How to Pray, Part Two: Persistence

(Homily for Twenty-Ninth Ordinary Sunday - Year C)

Message: We move from gratitude to constant prayer - the manly task of intercession - so our families can win the spiritual battle.

The is the second of four homilies on how to pray. Last Sunday we saw prayer's first step: gratitude. Jesus cures ten men from the cancer of leprosy. Only one returns to thank him. Jesus says to that man, "Your faith has saved you." We are saved by faith, that is, by a relationship to Christ which we express in thanksgiving.

Gratitude, as we saw, is a powerful weapon in spiritual combat: When we praise God, the devil flees. We saw that the best way of dealing with temptation is not by gritting one's teeth, but by gratitude. Instead of focusing on what one is missing out on, focus on the gifts that God showers on us every day. For sure, gratitude is difficult, especially when a person faces a crushing burden like debt or disease. But, at the same time, gratitude can provide a first step in confronting trials. So the most basic prayer is gratitude.

We now see the second element of prayer: persistence.* Persistence has to accompany gratitude. Otherwise, it turn to bitterness or simply will die. The Old Testament reading gives a powerful image of persistence - Moses extending his arms to God. As long as he keeps his arms up, the Israelites win the battle. But when Moses weakens and lowers his arms, the Israelites take a beating.

The best thing a father can do is to pray for his family. Persistent intercessory prayer is a manly task. We need fathers who pray for their wife and children - and grandchildren. I experience that as a priest. On Sunday morning, when I make a Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament, I know that battles are going on in our homes. The devil is doing everything he can to keep people - especially young families - away from Mass. He's afraid they will hear something in the Scriptures that will expose his strategy. But he especially fears the Blood of Christ. Sunday morning is the hour of combat. As your spiritual father, I pray for you and every family in our parish.

I can't do it alone. Moses needed Aaron and Hur to help him. When his arms got tired, they held them up so Moses could continue to prayer. I need your help: join me in persistent intercessory prayer. I especially need you men, you young men. Intercession is a manly task.

When it comes to constant prayer, however, women often put us to shame. We see it in today's Gospel: the widow who faces off a corrupt judge. She keeps at it and eventually wears him down. Imitate her, says Jesus.

This is the total opposite of what people think: "Why should I bother God?" They say, "He already knows what I need. Why waste time?" No! The fact is, brothers and sisters, that God has ordered the universe so that our prayers make a difference. Even at a subatomic level, physicists tells us, things happen randomly. This past week we had a presentation on "Science, God and Creation." The new discoveries of physics point to a Mind behind it all. That Intelligence is God and we connect with him when we pray. And Jesus (who is God in human flesh) tells us to pray without ceasing - day and night.

In Priests for the Third Millennium, Cardinal Timothy Dolan observes that prayer must become like eating and breathing. We have to eat daily, not stock up on food on Monday, and then take off the rest of the week. Do we take ten deep breaths and say, "Good, that’s over for a while, I won’t have to breathe for a couple of hours?" Like eating and breathing prayer must become a constant, daily part of our lives.

For that to happen a person needs a structure of prayer. I will say more about that next week, but we should note that the widow cried out by day and by night. You and I need a time in the morning and in the evening when we lift our hearts to God - when we call out to him.

And one final point on constant prayer: Use the Bible, especially the Psalms. St. Paul tells us today that Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, correcting and equipping. Remember the three "c's": cult, which is worship; code, the Ten Commandments and creed, a shared understanding of who God is. Cult, code and creed: Those three constitute our relationship with God. The Bible helps in all three.

We have seen today how we move from gratitude to constant prayer - the manly task of intercession - so our families can win the spiritual battle. Like the persistent widow, we call out to the Lord - by day and by night. Amen.


*In his book, The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic, Matthew Kelly addresses the importance of persistent prayer. He sets a context with these statistics:

• 6.4 percent of registered parishioners contribute 80% of the volunteer hours in a parish
• 6.8 percent of registered parishioners donate 80 percent of the financial contributions
• There is an 84 percent overlap between the two groups

These statistics, along with other studies, have led Matthew Kelly to conclude that only 7% of parishioners are “Dynamic Catholics.” I believe that we have a higher percentage here at St. Mary of the Valley, but we still have a long way to go toward becoming intentional disciples of the Lord. The first sign of a dynamic Catholic is prayer. As Matthew Kelly says, “Dynamic Catholics have a daily commitment to prayer.” He writes:

“God is not a distant force for these people, but rather a personal friend and adviser. They are trying to listen to the voice of God in their lives, and believe doing God’s will is the only path that leads to lasting happiness in this changing world (and beyond).

“Am I saying the other 93 percent of Catholics don’t pray? No. Their prayer tends to be spontaneous and inconsistent. The 7% have a daily commitment to prayer, a routine. Prayer is a priority for them. They also tend to have a structured way of praying. Many of them pray at the same time every day. For some it means going to Mass in the morning and for others it means sitting down in a big, comfortable chair in a corner of their home or taking a walk, but they tend to abide by a structure.” In today’s Gospel, Jesus indicates the need for a structure of prayer. He gives the parable of the persistent widow. Like her, says Jesus, we should “cry out to him (God) day and night.” In the homily I will be speaking about the how to engage in persistent intercessory prayer. This will be the second of four homilies on “how to pray.”

As Matthew Kelly insists, having a structure of prayer is the first step to becoming a “Dynamic Catholic.” This is something we have been exploring our parish staff and parish council. How do we help parishioners of St. Mary of the Valley become disciples of Christ? I ask you to say a prayer for our council, our staff and for the “Rebuilt Implementation Team” that has been formed to address this question.

Versión Castellana

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From Archives (Homilies for Twenty-Ninth Sunday, Year C):

2016: Boots Laced Week 5: Little People
2013: Focus on Prayer, Part Two: Persistence
2010: Persistent Prayer - The Eucharist
2007: The Manly Task of Intercession
2004: A Significant Battlefront
2001: Such a Home Is Prayer
1998: All Scripture is Inspired

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