Father O’Connor’s Homily from October 19 & 20th
In the Gospel just proclaimed Jesus exhorts us “to pray always without becoming weary”.
This call should be troubling for us, because it seems impossible.
There’s a book called The Way of a Pilgrim. It’s a wonderful spiritual story, and a quick read, that comes from the Russian Orthodox tradition. Anyway, the story centers on a Russian wanderer in the middle of the 19th century. This young man reads Jesus’ exhortation … “to pray always without becoming weary”, and it really starts to gnaw on him. So, he goes to a monastery to speak to someone about what Our Lord is saying.
There he finds an old monk, and the monk teaches the young man the “Jesus Prayer”. The Jesus Prayer is as simple as this. As you breathe in you say, “Lord Jesus Christ”, and when you breathe out you say the rest: “have mercy on me”. “Lord Jesus Christ (breathe in), have mercy on me (breathe out)”. Truly a beautiful and powerful prayer.
You breathe in Jesus Christ and
you breathe out the sin.
As you do it more and more you expel sin more and more, and fill yourself more and more with Christ.
And it is not as easy as it seems, to pray it well takes focus. I remember one priest gave me 500 Jesus Prayers as a penance once. I don’t remember doing anything particularly bad either, he just gave me this penance.
Anyway, so, the book goes on, and the holy man tells the young wanderer to pray it thousands of times a day. The young man does this for some time. When the wanderer returns to the monastery the holy man then explains what is happening through his devoutly praying this prayer thousands of times. The wise monk says that the prayer is beginning to synch up with the young man’s breathing. The prayer is becoming deeply engrained in the young man’s mind, and heart, and body; so much so that the young man’s very breath and his own heartbeat speaks this prayer, and so the young man is learning to pray without ceasing.
The young man then went on to wander through the country praying this prayer to deepen it.
He meets various characters and teaches others what he has learned.
Now, we’re not all called to do this, but there is an important truth in this story about how we are to “pray always without becoming weary”.
This important truth?
That our very lives have to become a prayer. Living our day to day. Going to work or school, shopping for groceries, having dinner as a family, even sitting in traffic. This can all be prayer.
When we live in rightly-ordered and healthy relationship with God, with Creation, with others, and even with ourselves …
our daily life is a prayer.
You see, God is rightly-ordered and healthy relationship. God is loving communion. It is no mistake God is one in three persons. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God’s very nature is relationship, and so we, who are made in His image, are called to right relationship too.
We are called to be loving communion. And so we pray, and we are in constant connection to God, and then we are relationship too.
Now, all good healthy relationships—whether with God, with Creation, with others, and with ourselves—all good relationships breakdown to four simple statements:
I love you, I’m sorry, please help me, and thank you.
When we live these statements. In word and in deed. When we convey “I love you, I’m sorry, please help me, and thank you”. When this is the very way we live our lives … our life has become prayer. And in simply living our lives constantly connected to God … we “pray always”.
Our question becomes, “Ok, but how do I learn how to pray these statements”?
We follow the advice of the Psalmist who says: “Our help is from the Lord”. We turn to God! And this help from the Lord? The help to learn how to pray “I love you, I’m sorry, please help me, and thank you”? We are receiving that help here and now.
In the celebration of the Eucharist. Let me show you.
We began the Mass with “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”. God is love. This is the best analogy we have for God and it comes right out of Scripture. Now, because God is love and everything we do here and now in His name, we come together in love and adoration. We adore God for who He is. And this is important. We love people for who they are, and we thank them for what they do.
When we get this confused we can become selfish, forget gratitude, and use people.
This is not healthy and rightly-ordered relationship, so we must be careful.
Then, in this celebration, we moved into the Penitential Rite. “I’m sorry”. We offer God our contrition with cries of “Lord, have mercy”. And Our God? He responds “I forgive you” as our venial sins are wiped away.
The Mass continues into the Liturgy of the Word. And here we ask God to help us. Certainly in our intercessory prayers, during the Prayers of the Faithful, but also in the Scriptures brought to life in their proclamation. In the Word, God helps us to live healthy, rightly-ordered relationships. We learn to be like Jesus Christ who shows us how humanity is called to live.
Then the Eucharist. This is the climax of all of our prayer. Eucharist. Greek for thanksgiving. In a moment we will offer up bread and wine. Bread, the very stuff that sustains our life. Wine, joy. Wine, that which gives warmth to men’s hearts. We offer up “our everything”. And we ask God—knowing the poverty of our offering—to accept this sacrifice. To do something with this sacrifice, and He does. He takes everything we can give and makes it everything we could ever need. It is transformed into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ that we may be transformed, and our response is gratitude for what God has done. We thank God for what He does. We have become prayer, and so the Mass will end with all of us sent, to live this prayer every day by living our lives well. This is us “praying always”.
Ok, but how do we do it without becoming weary? Jesus offers us a parable. The unjust judge. His indifference toward the widow is a violation of law. The persistent widow is powerless and in real need. Eventually, he does the right thing. But God? God is just. He will not violate the law He institutes. How do we do it without becoming weary? We keep asking God! We learn to keep asking God for the strength to continue. And we know we need the help, because we are just like Moses in the first reading. We need help persisting in prayer. Faithfully keeping our hands up.
I love Confession. And, believe it or not, I’m a sinner too. Now, some of you are agreeing with that statement way too quickly. There are about a dozen heads in the crowd nodding a little too much. I’m looking at you Mom and Dad. Anyway, in Confession the first sin I often say is that I’ve neglected my prayer life. You see, this failure in my prayer life is the start of sin. When my prayer life starts to falter, then the other things start falling away. Patience gives way to anger. Gratitude and charity give way to selfishness. And love gives way to seeking pleasure. I stop relating rightly to others. I’m no longer healthy relationship. And you know what? I’m betting it is the same for a lot of you too.
But we all need to be like the persistent widow. We all need to be like Moses. Notice when Moses is praying with his hands raised the battle is going well. It’s the same for us in our spiritual battle against sin. Our battle goes well when we are praying. Life goes better when we pray, and I bet a lot of you have noticed this: that life goes better when you are committed to prayer. We live life well when we relate to everyone and everything in a healthy way. And even when there are tragic events we can mourn, support others, and somehow we can even come closer together in our pain.
But then we stop praying. Our arms get tired of being raised, or we get bored—maybe you’re bored now—or we decide that we don’t need prayer anymore, and then things start falling apart. We need to follow the exhortation of St. Paul in the second reading.
We must “remain faithful” and “be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient”.
And the way we do that is to come back to this prayer. The Mass. We come back to Jesus Christ. And not only does God help us, but we help each other pray well. Notice that when “Moses’ hands, however, grew tired; so they put a rock in place for him to sit on. Meanwhile Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other, so that his hands remained steady till sunset”. We have God, angels, and the saints. But we also have family, friends, and this community so that we can live a life of prayer.
A life of “I love you, I’m sorry, please help me, and thank you”.
A life like God. A life connected to God – where we “pray always without becoming weary”.