Sunday, August 13, 2017

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

Why We Need to Pray Aloud

We now return to the Sundays of the year in ordinary time after the feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord last Sunday. This will continue without any interruption of any feast until the last Sunday of the year, which is the feast of Christ the King. That will end the Church's liturgical year. Then we enter into another year with Advent.

I had often asked myself why is it that Jesus had to go out alone to a lonely place in order to pray. For example, in the Gospel according to Mark, chapter 1 verse 35 we read that Jesus rose early in the morning and went off to a lonely place in order to pray. Luke 5:16 tells us that Jesus "often retired to deserted places and prayed". It appears that that was the habit of Jesus, to pray in a lonely, isolated place. He himself advised us when we want to pray to go to our room, close the door and pray to our Father in private, in Matthew 6:6. But we have no record of Jesus doing this himself. Instead he would leave the house or a crowded place and go to an isolated, lonely place to pray.

So, I asked: Why did Jesus have to go to a lonely, isolated place in order to pray? Could he not just go to a corner in the house and there put himself in a position of prayer so that the others in the house would not disturb him?

I asked this question because I myself would do this. I would go to a private area of the house and there do my prayer. I would go to a church where there were so many people and there I would pray. Until I seriously thought about this matter of Jesus' going to a lonely place to pray I did not go to a lonely place in order to pray. I prayed in my room or in the church or in a classroom.

The Gospel reading today may give us an answer to my question about Jesus' going to a lonely place in order to pray. Matthew's record of how Jesus prayed highlights a detail that is not found in the other Gospels. Mark's record says that Jesus went to the mountain to pray but he did not write that Jesus was alone. John's record says that Jesus went up to the mountain alone, but he did not write that Jesus prayed there. This detail is not recorded by Luke. But Matthew highlights this detail. The reading says, "After doing so, he (Jesus) went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone." Matthew makes it very clear that Jesus went to that mountain by himself alone to pray.

Again we have a specific case where it is stated that Jesus went to a lonely, isolated place to pray.

Notice, we do not say that Jesus always did this. Luke says that Jesus did this often but not always. Jesus prayed in crowded places. He prayed in the room where he held his last supper. He prayed on the cross before a multitude. But his favorite place for payer was a lonely, isolated place either on a desert plain or on a mountain.

If we say we follow Jesus we follow him to the mountain to pray. But we have also to know the reason why Jesus did this. For him there must have been a great advantage in praying in a lonely, isolated place. If we know this advantage we too will follow him to pray in a lonely, isolated place.

The reason for this is found in the introduction to the prayer which we pray most often, The Our Father. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, Jesus replied: "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name." (Luke 11:2). Jesus did not say, When you pray, think. He said, Say. That is, we have to speak out our prayer.

This tells us that when Jesus prayed he did not do what we usually do. We pick out a prayer book and read a prayer with our lips silently. Or we meditate on some teachings and apply this to our life. We get out beads and pray our Rosary but if we are alone we pray in silence, our lips moving without any sound. Jesus did none of these.

When Jesus prayed he spoke out loud words. In fact the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus prayed with loud cries to God (5:7). That was the reason why the writers of the Gospel were able to record the prayers of Jesus because they were spoken out loud. The whole chapter 17 of John's Gospel is a prayer of Jesus. John was able to write this because he heard Jesus speaking out loud this prayer. This was also the case with his prayer in the garden of Gethsemani. We know what he prayed there and how many times he prayed that prayer because his prayer was audible to others.

So now we know some of the reasons why Jesus went to a lonely, isolated place in order to pray.

First, he did not want to disturb others with his prayers because his prayers were with loud words. So while others were asleep he would leave the house and go to a lonely place where no one was there so he could pray aloud.

Secondly, he did not also want to be disturbed in his prayers. He was concentrated in what he was praying about and did not want others to disturb him.

Thirdly, and perhaps this is a more important reason than the first two reasons: When he was alone with his Father he was able to feel more the warmth and love of his Father. There was closer bonding, as we would say now.

Matthew Henry, the famous Bible commentator, wrote, "Those are not Christ's followers who cannot enjoy being alone with God and their own hearts." In other words if we do not enjoy talking alone with the Father of Jesus Christ we really do not belong to Christ, we are not real Christians.

This manner of praying is illustrated by our First Reading. There we heard that God was in the mountain, but he was not in the strong and heavy wind, not in the crushing rocks, not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but in a tiny whispering sound. This tells us we have to sound off our prayer, even if it is just a whisper.  God wants to hear the sound of our lips, even if it is just a whisper.

And what do we talk about with God? What should be the subject of our prayer? Many of us think that our prayer should be about our needs. Yes, but not primarily about our needs. The Second Reading tells us something different. The things that God is most interested in hearing from us are about his works, his people, the Israelites; their adoption by God, the glory God gave them, their covenant with God, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises he made; their patriarchs, and especially about Christ his son. These are the things God wants to converse about with us.

Prayer is a conversation with God. And we can only converse with God if we speak out our words aloud.

I had no desire to go to a mountain area in order to pray. But God gave me a job where I had to travel to a mountain area by myself. There I was able to see trees as tall as fifty meters and as large as ten feet in diameter. I could see no human being there, only the birds and the lizards and their companions. It was there I understood that God brought me there to speak with me. God still communicates with us on the mountain as he did with Moses and his son Jesus.

Let us bow down our heads in prayer.

Lord Jesus, you often prayed alone in the mountain. There you had sweet conversations with your Father who is also our Father. Lead us to pray as you prayed so that we become like you, obedient children of our heavenly Father. Amen.

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Note for the readers:

The Mass readings are from the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). This is where our Lectionary gets the readings.

NAB stands for New American Bible (before it was revised). This is the translation I use. Unless otherwise stated the text I use is from this translation.

AV stands for Authorized Version of the Bible. It is more commonly referred to as the King James Bible. It is the version most used in English literature, therefore it is the one known more by the English speaking world.

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