•Genesis 18:20-32 • Colossians 2:12-14 • Luke 11:1-13•
Weekly Scripture Readings:17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
In my homily last week I mentioned my recent trip to Morocco. It is a 100 percent Islamic country. I have a high regard for the People of Islam. I appreciated the call to prayer that echoes across cities five times a day. They worship God who is one, living and merciful. They endeavor to submit themselves without reserve to the decrees of the Gracious Mystery they call Allah. Prayer, fasting and alms-deeds are the pillars of their faith.
The gospel text today prompts me to consider some of the similarities between the people of Islam and we who are Christians. In this text we heard Luke’s version of Jesus’ teaching his disciples / us to pray to one God as “Abba” – “Father.” Muslims pray to one God as Allah. For them and for us, prayer means to open self to God and God’s will.
Both Islam and Christianity emphasize and call us to stand in awe before the mystery of God. Both traditions are rooted in the sincere practice of submission to God’s will. Both the people of Islam and we who follow the way of Jesus know there is something transformative about continually turning to God.
I also recognize a negative similarity between Muslims in Morocco and we Christians who live here in the United States. I asked many Moroccans if they are Muslim. Almost all said yes, as most of our peers would answer when asked if they are Christian. Do you pray? Some said yes but most said once a day. Perhaps for most Christians here in the United States it would be far less than that. Do you attend the mosque on Fridays? Some said yes but most said only during their annual observance of Ramadan. An increasing number of Christians in the United States gather in our churches only for Easter and Christmas.
“Jesus was praying …. and when he had finished, one of his disciples said, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’.” Most of us are familiar with and have memorized Matthew’s version of what is commonly called “the Lord’s Prayer.” In writing his version of the Lord’s Prayer, Luke adds a short parable about persistence. Luke’s Jesus then ends his instruction promising that if we are persistent in prayer, “the Father in heaven will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask.”
Note this. He does not promise, “the Father will give you whatever you ask.” No! He says, , “the Father in heaven will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask.
I believe our Abba / Father does “give the Holy Spirit to us….” When I was eighteen years of age, a priest at Carroll College in Helena taught me about meditation and contemplation. He encouraged me to spend at least one-half hour daily in prayer. I began that practice, and now 63 years later am still persistent in setting aside at least 30 minutes each morning as a time for contemplative prayer. My daily practice has extended into a consistent awareness of God. During the day, simple prayer often arises from my heart.
My brief visit to Morocco prompted me to carefully consider my own prayer life. Then writing this homily provided further stimulation to examine my practice. Although I still begin my daily prayer time as I always have, I find it more and more difficult to remain engaged in contemplative prayer for that amount of time. I sit upright. I slow my breath. I use a simple mantra to keep my mind and heart focused on the Great Mystery in which we live. Even so my posture soon slumps, I neglect my breathing, and I fall asleep. Sharing this with you in this homily has helped me consciously re-establish the discipline needed for me to pray.
I share my own experience to encourage your efforts to persist in prayer. If your prayer time is wordy, it probably means your own prayer life is about “asking.” Unless you are trying to change God, such prayer can be an excellent way to practice submitting self to the will of God. However I suggest you consider adopting the sort of discipline that will free you to engage in contemplative prayer. Daily contemplative prayer can awaken you to the beauty and goodness in you, which arises from the presence of that Gracious Mystery we name God deep within you.