Last week, when Jesus came to visit Martha and Mary, Martha made a choice; she went to the kitchen. Mary, too, made a choice: She sat down at the Lord’s feet and listened to him speaking. Jesus pointed out to Martha that Mary had made the ‘better choice’.
Martha set about preparing food and drink. She became distracted, very distracted and upset. First she accused the Lord of not caring: Lord, do you not care…? Then she accused her sister of neglecting to help her: my sister is leaving me to do all the serving by myself. And then she started ordering the Lord around: Please tell her to help me.
But Mary’s choice was not ‘to be taken from her’.
Imagine how it must have been for them. There is a knock on the door – and there is the Lord. He has come to visit them. Imagine it was your house. There is a knock, you open the door, it is Jesus.
Martha rushes to the kitchen – Mary sits at his feet. What would you do? It’s all about choices, isn’t it? Martha has chosen, Mary has chosen, you have chosen.
Today the scripture readings present us with another area of choice – prayer. In fact, our personal prayer, after Sunday Mass and regular prayer and Confession, are the most critical choices we face with respect to the presence of God in our lives.
Do you pray? Why? How? When? Where? How do you choose to pray? When do you choose to pray? Where do you choose to pray? Do you choose to pray well or do you choose to pray badly? Let’s watch and learn from the Master.
First, the obvious – Jesus prays. Once Jesus was in a certain place praying… . Even though at the core of his being Jesus is always in profound communion with God his Father, he still desires and chooses to pray. This is natural. Loving means communicating, imagine people in love who don’t talk to each other!
Jesus spent time in prayer; time when he ceased entirely doing other things and gave himself wholly to communion with his Father. We often convince ourselves that there is no time in our busy lives for this kind of prayer and we are tempted to excuse ourselves with – ‘everything I do is a prayer’ or ‘I pray while driving the car or doing the garden.’We need special, private time for prayer.
… and when he had finished… implies a total giving over of time completely dedicated to nothing but focusing on the loving God. Nothing can substitute for this kind of prayer, no matter how busy we are.
Lord, teach us to pray. Every Christian who prays wants to pray better. If prayer is a reaching out they want to reach further. If prayer is opening to God they want to open wider. If prayer is union with God they want closer union. Lord, teach us to pray: this is the plea of every disciple.
The Lord’s best answer to this question is: Say this when you pray: ‘Father, may your name be held holy, your kingdom come… .’
We imagine the words on the lips of Jesus, wondering how he spoke them, and then ask that we may learn to say them as he did.
Two wonderful things are going on here. Firstly we praying in the words Jesus himself has given us to pray and secondly, we discover that we are praying with him.
We are praying together, side by side – prayer partners. But more than that, Jesus allows us, through the prayer he has given us, to join him in his prayer, and we discover that we are praying through him, with him, and in him. Our prayer becomes his prayer.
To summarize the rest of the Gospel reading today we might say that Jesus teaches us to pray also with persistence and with hope. Our prayers will be answered. That is his promise.
The problem in our day is that we are indifferent. The problem faced by priests, ministers, and rabbis in our culture is not the problem of unbelief. No. Our problem is the problem of indifference. It’s not that people are atheists or agnostics. It’s not that people have actively rejected God and defied God by sinning. No. It’s that people simply don’t care. They’re indifferent. For them, God does not matter.
If you want to insult someone, the greatest possible insult you can render is to return a gift given to you unused. If you really want to reject someone, send their gift to you back to them. It tells them: “I don’t need you. I don’t need your friendship or your love — I don’t need anything you could possibly give me.” In other words: “You are for me a nobody, I don’t care!”
Not to pray is to show your indifference toward God. Not to pray is to send His gift back to Him. Jesus taught us how to pray in the simplest of terms. There’s nothing mysterious about it. The prayer Jesus taught us is utterly simple in its expression of what we need from God and what our response to Him should be.
It tells us we need to honor Him, that we need our daily bread, that we need forgiveness, that we need the strength to give forgiveness to others, and that we need God’s protection in times of temptation and trial. Not to use it, not to pray it, is to say to God: “You don’t have anything I need or want.”
Prayer acknowledges that you have a relationship with God. Consequently, the quality of your prayer is correlative to the value you place on your relationship with God. Abraham took God seriously we read in our first reading today — so seriously that Abraham haggled and bargained with God over the value of what was to be delivered.
Do we take God seriously? Do we need God? I think we should. I think we need our daily bread — the Bread of Life along with all those daily gifts that nourish and strengthen us. I think we need that which causes us to grow as persons. And I daresay each and every soul here in this church will admit they need forgiveness.
If prayer is to change anything at all, it is to change us — to change our minds, to change our attitudes, to change the way we live.
Genuine prayer puts us at God’s disposal. It allows us to see what God dreamed we could be when He created us in the first place.
Ask yourself what is more real, the self you see, or the self God sees? The self God sees is what we can be, not what we have been, or done, or accomplished.
Prayer, in other words, takes hold of God’s presence and gives us power over ourselves, not over God. Prayer gives us the chance to see ourselves in God’s eyes and therefore to live with self-respect, to leave in peace, and to live with the power not only to change ourselves but also the power to heal, love, and free others so they can see themselves in the same Light of God. Prayer liberates us.
The Mass we celebrate is in itself a prayer. Not to pray it is to show God our indifference. To turn Sunday Mass into something that is only optional is to tell God that for us He is only optional.
Let us be ever more faithful from now on, and do not let the business of our life in this world, all sorts of worldly concerns and temptations to distract us from God. Let us all be open to God’s grace and be willing to listen to Him, by being ever more prayerful in our daily living.