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TEACH US TO PRAY

God hears us.  He wants to hear from us.  He listens and answers every one of our prayers.  Just let that sink in for a minute.  Truly to sink in.  Because I think for a lot of people, maybe even a majority of people, including those of us who do call ourselves believers, who call ourselves Christian, struggle to believe those truths.  If there is a difference between those who do come to Mass and those who never darken the doors of a Church is probably that, those here want that to be true and hope on some level it is – but even for those of us who do find ourselves here, it can be almost unfathomable to believe that.  That God hears us.  He wants to hear from us.  He listens and answers every one of our prayers.

Thanks so much for stopping by to read my homily for the 17th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME -July 24, 2022, for sharing it on your social media posts and your feedback and comments…  I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE.  May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing Sincerely in Christ – Father Jim

Because that’s a pretty stunning claim – and it’s what differentiates us from every other world religion.   Only those of the Judeo-Christian tradition believe that the eternal, all-powerful Father who created all that is, including me and you – created us in His own image, likeness, and dignity. And one of the ways He proves that is by impressing upon us these simple truths.  That – God hears us.  He wants to hear from us.  He listens and answers every one of our prayers.

Other religious traditions will believe that they have to pray to appease whatever it is they conceive as “divine beings.” For some, their prayers could almost be characterized as manipulations trying to get something from their supernatural overlord or to satisfy some obligation.  And sadly some of those attitudes, and behaviors have crept in, distorted, and undermined our faith and belief in the power, the beauty, and the importance of prayer.   That God hears us.  He wants to hear from us.  He listens and answers every one of our prayers.

That’s the recurring thought as I reflected on these scriptures for today.  Look at Genesis, that first reading – Only 18 chapters into the first book of the Old Testament – we have this back and forth between Abraham, praying to God, and God speaking with HIm.  Now just hearing what Abraham was praying about can distract us.    It’s in regard to these ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Most people just hearing the names of those cities go off in a lot of different directions hearing that the sins were so great, the sins were so grave that God is about to destroy these cities and the focus immediately shifts to  –what exactly were they doing?

Let’s just put a pin in that.  That’s never a healthy thing to do, to be curious about evil, curious about sin.   It opens us up to being self-righteous about ourselves (I’m not as bad as that) or to other temptations.  The most important thing to remember when it comes to sin, is remembering what I call “the dog poop principle: how much dog poop do you want in your home?  A little or a lot.  (I’ve had students stop and think about that – the answer is NONE) The point is – all sin is bad.   We should want all sin out of our lives. 

The people of Sodom and Gomorrah, the people had turned away from God.  They stopped listening to Him, they weren’t struggling with resisting temptation, they weren’t weighed down with shame.  They had definitively chosen not only to not follow His commands…  they had gotten comfortable with that existence.

That is what made the sin so great and grave: that they hadn’t considered themselves “sinners.”  Once that happens, people can easily start to delude themselves thinking they don’t need God at all, or even worse start to believe the devil’s greatest lie and temptation telling them they’re gods themselves.

As atrocious as that is, and hopefully enough of which to cause us to want to do thorough examinations of conscience and get to confession regularly before we do that, look at the deeper revelation here: Abraham praying with God.  And it’s kind of amazing listening to how Abraham gets into this somewhat comical bargaining session with Him.  “Lord, what if there are 50 innocent people – you wouldn’t wipe out the entire city if 50 innocent people were there, would you?”  And he continues on in this bizarre auction-like approach “How about 40 – can you save Sodom and Gomorrah for 30…20?  Do I hear 10????” And each time God responds He would not destroy those cities even for the dwindling numbers of innocents.

Despite the eventuality that Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed, (which tells you how bad things were, that not even 10 innocent people could be found) that Abraham engages in this dialogue with God – and God responds back tells us God hears us.  He wants to hear from us.  He listens and answers every one of our prayers.

God is not disinterested, hidden, or removed from his creation. He is not unmoved by the hopes and fears of us His creatures or what is happening in His creation.  Nor is He unaffected by our disobedience and rejection.  This dialogue shows that right from the beginning, God desires a life-giving dialogue where his creatures could give voice to all their doubts and fears, their joys and hopes with Him.

Even more, though, we see how prayer changes us.  Abraham in this passage is interceding for people… He’s appealing to the love and mercy of the God He is coming to know.   But if you read his entire story uninterrupted which goes from Genesis 12 to around Genesis 26 (so it’s only 14 chapters and they’re bible chapters, it’s only about 20 pages) we get to read how the trajectory of Abraham’s entire life changes upon meeting God and being in relationship with Him.  (Obviously, if he’s got 14 chapters and 20 pages of the bible where he’s a major character).    As notable and important as Abraham is, spoiler alert, he’s not perfect either.  He makes mistakes.  He doesn’t always listen either.  But the central point from today’s reading is that Abraham our father in faith is showing us that in prayer God hears us.  He wants to hear from us.  He listens and answers every one of our prayers.  And that when Abraham messes up when he needs God in just the same way that the very people of Sodom and Gomorrah who he was interceding for do – Abraham’s prayer has changed him. He remembers the love and mercy of God, God’s desire for His people to trust Him to have that conversion of heart to return to Him.  Which Abraham will.

More fully and beautifully in the Gospel.  Jesus Christ fleshes this out literally and figuratively.  In Him, God becomes Man and lives among us.  And Jesus reveals God’s name and identity in an even more loving, intimate manner.  The disciples have witnessed Jesus’ not only perform some miraculous, mighty deeds – they’ve also witnessed Him go off in prayer himself.  And as they have been close to Jesus, they want to be more like Him as they express “Lord teach us to pray…”

As He does, Jesus reveals God, not as merely a creator or distant mighty Master.  Jesus reveals Him as  Father.  And continues on by telling us to never stop pleading… to not stop reaching out to Him… to have that ongoing, daily, dialogue with Him.  Not simply spouting off things that we want or need… but acknowledging our primary need – for Him…   the deepest want of our hearts  – to be in communion with Him.  Because once that identity is clear – where we see Him and relate to Him as our Loving Father and recognize that in Jesus Christ we ourselves are beloved sons and daughters  – that hopefully reshapes our priorities and our lists… our intentions…  Yeah, it’s fine to pray that you find those lost keys – but hopefully, our vision expands to say, I really want to pray for those family those friends who are lost – and want you, Father, to help to use me to reach them.  Yeah, it’s great to share your hopes, and dreams and lay them out in your prayers… but hopefully we stand in awe and say – wow, if the same Father who created all that is could care enough to want to hear from me, maybe, just maybe He has something to say to me – He has a hope a dream for me that I want to hear about.

I came upon this quote by the Catholic theologian Peter Kreeft a couple of weeks ago that has been coming to mind a lot ever since.  He said:   “I strongly suspect that if we saw all the difference even the tiniest of our prayers to God make, and all the people those little prayers were destined to affect, and all the consequences of those effects down through the centuries, we would be so paralyzed with awe at the power of prayer that we would be unable to get up off our knees for the rest of our lives.”

May the examples of Abraham, and Jesus help us recognize the deep reality that God hears us.  He wants to hear from us.  He listens and answers every one of our prayers.  And move us from those distortions that can enter in making us see prayer as trying to manipulate Him to get our way – or innoculate us from trials and struggles.  But rather connects us to the one who knows us better than we know ourselves.  Who loves us more than we could ever love ourselves.  And come to experience, the more we engage in this truth, the beautiful realization of how prayer changes us.