Homily for the Second Sunday of Lent
February 21, 2016
I recently listened to a podcast featuring the actor, Martin Sheen (The West Wing, Apocalypse Now, The Way). It was very interesting listening to him talk about his deep Catholic faith. (Click here to read the transcript or download the podcast).
The theme of the interview was “Spirituality of Imagination” and focused, in large part, on Sheen’s fascination with prayer. Two things struck me from his comments about prayer:
- He talked about how intimate prayer can be – just us and God in conversation, and
- He talked about how his style of prayer has changed over the years – how it has grown to be more conversational
Sheen also commented on the 11th chapter of Luke where the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray (Luke 11: 1-4). He found the disciples’ request interesting, saying “…they were devout Jews, and they had a very structured form of prayer, and worship, and sacrifice, and they asked him, ‘Teach us to pray,’ is a very curious question to me, that they wanted to go deeper. They wanted to go more personal, I guess.”
I think Mr. Sheen is correct. We all have this longing in our hearts to better know and love God. And God invites us to “go deeper” in our relationship. A crucial step in this relationship is making a commitment to regular (daily) prayer, which this season of Lent helps us remember.
Prayer in Today’s Readings
When we think about prayer, we often overlook one of the most remarkable pieces of evidence that shows us how important prayer really is. What is that evidence? Jesus prayed!
- Last week we saw him go off into the desert to pray
- In today’s Gospel, we see him go up the mountain to pray
- In dozens of other Gospel passages we see the same thing
We read about Jesus getting up early or staying up late to make time for prayer. We hear about Jesus praying for guidance before major events in his life.
Jesus needed regular prayer in his life; and so do we!
Today’s readings remind us that prayer, the most effective way of growing in relationship with God, takes on many forms.
- Today’s First Reading tells us that “The Lord God took Abram outside…” and had a conversation with him. That’s prayer.
- The Psalm gives us an example of King David’s prayer in the face of danger, “Your presence, O Lord, I seek. Hide not your face from me…”
- St Paul, in the Second Reading, reminds the Christians in Philippi that while most people occupy their minds “with earthy things… Our citizenship is in heaven.” Our attention is on God – that’s prayer.
- Finally, in the Gospel, Jesus leads his three closest disciples away from the hustle and bustle of life, up to the top of a high mountain, where he can be alone with them, and give them a lesson in prayer.
Space and Time for Prayer and Reflection
So, we have to ask ourselves:
- Is our prayer life in good shape? Do we make a commitment to prayer?
- Has our prayer life improved in the last year, over the last 10 years?
- Do we allow space and time in our prayer to reflect and to engage in dialogue with God (or are we just rattling off rote prayers)?
A business friend of mine once invited me to lunch. Before lunch, he suggested we stop at the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis to pray the Rosary. I thought that was an outstanding idea. When we got there, my friend said he would lead the prayer. In my mind, that meant we would pause, gather our thoughts and take time to reflect on each of the Mysteries of the Rosary. My friend had a different idea.
He proceeded to rip through the Rosary prayers at lightning pace, barely taking a moment to breathe (much less reflect on the fruits of the mysteries we were praying). It made my head spin!
After he had finished (what he called) prayer. I asked him: “Did you ever consider slowing down and reflecting on the Mysteries of the Rosary?” “No,” he said, “I just want to get these prayers done so I am ‘good with God’.” Needless to say, we had much to talk about over lunch.
Our prayer is not merely a commitment or something we check off of our list to feel like we remain in God’s good grace.
If prayer is truly conversation with God, we need to remember what our mothers’ told us: You have two ears and one mouth; use them in that proportion.
We need to speak to God in prayer, but we also need to listen.
If we continue today’s Second Reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, we’ll hear one of my favorite Bible passages (Philippians 4:6-7).
“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.”
God wants us to make our requests known to him, but we also need to allow time and space to listen to God in our prayer. In doing so, we enjoy the gifts of God’s grace.
“Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
So, make your needs known; then listen for his response. Be persistently patient.
Prayer as a Priority
Matthew Kelly, in his book, “The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic” states that only 7% of Catholics have a daily commitment to prayer. (Click here to learn about Dynamic Catholics.)
About these committed pray-ers, Kelly notes that these people:
- Have a routine for prayer
- Have a structure for prayer
- Many of them pray at the same time every day
For some this means going to Mass in the morning. 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.
Daily prayer, a daily conversation with God, can do great things for our spiritual nourishment and growth. It starts by making a commitment.
As you pray, don’t be afraid to try different styles of prayer or to use different Catholic texts for reading and reflection. Sometimes changing things up can help reinvigorate our prayer life. This season of Lent is an excellent time to try different forms of prayer. Just pick up this week’s Bulletin and look at all of the opportunities in our parish and in neighboring parishes to participate in prayer and spiritual formation programs this Lent.
Make prayer a daily priority in your life and allow time (and space) to reflect on the messages and insight God gives you in prayer. Be silent, be patient and listen!
This week, I encourage you heed the words of the Gospel and God’s voice that came from the cloud:
“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
Be at peace and know that you are loved!
Copyright © Daniel R. Donnelly. All Rights Reserved.