17th Sunday in Ordinary Time — Deacon’s Homily

The readings today focus on prayer, one of the most important topics we can talk about. Prayer is an ongoing, never ending communion with our Lord and God. It is lived and expressed through words, meditation, and our actions in life. It fosters a deep personal relationship with God, one that takes precedence over anything else in our lives. Any healthy relationship requires work, care, feeding, and understanding. It is in the understanding of the will of God that we may struggle with the most.

Have you every prayed and felt as though God is not listening to you? I am sure each and every one of us has experienced it. Our first reaction may be an exasperating cry of why, why are you not answering me. Even Jesus on the cross cried out to God the Father in Matthew 27:46 saying” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” In this passage, God’s own son expresses the feelings of abandonment but found solace in following the will of his Father. At this point in Jesus’ life he completely emptied himself, giving God the Father everything he had. Nothing took priority over his Father’s will, not even his life.

The path for us in finding solace in the will of God is in following the way of Jesus. We must also empty ourselves of anything that takes priority over God, even the pain of life must be secondary to God. It is an offering, a sacrifice, an emptying of one self, a way of leaving all self-desires behind in order to open ourselves to be filled with what really matters, being filled with the Holy Spirit, being filled with God where everything else only makes sense when we live totally for the will of God.

This requires us to be in a continuous conversation with God, the source of our life, the source of all that drives us. Throughout Jesus’ ministry he has been teaching us how to pray. Bishop Robert Barron pointed this out many years ago when he spoke about what he called the 4 Laws of Prayer: Faith, Forgiveness, Persistence, and praying in the name of Jesus.

Let’s look first at forgiveness relating to prayer. Mark 11:25 states: “When you stand to pray, forgive anyone against whom you have a grievance, so that your heavenly Father may in turn forgive you your transgressions.” The key here is that your prayer will not be effective if you hold grudges. We acknowledge this in praying the Our Father which states: “…forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. …” We are telling God to forgive us as we forgive others. Do we actually mean that or not when we are praying? The next time you pray the Our Father, meditate on those words.

Faith in prayer is expressed in Mark 11:24 which states; “Therefore I tell you, all that you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours.” That is a very powerful statement from Jesus. Praying with Faith goes hand-in-hand with praying in the name of Jesus. It is expressed in John 14:14 which Jesus states; “If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.” As we are not all knowing and all seeing, we need to put our complete trust in God’s love for us, but also not become complacent about it. St. Augustine said: “Pray as though everything depended on GodWork as though everything depended on you.”

That brings us to persistence which is expressed in the scriptures today. Abraham continues to pursue God for a certain outcome. He asks many times, always respectfully, but with an undying persistence. In the Gospel Jesus says; “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you.” Jesus is not suggesting, he is telling us to be persistent in our prayer. This implies that God’s answer to us may not be the immediate response we want, but be assured, if you persistently pray, your prayer is heard and you will receive an answer. Jesus also states in the Gospel: “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.”

The part we may not understand is that answers to our prayers are based under the assumption that whatever we ask for is in line with God’s will just as it was with Jesus when he prayed. In John 5:19 it states; “Jesus answered and said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, a son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees his father doing; for what he does, his son will do also.” It is important to realize the even with the purest intentions of asking for something that is within the will of God, it will be in God’s time not ours.

The scriptures are telling us that our persistence in prayer is part of a conversation with God, not a demand, but an openness to understand God’s will. That is the key. We must be open to God’s will even if we do not understand it. His answer will be yes if our request falls within His will. We may get an answer different than our will but we must understand that His will should be our goal, no matter how difficult it may be for us to accept it.

This is a leap of faith, and there will be times that we cannot make any sense out of what is happening in our lives, like war, disease, and death. But through prayer, through the sacrifice of aligning our will with God’s, we will find the peace that we sometimes find very elusive. The peace of knowing that our lives are being guided by God’s will comes with our desire to align our will with God’s so our will is God’s will.

Jesus did not have an easy life. We may also not have an easy life, but if our will is aligned with God’s we will have a life destined for heaven, a life filled with love surrounding us. Love conquers all, so no matter how tough life may sometimes be, we will live our life always accompanied by God both now and for all eternity.

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