Rev. Fr. Kyle L. Doustou 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A
August 16-17, 2014
Perseverance in Prayer
“For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven,
it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.”
These words, once uttered by the Little Flower, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, offer us a beautiful insight into the activity of prayer. For Catholics, prayer is at the heart of everything we do and, more importantly, everything we are. Whether we’re at Mass joining ourselves to the great prayer of Christ to God the Father or at home meditating on the mysteries of the rosary…whether we’re getting ready for work or putting the kids to bed…whether we’re elated with joy or depressed with sorrow…as faithful people we are, or at least we should be, always gazing toward heaven, expressing not only with our words but our whole lives our praise, our adoration, and our love for God. Every minute of every day, no matter what we’re doing or how we’re feeling, is for us an opportunity to raise our minds and our hearts to God and to commune with Him. And when we make this conscious effort, when we deliberately choose to sanctify our day by inviting God to exercise His sovereignty over the moments of our life…this is what it means to pray.
But, let’s just be honest for a moment…this is easier said than done. Like faith itself, prayer is certainly a gift from God, a gift that stirs us up and causes us to want to seek the Lord. He gives this gift freely and abundantly to His people, but this requires a response on our part. And this is where things become difficult. Because we are not merely spiritual beings but are robed in flesh and blood, and because we all suffer from the effects of original sin, our wills are weak and prayer becomes difficult. Like with so many other things in life, if we don’t get immediate results, if we’re not immediately stimulated by something, it’s hard to do it. It’s easy to lay on the couch and eat potato chips, but it’s extraordinarily difficult to get up and exercise. It’s easy to gorge ourselves on chocolate cake and other sweets, but it’s painfully hard to eat healthy food. It’s easy to sleep in on Sunday mornings, but agonizingly difficult to get out of bed and get to Mass. So often it’s the case that we know what we should, but we lack the firm desire or the discipline to actually will to do it. And prayer is no exception. Everybody here today knows that prayer is essential, but my guess is that many of us lack the discipline to pray well. For this reason, the saints, those who through the grace of God and the constant effort of their whole lives have become true masters of prayer, describe prayer as a battle. It’s a battle against ourselves and our human weakness and it’s a battle against Satan who is constantly tempting us away from prayer with the allurements of earthly pleasures. To pray well, we have to make the firm decision to just do it. We have to discipline ourselves, at times, to forego things that we’d otherwise like to do…even if they’re good things and certainly if they’re bad…to forego and to just pray.
Often times we can enter into a rich life of prayer after we’ve been moved in a significant way. Retreats are often the instigators of this. Any number of people here have been on a Cursillo or ACTS retreat and have experienced a superabundance of grace that propelled them into prayer. Sometimes a really thorough Confession, or the reception of any of the other Sacraments, can do the same. Sometimes we can read an inspiring book or hear a powerful witness talk and be moved to pray. The Lord uses these experiences to reignite our faith and to fill us up so that we want to pray…but like any other experiences, there “felt-effects” can and almost often do wear off. And for this reason, we have to be extremely careful that we’re not relying too much on how we feel when it comes to prayer. Because prayer is about communion with God, the raising of our hearts and minds to our Creator will necessarily encapsulate the whole range of our humanity. As human beings we are joyful and sorrowful, excited and fearful…we can experience great happiness and are susceptible to great pains. God wants our attention and our love no matter how we’re feeling; and He wants our attention and our love even if turning to Him in prayer does not make us “feel” better. We turn to Him because He is the source of our being…He completes us and makes us whole. We turn to Him because He is God and we are creatures. We turn to Him because, in the words of St. Peter, where else are we going to turn? The Lord alone has the words of everlasting life. We don’t pray because we feel good and spiritual, and we don’t pray to feel better. We pray because we were made to pray. But this takes hard work, discipline, and sacrifice.
The greatest act of prayer that ever occurred or will ever occur is the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. It was miserable, painstaking, and horrific for Him, but He nonetheless hung upon the cross in agony and offered Himself up to the Father as a sacrifice of love. So powerful was this prayer, the prayer of the God-Man, that it truly and actually reconciled God and man. His death on the cross is precisely what enables us, who have been baptized into His death, to offer ourselves now as a sacrifice to the Father. Every act of prayer, then, is an experience of the cross…we have to be willing to accept, then, that prayer will always be a sacrifice.
The woman in today’s Gospel shows us how to persevere in prayer. Despite her great suffering, and despite the obstacles in her way, she had her eyes set on the Lord. She beautifully shows us how patience and humility are necessary elements in communing with God; she knows that He alone can make her life whole and complete. And so she runs to Him, not sulking away in discouragement when it seemed like she wouldn’t get to Him or that He wasn’t listening, but persevering to the end.
So ask yourself today: where are you at? Do you pray? Do you turn to God like you would Santa Clause, only to get things that you want…or do you turn to Him in love, to commune with Him? Do you make a conscious and disciplined effort to devote specific moments every day to commune with Him in prayer? Do you sanctify the rest of your day by turning your heart and mind to Him in the midst of your routines, your duties, and your leisure? Do you sacrifice yourself out of love for Him, just as He sacrificed Himself out of love for you? Do you run after Him just as the woman in the Gospel did? If not…what are you waiting for? Prayer is a battle…and it’s a battle that we can either lose or win. If we do not pray, if we do not commune with God in this life, we will not have life with Him in the next. But if we do pray, if we discipline ourselves and fight the good fight, if we preserve in prayer, then the happiness and fulfillment that we are so desperately seeking in this life will be given to us in the next, when we see our God, the object of our love, face to face.