Homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
At the beginning of today’s Gospel (Mat 14:22-33) St. Matthew tells us that Jesus “went up on the mountain by himself to pray.” It had been a very long day for Jesus – teaching the crowds, healing the sick, and performing the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves. And, at the beginning of the day, Jesus received the news that his cousin, John the Baptist, was dead. Exhausted, as the sun was setting, Jesus climbed the mountain to pray.
We know from other Gospel passages that Jesus frequently went off alone to pray (especially before major events). At first glance, this might appear strange: Why would Jesus, who is divine (“true God from true God”) need to spend time in prayer? Why? Because he was also true man, the Word made flesh. Jesus was uniquely human and divine. And, because he was human, he needed to pray (we humans are not meant to go it alone!).
One of the lessons from today’s Gospel is a reminder to keep first things first. We are reminded to follow Jesus’ example of giving prayer a priority. If he who is the Son of God needed time alone in prayer, we would be foolish to not do the same in our lives.
A similar lesson is reflected in today’s First Reading (1 KGS 19:9A, 11-13A). This is one of my favorite passages from the Old Testament. The Prophet Elijah had just won a battle with his adversaries. But still threatened by his enemies, he escapes to Mount Horeb to pray. Mount Horeb was where Moses had received the Ten Commandments, establishing the Old Covenant of the Law. Mount Horeb was a sacred place. Elijah goes there for two reasons:
First, he needs to renew his strength. He is worn out from battle. He is tired. He feels discouraged. He wants to give up. With all of those feelings welling up inside of him he goes to a sacred space to pray and be renewed.
Second, he needed to find help. He doesn’t know what to do next. He doesn’t know where to turn or how to proceed; he is unclear what God is asking him.
What strikes me from this story is that Elijah’s need for prayer doesn’t sound too different from ours. We, too, can be renewed and strengthened in prayer. We, too, can rely on God’s wisdom to guide our lives. We just have to ask, in prayer.
Like Jesus and Elijah, we need to put “first things first” in our lives and spend regular time with God in prayer. There we will find strength and direction from God; we will find shelter until life’s storms, earthquakes, and fires fade away; and we can hear the “tiny whispering sound” of God’s wisdom in our life.
So, what can we humans do to keep our prayer life in shape so that we can grow into mature, wise and joyful Christians? It’s not too complicated. We simply need to make time in our busy schedules to spend time alone with God in prayer. There are many ways we can do this. Here are three ideas for your consideration:
- Every Catholic should go on an annual spiritual retreat. Even if only for one weekend a year, or for one day a year, we need to spend some quality time with the Lord, one-on-one. It is difficult to schedule parish-sponsored retreats at this time due to the pandemic, but you can still carve out time for a personal retreat experience. Pick a date, take the time, and find rest and inspiration in God’s love.
- We need to spend time in personal prayer every day. We easily find ten minutes for so many things in life; why is it so hard to find ten minutes in the morning and the evening to pray one-on-one with God? I think that the very fact that it is so hard is proof that we really need to do this!
- Allow God to feed and strengthen us in Eucharist. One of the greatest gifts we have as Catholics is the privileged moment of intimate, personal contact with our Lord every time we receive Holy Communion. Eucharist is the thing most Catholics miss during this time of pandemic. If you cannot receive Communion because of the Coronavirus, you are encouraged to make a Spiritual Communion with God.
Spiritual Communion Prayer
My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the Most Holy Sacrament. I love you above all things and I desire to receive you in my soul. Since I cannot at this moment receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace you as if you were already there and unite myself wholly to you. Never permit me to be separated from you. Amen.
I appreciate that it is awkward at this time to receive Communion during Mass. Because of the need to maintain social distancing, and to provide time to clean and disinfect the church between Masses, we receive Communion as part of our departure from Mass. This doesn’t afford us the time we would like to spend with God during Mass.
But don’t allow these logistical necessities to rob you of that special one-on-one time with God. I encourage you to take time after receiving the Body of Christ to reflect on the gift you have been given. Maybe sit and reflect in your car for a few minutes before driving home. Or, once you return home, take a few minutes of quiet, reflective time with Jesus. We need these precious moments of silence and reflection to speak heart-to-heart with the one who loves us and gives himself to us.
In addition to putting prayer first, I think this pandemic is a reminder to put others first. The actions we take personally to fight the virus (covering our faces, washing our hands, socially distancing ourselves) help us care for others. It is the manifestation of Christ’s commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (the Greatest Commandment). I pray this continues to remain a priority and practice long after the pandemic ends.
This week, I invite you to reflect on the priority that prayer takes in your life. Prayer matters most because prayer deepens our communion with God, and our communion with God is the only source of lasting happiness, wisdom and joy. Both for us, and for those around us.