car. "Stay!" An elderly man was watching the performance with amused interest. Grinning, he suggested, "Why don't you just try putting on the emergency brake?"  

Our subject today is prayer. To the mind of the unbeliever, watching someone pray is the equal of watching someone say "Stay," to their automobile fully expecting it to obey. To the unbeliever prayer is an exercise in futility. But to the believer, prayer is the most powerful and the most reliable force in the world today.

King Duncan, Collected Sermons,
9.     Henri Nouwen 

Through prayer we can carry in our heart all human pain and sorrow, all conflicts and agonies, all torture and war, all hunger, loneliness and misery, not because of some great psychological or emotional capacity, but because God's heart has become one with ours.
10.  Always Say a Prayer 

Ever wonder about the acronym ASAP? Generally we think of it in terms of even more hurry and stress in our lives: "As soon as possible." Maybe if we think of this abbreviation in a different manner, we'll begin to find a new way to deal with those rough days along the way. 

There's work to do, deadlines to meet, you've got no time to spare, But as you hurry and scurry, ASAP: Always Say a Prayer. In the midst of family chaos, quality time is rare. Do your best; let God do the rest, ASAP: Always Say a Prayer. It may seem like your worries are more than you can bear. Slow down and take a breather, ASAP: Always Say a Prayer. God knows how stressful life is; he wants to ease our cares, And he'll respond to all your needs, ASAP: Always Say a Prayer.  

Leonard Sweet, Collected Sermons,
11.  The Perfect Prayer

The Lord's Prayer is the most perfect of prayers... In it we ask, not only for all the things we can rightly desire, but also in the sequence that they should be desired. This prayer not only teaches us to ask for things, but also in what order we should desire them.  

St. Thomas Aquinas, as quoted in Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2763
12.  Prayer and Forgiveness 

We cannot come to God in honest prayer when we have not forgiven one another transgressions: A young boy saw a pack of cigarettes on the ground and decided to try them. He went to a field near his home and, after several fumbling attempts, got one to light up. It didn't taste good; indeed, it burned his throat and made him cough. But it made him feel very grown up. 

Then he saw his father coming. Quickly he put the cigarette behind his back and tried to be casual. Desperate to divert his father's attention. The young Boy pointed to a nearby billboard advertising the circus. "Can we go, Dad? Please, let's go when it comes to town." 

The father quietly but firmly replied, "Son, never make a petition while at the same time trying to hide a smoldering disobedience." 

13.  We Do Not Want God 

On a subway platform in one of our Eastern states there was a large printed sign that said "God Answers Prayer." Some experienced person had scrawled across the bottom underneath the printed letters these words: "Sometimes the answer is NO!" This is what we have to deal with in any discussion of prayer. 

Someone says, "I felt the need of God. I prayed for something to happen, and it didn't. Prayer failed." No, Sir. I suggest that you did not want God - you wanted God to do something, and that's different. 

You have missed the purpose of prayer... 
14. Abraham in Prayer:

Father James Gilhooley 
A prayer-master advised his listeners to adopt the APU program when they pray. When predictably they asked what the acronym meant, he said with a smile, "Be aggressive. Be persistent. Be unreasonable."

His disciples balked at such an approach to the Almighty. But the guru directed their attention to Genesis 18. There Abraham is in conversation (or is it prayer?) with God. Abraham the text shows is aggressive, persistent, and unreasonable.

On the evidence, God should have destroyed the immoral and  infamous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. They deserved whatever they got and then some. But Abraham proves to be an able negotiator. By clever maneuvering over some time, He causes God to back down on His original plan. Perhaps even at surprise to Himself, Yahweh allows Abraham to win the day. The cities are spared. Chalk a big victory up for Father Abraham. More importantly, do take a page out of his how-to-pray manual. If Abraham could get the gold ring in his prayer, why cannot you and I? Abraham has convincingly shown us that God is a soft touch. And His own Son happily confirms that point in today's Gospel.

Also we have a big edge over Abraham. Jesus instructs us today to address God as "Father." That translates as you know into "Daddy" or "Pop." If we think the APU plan is off the wall, Abraham would think calling Jehovah "Daddy" or, worse, "Pop" completely ludicrous. As proof, note that in Genesis 18 Father Abraham addressed God most solemnly as "Lord" four times in the framework of a few seconds. Imagine what Abraham might have accomplished with his APU approach if he felt able to call his exalted Lord "Daddy!" Unfortunately for him, as he would be the first to tell us, he was born centuries too soon.

So, in our prayer we must employ not merely a strong  second effort but rather Abraham's third and even fourth effort. Abraham was a moose and obviously he was not designed to take "no" for an answer. Had God asked him what part of "no" he had difficulty in understanding, he would answer immediately "the whole word, Lord." If he could respond that way to God, then why not we? So, don't be afraid to nag.

