Attitude in Prayer
Homily for October 23, 2016 Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary - C
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi
In today’s Gospel, did you notice that the tax collector stood in the back of the temple area to pray? I wonder – was he Catholic …?
In any case, what’s prayer? If you looked it up, you’d probably find that prayer generally can be grouped as prayers of adoration and worship, prayers of thanksgiving, and prayers of petition for ourselves or intercession on someone else’s behalf. It seems that while we sometimes give thanks for what we have – like when we rattle through “grace” before a meal, mostly we believe that what we have, we earned ourselves and so don’t give thanks often enough. And while we praise God at Mass or when some miraculous event occurs, when was the last time you saw someone jump up in a crowd of people at your office or social event and shouted, “Praise Jesus!”?
It seems that the greatest majority of our prayers focus on intercession and petitions. We want something from God. And that's OK, as long as we don't forget the rest.
All of today’s readings – including the responsorial psalm – are about asking God for something. Mercy. And as we approach the close of the Jubilee of Mercy, I think it is helpful for us to think about what our priorities are in our prayers, our attitude in our prayers, and what we really want from God from our prayers.
Why do we pray? How many of us have the attitude of the Pharisee in today’s Gospel, “Hey, God, I’ve got a great life. I’ve got a new car, a big house, and I have enough money that can go and do just about anything I want. I’m a good guy, and I’m so glad I don’t have to struggle like some of those poor schmucks. Well, I gotta run or I’ll miss the Cowboy’s football game.”
But often we’re on the other side of the fence. There’s been many times when I’ve had someone say to me, “Why should I bother to pray? It doesn’t seem to do any good.” Or, “Why does God seem to answer everyone else’s prayers but mine?” Maybe we’re fighting just to survive and we’re desperately seeking a way out of our troubles. Especially during this election year, where there’s been such hatred and viciousness surrounding us, we cry out, “Where’s God when we need Him?”
We are living in troubling times, but are they worse that when Jesus walked the Earth? Israel was an occupied country under Roman rule; almost all of the Apostles were martyred for their faith. In our second reading, St. Paul is in prison as he writes to Timothy, and he knows that in a short while he too will be executed. There were diseases and natural disasters and war and violence, just like today.
(OK, maybe they didn’t have to deal with people dressing up in scary clown costumes accosting them, or with listening to the clowns currently running for political office. But they did have to deal with the Pilates and Herods and Caesars of their time, not to mention their chosen leaders in the synagogues and the Temple.)
And if you were to measure the success of our prayers of petition and intercession during the last 2000 years by their earthly effectiveness, then it would seem that it is a waste of time to pray.
But prayer is much more than just getting God to give us something or fix something for us. Our prayers are our conversations with God. Conversations. They are meant to be two-way – speaking AND listening. And listening can be tough, since God doesn’t normally respond in a manner we are used to – no phone calls or emails, no text messages or even a Facebook post. We must learn to LISTEN to God, to hear His voice – with our hearts. And we cannot do that unless we make time for God, to be alone with Him.
God DOES hear our prayers. And, like in the first reading from Sirach, we don’t have to be poor to be heard; rich or poor, God listens to all of us equally, especially when we turn to Him with a contrite spirit.
But if all we do is pray to get something, whether for ourselves or someone else, without being poor in spirit – an attitude of respect for God because He is God – then we’ve made God nothing more than a genie in a bottle, like Barbara Eden in the old TV series “I Dream of Genie”. Pop the cork and ask away, and maybe your wish will come true.
Like Paul, we must focus on our true future – eternity. And IF, in our prayers of petition, we recognize our own shortcomings and ask for God’s mercy, He will hear us. Then, like Paul, we will be able say, no matter our current sufferings, that “the Lord will rescue us from every evil threat and will bring us safely to his heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever.”