Today’s homily is for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 16, 2022, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily is here.
Have you ever gone through some papers or emails you thought were so important at the time, but now as you go through them, you realize they weren’t as important as you once thought? I get hundreds of emails a day and most I read and get rid of, some I file into folders, and some are action items that stay in my inbox until I complete them. As odd as this may sound, this is a very healthy way to approach prayer as well.
Our first reading shows the power or the effectiveness of prayer, and the importance of a couple good friends. As long as Moses had his hands raised up in prayer, the victory was theirs—but if his hands dropped, they would begin to lose! Lucky for Moses, Aaron and Hur were there to help him keep his hands raised to God! We need to keep our hands raised to God in prayer—and we should be encouraging each other, maybe admonishing each other, but certainly supporting each other, because clearly, prayer matters to God, and to us. As St. Ephraem the Syrian said, “Do nothing at all unless you begin with prayer.”
We should pray often, St. Paul tells us to “pray without ceasing!” (1 Th 5:17), like the widow in today’s Gospel. She had nothing to offer the unjust judge–only her cries for justice. He didn’t care about anyone or anything, but she kept going back to him time and time again to ask for what she wanted. And Jesus raises her up as an example for all of us. Jesus is telling us, God never tires of hearing and responding to the needs of his children. Even in the Lord’s prayer Jesus taught us, are seven petitions. God wants us to ask. We must learn to pray without ceasing.
Sometimes I wonder if God hears my prayer at all though. Maybe you feel that way too sometimes. There are times when I lift my hands up to God, pray without ceasing, and still–only silence. It is during these times especially when I lean on the teaching of Evagrius Ponticus, a monk who lived in the middle of the third century. He said, “Do not be troubled if you do not immediately receive from God what you ask him; for he desires to do something even greater for you, while you cling to him in prayer.” Isn’t it possible that I might be praying for the world, but God has the universe in store for me? Or maybe that I’m praying for peace in this moment, but God desires my peace for eternity?
We often cry out to God for things we think we need, or experiences we believe we should have—but the truth is that our vision is so narrow, clouded by sin and desires for earthly things and we think only of those things that will bring us pleasure or gain, without thinking how my want effect others, or even that my sacrifice or suffering my bring about transformation far greater than I might achieve with answered prayers!
The church teaches that when we pray, it is the heart that is first transformed by our petition (CCC 2739). God wants to bless us but more than anything he wants to transform us. God wants to widen our vision. God wants to deepen our love for him and our neighbor. And the more we love and as our vision is broadened and deepened, the more we may come to realize that our prayers, while pure, ultimately fell short of the great plan God had in store for us.
So God wants us to go to him in prayer. He wants us to be persistent and constant. He wants us to raise our hands to him, and to gather friends around us in prayer on behalf of the world and ourselves, but more than anything, God wants us to be with him forever in heaven–that’s the goal. As I get older I reflect back on my prayers, and they’re sort of like going through those old files or emails that I thought were so important at the time but now are easily discarded. Thankfully God knows our future, he knows what we need, he wants us to ask for what we want, but he only gives us what we need for salvation.