Praying like Jesus

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gensis 18:20 - 32

In those days, the LORD said: "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great, and their sin so grave, that I must go down and see whether or not their actions fully correspond to the cry against them that comes to me. I mean to find out." While Abraham's visitors walked on farther toward Sodom, the LORD remained standing before Abraham. Then Abraham drew nearer and said: "Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty? Suppose there were fifty innocent people in the city; would you wipe out the place, rather than spare it for the sake of the fifty innocent people within it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to make the innocent die with the guilty so that the innocent and the guilty would be treated alike! Should not the judge of all the world act with justice?" The LORD replied, "If I find fifty innocent people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake." Abraham spoke up again: "See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord, though I am but dust and ashes! What if there are five less than fifty innocent people? Will you destroy the whole city because of those five?" He answered, "I will not destroy it, if I find forty-five there." But Abraham persisted, saying "What if only forty are found there?" He replied, "I will forbear doing it for the sake of the forty." Then Abraham said, "Let not my Lord grow impatient if I go on. What if only thirty are found there?" He replied, "I will forbear doing it if I can find but thirty there." Still Abraham went on, "Since I have thus dared to speak to my Lord, what if there are no more than twenty?" The LORD answered, "I will not destroy it, for the sake of the twenty." But he still persisted: "Please, let not my Lord grow angry if I speak up this last time. What if there are at least ten there?" He replied, "For the sake of those ten, I will not destroy it."

Colossians 2:12-14

Brothers and sisters: You were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And even when you were dead in transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he brought you to life along with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions; obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims, which was opposed to us, he also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross.

Luke 11:1-13

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples." He said to them, "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test." And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend to whom he goes at midnight and says, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him,' and he says in reply from within, 'Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.' I tell you, if he does not get up to give the visitor the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence. "And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?"

Sunday Homily

Here are the four most common stumbling blocks to prayer, in my experience:

  1. We don’t know how to pray.
  2. We run out of things to say. Dr. Tim Gray shares a story of how, when he was a teenager, he could pray on retreat and at the youth group, but, on his own, he didn’t know what to do. He wanted to hear God speak, but heard nothing. He would ask God to help Him with this or that, but, after that, he had nothing left to say.
  3. Many people have asked, “How do we know when we’re talking to God or when we’re talking to ourselves?”
  4. We get nothing out of it.

The Gospel gives us an incredible teaching on prayer. It starts: “Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples’” (Lk 11:1). St. Luke records that “Jesus was praying” more than any other Gospel: Luke tells us that Jesus “would withdraw to deserted places and pray” (5:16). When St. Matthew has Jesus get baptized and the Father’s voice is heard from heaven, in St. Luke this happens while He’s praying (3:21). Before He chooses the 12 apostles, only St. Luke tells us that Jesus “went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God” (6:12).

Jesus prayed intensely and all the time. Like we said last week, many of us talk to God throughout the day, which is good, but not deep enough. Jesus spent focused time in prayer, and that’s the way we’ll overcome our stumbling blocks.

The Gospel then says He was praying “in a certain place.” Where we pray is important! Remember how St. Luke says that Jesus went to the Mount of Olives, “as was his custom” (22:39)? The Catechism says, “The choice of a favorable place is not a matter of indifference for true prayer” (2691).

Fr. Lucio said that his ‘sweet spot’ for prayer was over there, on the left side of the church, next to the pillar. When I was a teenager, my best place to pray at home was in between my brother’s and my bed, where it was cozy and I could focus. Fr. Pierre told me this week that the chapel is addictive, because of the environment and because people are praying, and that encourages him to pray.

That leads to the next part of the Gospel: “After [Jesus] had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray.’” Jesus’ example of prayer was so inspiring that a disciple wants to learn! Have you ever seen someone really pray? They’re in a conversation, encountering another person. It was said of St. Mother Teresa, “People were fascinated just watching Mother pray. They would sit there and watching her be really drawn into this mystery” (Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, 270, Kindle Edition). This is what Jesus doing for us today: He’s drawing us into His own prayer and is saying to us today: “Pray like I do.”

Then He teaches us the Our Father. St. Thomas Aquinas called the Our Father “the most perfect of prayers” (CCC 2763). Why? Because everything we can “rightly desire” is contained in it: Wanting God to be praised and glorified (hallowed be Thy name), that God be number one in our lives and in the whole world (Thy kingdom come), wanting not our own will to happen, but God’s plan (Thy will be done), asking for everything we need materially and spiritually (our daily bread), asking for forgiveness, asking for strength against temptation and protection from Satan and all evil. Everything we need and want are here.