After all, as someone has noted, God does have millions of people calling Him. There are times He must put you on hold. But, when He does come back to you and says, "Thank you for holding," you are in the driver's seat. At that point, Father Abraham would quickly advise you, "Go for the gold."

15. Our Father:

I was traveling through the majestic state of Arizona. I made a visit to an attractive chapel in a small town. I found the following in a pew. It ties in nicely with today's Gospel.

"I cannot say `our' if I live only for myself. I cannot say `Father' if I do not approach God like a child. I cannot say `who art in heaven' if I am not laying up some treasure there right now. I cannot say `Hallowed be thy name' if I am careless with that name. I cannot say `Thy kingdom come' if I am not working to actualize it in the here and now. I cannot say `Thy will be done' if I am resentful of that will for me at this moment. I cannot say `on earth as it is in heaven' if I don't look on heaven as my future home. I cannot say `Give us our daily bread' if I am overanxious about tomorrow. I cannot say `Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us' if I am waiting to settle a score with someone. I cannot say `Lead us not into temptation' if I deliberately put myself in a place to be tempted. (A sage teaches it is a smart person who flees temptation and does not leave a forwarding address.) I cannot say `Deliver us from evil' if I am not prepared to pray as though everything depends on God and work as though as everything depends on me."  Dag Hammerskjold wrote, "Hallowed be thy name, not mine. Thy Kingdom come, not mine. Thy will be done, not mine."

A final word! From today's Gospel, God does appear to enjoy brevity. The prayer He teaches us today has but 44 words. His Ten Commandments has a modest 297 words. The famous Twenty-third Psalm a mere 118 words. Should we not follow suit?  Perhaps God is telling us He is not appreciative of long winded prayers. Furthermore, He is not hard of hearing. (JG)
16. Lumen Fidei: The New Encyclical:

Here are some possible applications from LF to this Sunday's readings:

The encyclical has 23 references to Abraham, who is the subject of our first reading. In the second reading St. Paul speaks about baptism, which is also mentioned 23 times in "Lumen Fidei." Like Jesus in the Gospel, Pope Francis insists that far from being opposed to seeking, true faith involves seeking, asking and knocking. (You will find the word "seek" 14 times in LF.)
From Father Tony Kadavil’s Collection: 

1.     "Why don't you just try putting on the emergency brake?"

Father Barry Foster, a priest in Dublin, Ireland, parked his car on a rather steep slope close to his church. His little dog was lying on the rear seat and could not be seen by anyone outside the vehicle. Father Foster got out of the car and turned to lock the door with his usual parting command to the dog. "Stay!" he ordered loudly, to an apparently empty car. "Stay!" An elderly man was watching the performance with amused interest. Grinning, he suggested, "Why don't you just try putting on the emergency brake?" [Colin Jeffery, Catholic Digest (May 1992), p. 72.] The theme of today’s gospel is prayer and model prayer. To the unbeliever prayer is an exercise in futility like ordering an automobile, "Stay," fully expecting it to obey. But to the believer, prayer is the most powerful and the most reliable force in the world today because through prayer, we communicate with God.  
2.     “Never give up!"    

Years ago in Illinois, a young man with six months schooling to his credit ran for an office in the legislature when he was 23 and was beaten. Next he entered business with a partner but failed in that too, and spent the next seventeen years paying the debts of his worthless partner. He fell in love with a charming lady and they became engaged, but she died. The next year he had a nervous breakdown. Relying on the power of prayer, he ran for the post of Speaker (at 29), of Elector (at 31) and for a seat in Congress (at 34). He was defeated each time.   He then tried to obtain an appointment to the U.S. Land Office, but didn’t succeed. He became a candidate for the Vice-Presidency and lost. Two years later he was defeated in an election to the Senate (at 46). He ran for office once more and was elected the sixteenth President of the United States in 1860 when he was 51. That man was Abraham Lincoln who put his trust in the power of persistent prayer coupled with never-fading faith in God’s goodness.  It took Winston Churchill three years to get through the eighth grade, because he couldn’t pass English!  Ironically, he was asked many years later to give the commencement address at Oxford University. His famous speech consisted of only three words: “Never give up!"   In today’s gospel after teaching the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus instructs us that we should never give up in our prayer life. 
3.     “Don’t bother me.”  

We do not pray in the Lord’s Prayer "Give me this day what I want." We pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We are created for community. Hunger kills somebody in the world every 3.6 seconds. 10.5% of all U. S. households are food-insecure. 800 million people in the world are malnourished. It would take 13 billion dollars a year to end hunger. At the same time the U.S. and Europe spend 18 billion dollars a year on pet food. There is a knock on our door in the midnight hour. Like the neighbor in the scriptures we are prone to say, “Don’t bother me.”