Homily for the 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time, 2013
Most of us have fixed points in our days – specific times and routines that are a part of daily life. For most of us, we have some kind of work routine – a time when we must arrive, a time that we have lunch, a time when we are done. Some of you are in school and have to navigate class schedules and due dates and fixed exam times. Many of you are parents who have various fixed points surrounding your children: times that they need to be at school, the times of sports practices or games or various other activities. And many of you are who are a little older are on medications that must be taken at regular intervals – before or after meals, in the morning or the evening or at other prescribed times. And then there are a whole host of other fixed points that many of us are aware of: the times when stores open and close, the times of t.v. shows or sports games, the schedules for buses and other forms of transportation. And of course there is Mass and the time for confession and religious education each week here in the parish.
Life is a maze of fixed points, of routines – and by and large we manage to navigate them. Every once in a while we get mixed up and miss something, but in general most of us live an adult life that moves from one fixed point to another, and in fact we would consider someone who is incapable of meeting the fixed points around them as lacking in maturity or virtue.
And this would be all well and good in a monastery. Because in a monastery there are fixed points of prayer and community throughout the day. At morning, noon, evening, and night the bells in the tower ring and everything gets dropped and abandoned as the community comes together in the chapel for prayer. Meals are likewise fixed points in the day, usually they follow the times of prayer. And there are also times of recreation that usually follow meals. And so there is a prayerful pace of life that the walls of a monastery foster and sustain for those who live inside.
But we don’t live in a monastery… we live in a secular culture that has almost no fixed points that direct us to God during the day. We might say “well, this is what it is to live in the world, we’re not monks. We have to make our lives a prayer, we have to pray as we can, we have to fit it in along the way.” That is right, in a sense. That is true. We do have to fit prayer in to a busy and distracted and secular world.
But when we fit prayer into our day, it can’t all be willy nilly, haphazard and always distracted. And this is because a “Howdy God” here and a “Hey can you help me on this” there just can’t sustain a healthy Christian life. It is too superficial, it doesn’t have roots that are deep enough to sustain our Catholic faith and way of life.
If we allow our prayer to become shallow and fragmented, pretty soon we will find that Christ’s teaching has become confusing and hard to understand, that more often than not we are just suffering through Mass, that we have begun to doubt God’s faithfulness or in the reality of the sacraments, and have started to resent the sacrifices that are required in order to follow him.
And this makes sense, doesn’t it? Those of you who are married know this. A real relationship, true love cannot exist without moments of undistracted attention, without real listening, without real speaking from the heart. Intimacy is not built or maintained on a whim. It is not something that you just fit in when you can, when you can get to it. If you don’t regularly put everything else aside and give your attention in an undistracted way, even if not for a long time, then the relationship starts to become superficial. It starts to feel fake. Soon, especially if that relationship makes any demands upon us, we wonder why we are bothering.
Prayer is the same way. If we are not setting aside deliberate and undistracted time for prayer, we will begin to lose our connection to God and start to wonder why we are bothering to practice our faith at all.
I am convinced that the real reason that so many Catholics have left the practice of the faith in recent decades is almost entirely due to a lack of prayer in daily life. In our second reading today we hear St. Paul pleading: “Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient.”
Can we do that if we don’t know Christ well? If we just exchange a few haphazard words as we pass through the day? No. It’s not possible. Our faith will be stunted or lost altogether – either it will be dead as we sit here in the pews or soon we won’t even make it through the doors after a while.
I started by talking about fixed points. And about monasteries. We don’t live in them. But all the same, I hope you can see how critical it is that we be serious about praying. This week I read an article by Peter Kreeft on prayer. He is a college professor who lives a busy life. Here are a few of his thoughts about prayer:
“The major obstacle in most of our lives to just saying yes to prayer, the most popular and powerful excuse we give for not praying, or not praying more, or not praying regularly, is that we have no time.” He writes. “The only effective answer to that excuse, I find, is a kind of murder. You have to kill something, you have to say no to something else, in order to make time to pray. Of course, you will never find time to pray, you have to make time to pray. And that means unmaking something else.”
“Deciding to do that is the first thing. And you probably won’t decide to do it, only wish to do it, unless you see prayer for what it is: a matter of life or death, your lifeline to God, to life itself.”
Christ tells us in the Gospel that it is a necessity that we pray always without becoming weary.” A Christian must live a daily existence that is prayerful. And I think we could say that there is no greater challenge, and no greater joy than achieving a solid prayer life in the midst of the daily routines of a world that no longer has any fixed points that help us turn to God.
You and I must make fixed points of prayer in our day. Not haphazard, not leftover scraps. But usually I find it must be in the morning and somewhere we can be undisturbed. It doesn’t have to be long, it doesn’t have to be a particular thing. Even if you just sit by yourself and listen, or read, or whatever. Just chock out some God time, schedule it, insist on it. Perhaps your children or your wives and husbands or friends will be frustrated at times, it will be inconvenient at times, you will be frustrated at times. But by our persistence we will be witnessing to our families and to our world that our relationship with Christ is serious, that we are not playing around here. That God is the one who sustains us. We acknowledge and proclaim this fact when we pray.
Think of the people around you, your family and friends. Think about how it would impact you if you saw them set aside time each day to pray – if you saw that they were serious about prayer. If you witnessed your husband, your wife, your father or mother, your daughter or son, consciously and deliberately turn to God each day in prayer. Is that not an incredibly reassuring and grounding thought? Prayer isn’t just good for us. It also assures and bolsters those around us because it roots us in God who is steadfast and faithful, and makes us a source of strength and assurance for others. Without disciplined prayer we are like sponges that have no integrity, that soak up everything around us and can be shaped and molded by anything that comes our way. Fixed times of prayer provide structure to life and make us into living stones that God can use to anchor our families, church, and community. So encourage one another, help one another to pray, like Aaron and Hur who helped Moses to keep his arms raised up. To quote Peter Kreeft: “The single most important piece of advice I know about prayer is also the simplest: Just do it!”