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Saturday, August 9, 2008

Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

We live in a world filled with noise. How many of us constantly have the radio or TV on at home? We get into our cars, and there's the radio. We walk outside and hear the noise of vehicles, trains, other people. We're surrounded, even bombarded, with noise constantly. This noise prevents us from hearing the still, small voice of God speaking in our hearts.

Our Lord knew the importance of silence and solitude. After feeding the five thousand, which we heard last week, Jesus sent his disciples ahead of him in a boat so that he could have some time to pray in private. These times of prayer are what fueled Our Lord's ministry, kept him going, regardless of the demands that were placed upon him. He also made prayer a priority before any major decision or event. This time, Our Lord used the opportunity for prayer to grieve over the death of his cousin, John the Baptist. Jesus knew that he could take all his concerns to the Father in prayer, and that he would receive the grace to continue in his earthly ministry.

We need to follow Our Lord's example. We need to bring our concerns, our challenges, our sorrows to the Father in prayer. When we make a major decision, we need to precede it with time of prayer, asking the Father to lead and guide us so that we may do his will. When we have difficulties in our lives, problems that we feel we can't overcome, we need to bring those to prayer as well, trusting that God will provide the grace to face these challenges.

In our noisy culture, however, it is extremely difficult to bring ourselves to prayer. Because of the constant noise in the world today, it is difficult to silence ourselves and prepare ourselves to be open to God and listen to His response. While it may be difficult to enter into silence, it is all the more important, as the first reading today shows.

When Elijah, long considered Israel's greatest prophet, reached Mount Horeb, he sought to speak with God. I think when many of us picture God speaking, we imagine something like the movie “The Ten Commandments.” We imagine that God has a deep, booming voice that shakes the rocks and causes earthquakes. When speaking with Elijah, however, God doesn't speak that way. He doesn't speak in a great wind, or an earthquake, or even in fire, but in a tiny whispering sound.

This is how God the Father speaks to us today. He doesn't yell at us, he doesn't force us to hear him. Instead, he whispers to us. He speaks softly in our hearts, inviting us to enter into silence and prayer so that we can hear his voice. God does answer our prayers, he does speak to us, but he does it so softly that the noise of the world can easily drown it out.

This is why we must allow for periods of silence in our lives. Every day, we must take time to turn off the TV or radio, get away from the noise of the world and listen to God. We need to spend time in prayer, bringing the challenges of our lives, the struggles we're facing, the sorrows and joys of daily life to God. We also need to spend time silently waiting for an answer. It may not come right away, and it may not even be during times of prayer, but we need to have the periods of silence to open our hearts to God, and prepare them to follow his will.

How do we find this time for silence? It's often very difficult to do, but is so important for our spiritual well-being. One option is to schedule time during the day to spend in a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament. The church is always open throughout the day, so anyone can stop in and spend time before Our Lord in the Tabernacle. I realize that it is often impossible to actually spend an hour in adoration, but I wouldn't be discouraged if you can't do one hour. Even if you only can spend fifteen minutes in front of Our Lord in silent prayer, the graces that we receive from simply stopping by are immeasurable. Our Lord is here in the church, waiting for us to spend time with him. May we have the faith to spend time with Our Lord in silence.


wbdnewton said...

Father, I liked this homily but I'm torn between two concepts and would like your opinion.

One is that of being like a child and repeatedly asking Our Heavenly Father, "Can you give me this please?" or "Can you help me with that please?" until you get an answer. It doesn't mean you get your answer any faster, of course, but in some way it feels like you are doing something and showing God how earnestly you need the healing, help, guidance, whatever it is.

On the other hand, a priest I heard the other day on EWTN said you only need to ask God for what you need - healing from an illness, direction on some important decision, etc. - just once, because it's not like He's going to forget you. Then you just go about praying or meditating on other things. I suppose this is thinking along the lines of "consider the lillies of the field/birds of the air".

What do you think?

Father Cory Sticha said...

Sorry for the delay in answering you question. I've been thinking about it for most of the week, and it wasn't until I wrote this weekend's homily that the answer came to me.

I think the important question is not how many times we ask for something, but what is our interior disposition when we ask? If we approach Our Lord with pride, our prayers will be in vain.

Each method of petitionary prayer has it's pitfall when approached pridefully. If we ask for something repeatedly, we sound like a two year old who wants the box of Super Mega Sugar Bomb cereal. On the other hand, only asking once sounds like a demand, or as if we view God like a gumball machine: put one quarter in, receive one gumball.

If we approach Our Lord with humility and trust, our prayers become effective. In the Gospel for this Sunday, Our Lord praises the Canaanite woman for her perseverance, so asking for something more than once is not bad. I think it also takes a strong level of trust to ask God for something only once, putting it in his hands.

I think it's also important to realize that sometimes God does purposely make us prove our trust in Him, as Jesus did to the Canaanite woman. Yes, God knows how firm is our trust in Him, but He wants us to take the steps to prove it, often for our own good.

Not exactly an either/or answer, but there are few things in the spiritual life that are. Each approach has its purpose in our prayer lives.

William Newton said...

I very much appreciated your response - particularly the gumball analogy - because I agree with you that I don't think it is necessarily an either or answer, but somewhere inbetween.

For example, repeatedly asking about something can easily lead to obsessing about the need or problem, which is bad enough since it may cause us to neglect other areas of our life, while in turn such obsessing over a pain, a problem, a difficulty, can lead to a kind of bitter doubt.

At the same time, I agree that it would take a great deal of trust in God to completely abandon themselves to divine providence after asking for help just once. There cannot be any element of pride in that request since, as you say, God is not a giving machine. Perhaps this is why it's often easier to pray for something for someone else just once, because if we are properly disposed to trust God to take care of the outcome, we often don't go down that path toward obsessing over the problem or need. How much more difficult to do that for yourself, though!

I've recently started praying the Liturgy of the Hours, and the Psalmist is often turning to thoughts and worries about being abandoned or lost, his prayers unanswered. Yet when all seems lost, he clings to his faith knowing that an answer will come and he will not be lost. Ultimately, I think it's true that any loss or setback, whether in our health, basic needs, relationships, work, etc., reminds us of our mortality, and at the deep core THAT is what rattles us more than anything. The possibility of a kind of death, or a foretaste of it, scares most of us. How much more important, than, to continue to work out our salvation but to not be paralyzed by our fears so as to either not ask for enough, or to ask incessantly.