There is a rural area of Texas that, if you had visited it half-century ago, you would have discovered grinding poverty. Today you will find lush, green, irrigated crops, well-furnished homes, new automobiles, paved roads, well-dressed people.
If you asked what had happened, you would be told that oil and gas had been discovered under the once-barren land. During all those earlier years in poverty, the farmers had been living over untold riches--millions of dollars worth of natural resources hidden in the ground. They simply had not discovered them, unlocked them and used them to change the quality of their lives.
Many of us live barren lives spiritually. And the sad thing is that within our reach is untold spiritual riches. In the words of a popular song, “Help is only a prayer away.” Let’s take a few minutes and talk about prayer in relationship to our readings and how prayer opens us up to God’s Will.
First, a short explanation of our readings. In the first reading from Exodus, the people of Israel are in the desert, being lead by Moses early in their 40 year journey toward the Promised Land. A battle develops Amalek and his followers and the Israelites, led by Joshua. Moses stood on a hill over the battle, praying. As long as Moses’ arms were extended upward, the Israelites were winning, if his arms fell, Amalek began to win. So, to assist, Aaron and Hur stood on either side of Moses and held his arms up throughout the battle…and the Israelites won.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells a parable about the necessity for the disciples to pray always without becoming weary. He tells the parable about a judge in a town who cared neither about God nor respected of the people. There was also a widow in the town who sought a just decision from the judge, something he refused to do. But because the widow was persistent and kept coming at him, he finally relented and gave the just decision. Jesus then points out that God will secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night.
Prayer is our willingness to open our hearts to God. Prayer is our conscious turning toward the Lord both with petition and thanksgiving. We say we believe in the God of Jesus, the God who has a plan for human history. That belief implies that history is on the way to a fulfillment beyond what we can imagine. Only prayer opens us to God’s horizon. Praying without ceasing is an imitation of Jesus, who frequently went into the mountains or found deserted places to pray. If Jesus, who is the Son of God, knew the need and desire to pray, then certainly we, his followers, are called to the same experience of prayer.
So, prayer is not focused upon getting God to fulfill our plans; prayer is about us opening our hearts to God’s plan! That is what Jesus shows us in the Garden of Gesamane when he asked that the “Cup” of death pass from him and then says, “But let not my will but your will be done!”
In prayer we bring our hearts to God which includes our petitions, our hopes, our fears, our dreams. We bring what is true to US, and then seek to open our hearts to what is true for GOD. When Jesus tells us to pray “day and night” I don’t think he is asking us to be constantly offering rote prayers to God. But he is calling us to an attitude of openness to God’s Will and his working in our lives.
I wonder how Jesus’ prayer changed throughout his ministry? When he started to preach and heal, thousand would come out to hear him and to see the miracles. Scripture says that at times the crowds were so great that people were stepping on each other. What was his prayer during times of success?
But as Jesus’ ministry moved forward and as his words became more challenging, both to the religious leadership and to the people in general, people began to move away from him. He was constantly being confronted and challenged? What was his prayer in those days?
And when he arrived in Jerusalem, he was welcomed as a king, only to be condemned to death five days later with the crowd screaming, “Crucify him, crucify him!” We know his prayer of these days:
- In the Garden, “Let this cup pass from me, but let it be not my will but your will.”
- From the cross to the soldiers: “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”
- From the cross to the good thief: “This day you will be with me in paradise.”
- In his agony on the cross: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus’ prayer seemed to be a constant openness to the will of his Heavenly Father, even in the event of the cross itself.
For all Christians, the cross is an important part of the spiritual journey. Every saint knows what it is to go through their “dark night of the soul.” And it is sometimes during these painful moments of life that powerful experiences of goodness occur. For myself, I believe the most powerful experience of love within my own family was when we stood around the bed of my father as he died. The pain of loss and the love of each other were intermingled into a powerful experience of death/resurrection.
You may have heard this story before. Alfred Russell Wallace, a prominent scientist once observed a monarch butterfly trying to get out of its cocoon and wrote this about it: “It struggled, pushed and pulled for a long time until finally its body emerged fully. The butterfly rested momentarily, fluttered its wings and then flew away.”
Wallace then wondered what would happen if he helped the process along. So, rather than waiting for another butterfly to struggle and emerge from its cocoon, he cut open the cocoon himself and waited for the butterfly to fly away. Instead of flying triumphantly away, however, this butterfly crept moodily about, drooped its wings and died. The struggle to get out of the cocoon, Wallace discovered, was nature’s way of helping the butterfly to develop. It seems, adversity is part of God’s plan for producing beautiful butterflies as well as for producing beautiful souls.
So, we are called to be persistent and faithful in our prayer and not grow weary. The first reading also helps us see how we help each other through our prayer. In the story, Moses helped the Israelites to win the battle by praying for them; and Aaron and Hur helped Moses pray by holding up his arms. I think the image of Aaron and Hur, standing on each side of Moses holding his arms extended, is a powerful image of how we are called to support each other in the journey of prayer, especially when the journey is long and hard. How do WE hold each other’s arms extended in prayer so that they do not feel alone and do not lose heart?
We all know a family that has been affected by Alzheimer’s disease. Perhaps some of you have been the primary caregiver for someone who has the illness. We know how long and challenging this journey can be and how much these wonderful caregivers need people to “help hold their arms up in prayer.” We hold their arms when we give them a break when the caregiving becomes too hard; we hold their arms when we listen to their frustration or worry; we hold their arms when we give them hugs of support and love; we hold their arms when we pray for them and with them.
Jesus calls us today to be people of persistent, faith filled prayer. He wants us to not grow weary, but come to him over and over with honesty and trust. Jesus calls us to open our hearts to God’s Will, as he did, so that we can become a part of the transformation he wants to bring into this world. And let us help each other do this!