Homily 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 16, 2020
I would like to begin by saying how humbled I am to be before you today. The support and prayers of Father Paul and the entire St. Pius X community have been a blessing to me and my family during the formation process. I would like to especially thank my wife Ellen for walking this journey with me. Long ago she asked me to come to Mass with her and she’s been my rock and inspiration on my spiritual path since.
Have you ever felt that God’s not listening to you? Or that your prayers are not being answered? Quite some time ago, like many people, I found myself in a situation where I was unemployed and looking for work. I’d been laid off from my job and was doing everything I could to find another job and support my family.
I prayed fervently to Jesus and asked for the intercession of St. Joseph. But I couldn’t find the job I thought I needed. I was frustrated and very worried. One day while at Mass, I just couldn’t take the stress any longer. I told Jesus I could no longer do it on my own and asked Him to carry that weight for me. I immediately felt the burden lift from my shoulders and eventually trained for a new career. Jesus answered my prayer although not in the way I expected.
I image the Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel felt the same way. She called on Jesus for help and doesn’t get an answer right away. When Jesus does respond, the response sounds discouraging. However, she keeps asking and her prayer is granted due to her faith. The woman is a model for us of petitionary prayer. This is the form of prayer where we ask something of God. She begins by recognizing Jesus’ sovereignty as God. Each time she addresses Jesus, she calls him Lord. She is also persistent. Even though it appears Jesus is not listening, she continues to ask. Further, she is humble. While she is asking for daughter to be healed, she’s willing to accept whatever help Jesus gives. For the woman, even the scraps that fall from the table would be acceptable. Her persistence and humility demonstrate her faith. And it is because of her faith that Jesus grants her prayer.
There are three other forms of prayer besides petitionary. The first is praise. This type of prayer is when we adore and give glory to God as God. For example, Psalm 31 says “"I will bless the Lord at all times; praise shall be always in my mouth”. We give glory to God because God deserves our worship. The second is similar to praise: prayers of thanksgiving. As the name implies, this is when we give thanks to God for all the things God gives to us and has done for us. The last form of prayer is intersession. In this form of prayer, we ask someone to pray on our behalf. Since Jesus was sent to intercede for us to God the Father, we can always ask Jesus to pray to God for us or another. In the same way, we can ask the saints to pray for us and others for the things we need.
A powerful intercessor and model of prayer is the Mother of our Lord. Yesterday was the Solemnity of the Assumption of Blessed Virgin Mary. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states “Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death”. As the Queen over all things she intercedes for us to her Son through her prayers in the way she prayed while on earth.
The scriptures give us many examples of Mary’s deep prayer life. While visiting Elizabeth she prays the Magnificat, a wonderful prayer of praise. After the shepherds visited at the birth of Jesus and again after Mary and Joseph found Jesus at the temple, we’re told Mary “kept all these things in her heart”. Mary reflected on the events of her life in prayer to help her understand what they meant and discern the will of God in her life. In the Acts of the Apostles we’re told that Mary prayed with the Apostles in the upper room as they awaited the Holy Spirit. Mary had a deep faith in God and her Son Jesus. In response to this faith, Mary made prayer an essential part of her life. In the same way, prayer should be central to our lives as well.
In our prayer lives, whether we feel like beginners or believe we’re more advanced, we can always deepen our prayer life and our faith. However, some of us may not know where to begin or may feel that we can never be like those we consider pious or holy. Deepening our prayer life can be a lot like beginning a training regimen for our bodies. About ten years ago, I took up cycling. I hadn’t ridden a bike probably since I was in high school so I definitely wasn’t in shape. I started out just riding a mile or two, probably ten minutes or so. Eventually, that became easy, so I added distance. Each time this new distance felt easy, I added more. After time I was able to ride 25 miles or more.
Strengthening our prayer life works in a similar way. Just as you wouldn’t start training for a marathon by running 26 miles on the first day, you shouldn’t set your spiritual goals higher than you can attain initially. As Fr. Paul talked about last week, you can begin by getting away from all the noise of our lives and just be. Then, start with something small, even if it’s a single prayer. Perhaps praying the Our Father once a day at the same time of day, either when you awake or before going to bed. After a time, you’ll realize you’re ready for more. You can then add additional prayers or times for prayer. As you build your spiritual “muscles”, you’ll sense when it’s time to go to the next level. And the beauty of deepening your prayer life is that the more you pray, the more you’ll WANT to pray. In prayer, you’ll become closer to God. As your relationship with God grows stronger, your faith will grow stronger. As your faith grows stronger, you’ll begin to trust in God more fully and surrender to the will of God in your life. In this way, we can become more like the Canaanite woman whose prayers were answered because of her great faith.
This weekend we’re provided two excellent models of faith and prayer. Deepening our prayer lives deepens our faith. And the deeper our faith, the more we’ll want to seek the will of God for us. Through this deep faith, we learn to trust that God will answer our prayers in the way we need. What can each of us do this week to strengthen our prayer lives?