But the Our Father also teaches us to ask for them in the right order. Often we pray for what we want first, and then, if we remember, praise and bless God. But the Our Father teaches us that the first three things we should ask for are all centered around God: Hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done. Only after that can we focus on ourselves. As I told you before, always start with praise, because that gets us out of ourselves, and rescues us from our self-focus, desolation, and discouragement.

All this answers the 1st stumbling block of how to pray: Like Jesus, Mmake time for it, choose a good place, follow the pattern of the Our Father in what to ask for and the order to ask for it.

But the 2nd stumbling block asks: What happens when we run out of things to say (#2)? Then pray the Our Father the way the saints would pray it, by concentrating on the words. St. Teresa of Avila would get stuck on the opening two words, “Our Father,” because there’s so much meaning there (33). In the first four chapters of St. Matthew’s Gospel, God is referred to as king, creator, savior, but never as father. But, in the 5th chapter, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus refers to God as Father 17 times, which is more than the entire Old Testament put together . By the way, all these interesting facts are in FORMED.

Once we realize that God’s our Father, we relate to Him differently. A friend of mine once told me about a Catholic man who is in full-time ministry. He would always talk about “God” but never as “Father”—that says something. That happens to a lot of Christians: They relate to God in His majesty, transcendence, and omnipotence, which is good and necessary, but never in His fatherhood, perhaps because they’ve never experienced being loved as a son or daughter.

This, by the way, is why I’ll never allow the song “The Prayer” during a wedding! Because it never even mentions God! What’s the point of praying if we’re just addressing an unnamed, mysterious force? It’s a nice song, but a bad prayer, because it doesn’t love God; it just asks Him to give us stuff.

Formulaic prayers like the Our Father are designed to be jumping off points: when we pray them, they’re supposed to touch our hearts and minds, so that we turn to God. When I pray the words of consecration, my heart and mind are touched because of what the words mean, and I turn to the Father.

Once we see that formulaic prayers are jumping off points, then all the prayers at Mass will have greater meaning: The “I confess” is a jumping off point to express and feel sorrowful while the “Glory to God” is a jumping off point to praise God. The Eucharistic Prayer, today for Various Needs III, is a jumping off prayer for praise and gratitude. Listen to the meaning of prayers! Slow down and recite them with attention.

This is why I’ve said to bring a book to prayer always. It will be a jumping off point. You’ll never run out of things to say or fail to hear what God is saying.

The 3rd stumbling block is: How do you know when you’re talking to God or when you’re talking to yourself? The answer is: awareness of the other person. Just as you’re aware of someone you’re communicating with right now, when you pray and are aware of God, you’re praying. It’s just like any other conversation. Sometimes we start daydreaming in prayer when Jesus is talking to us (like some of you are with me now), so, we need to pay attention again to Him again.

Finally, (#4) what if we get nothing out of prayer? I guarantee you that if we go into prayer sincerely trying to love God, then it’ll always be fruitful, even when we can’t feel it.

A wise person once said that, even if a pot has some cracks and can’t contain any water when it’s filled up, it’s still washed clean. So, every time we turn to God in faith and love, and feel nothing, we’re still being purified. It’s like eating vegetables: we feel nothing but still get nourished.

Today during Mass, if we notice someone really praying (I hope we’re all praying but sometimes we notice someone who’s more advanced in love), let that person’s prayer be a jumping off point for us, reminding us to pray better, just as Jesus’ example inspired a disciple to want to learn to pray.

I still remember, eleven years ago, a woman making the sign of the Cross very deliberately, and she is forever my model for making the Cross with love.

Last year, when Cardinal Robert Sarah visited Canada, before giving his talk in a church, he made an extended genuflection to the Blessed Sacrament and many people said they found this prayer more moving than his talk.

Finally, a friend once told me that when he went to a famous shrine in Medjugorje, Croatia, he participated in a Mass where, for the first time in his life, everyone was praying! He said it was so inspiring to be with other people who were praying that he started to pray! They were clearly encountering God the Father, were in a conversation with Him. Let’s all do what they did: Pray like Jesus.

Posted: July 28, 2019

Fr. Justin Huang

Fr. Justin grew up in Richmond, BC, the third of three brothers. Though not raised Catholic, he started going to Mass when he was 13. After a powerful experience of God’s love through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, he felt called to the Holy Priesthood at the age of 16.

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