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07/24/16 Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Fr. Reggie

Today Jesus is taking us to prayer school. He is teaching us what Christian prayer is all about. The words of the Our Father, abridged here in St Luke's version, are God's own instructions on prayer. Each phrase is a fountain of wisdom. They are worth studying and thinking about deeply, because they show us how God wants us to approach him and to be with him.

But Jesus knows that because we are human beings - we tend to fall into routine. So even though he gives us the perfect words to use in prayer, he knows we will have a tendency to just learn them by heart and then mindlessly rattle them off. And so, he also teaches us two attitudes that should form the background of every Christian's life of prayer. These attitudes, if we keep them fresh, can make sure that our prayer never becomes just an empty, boring shell, but is always a living, powerful force - as it was for Abraham.

The first attitude is persistence. If we are persistent in prayer, as the friend was persistent in the parable, we give God more freedom to act in our lives, because our desires get more in synch with God's.

The second attitude is confidence. Since we live in a fallen world, we sometimes project our own imperfections onto God. We think that he, like us, is selfish, easily angered, and resentful. As a result, sometimes we hesitate to open our hearts to him in prayer.

But Jesus tears down these misconceptions. God is our Father, a better father than even the very best earthly fathers. So if earthly fathers know how to be generous and wise with their children, we can rest assured that God is much more like that with us. He won't give us stones when we ask for bread.

St Augustine understood Christian prayer better than almost anyone. He had learned all about it from his mother, St Monica, who spent almost twenty years begging God with daily tears to convert her heretical and pleasure-loving son. This experience helped him understand why God doesn't always give us what we as for right away. It's because he wants to give us more than what we ask for. By inviting us to be persistent, God is stretching our hearts, making them able to receive more grace, the way you stretch out a burlap sack so you can fill it to the brim.

Here's how Augustine explained it:

"Suppose you want to fill some sort of bag, and you know the bulk of what you will be given, you stretch the bag or the sack or the skin or whatever it is.  You know how big the object that you want to put in and you see that the bag is narrow so you increase its capacity by stretching it.  In the same way by delaying the fulfillment of desire God stretches it, by making us desire he expands the soul, and by this expansion he increases its capacity."

God never ignores our prayers.  If we keep on asking with sincerity and confidence in God's goodness, we are guaranteed to receive, and it will probably be much more than we could have imagined.

When we begin to understand what Christian prayer is, and when we give it its proper place in our lives, we become much more stable, joyful, and energetic people.

One of the problems with today's society is that it is out of balance. In the past, before electricity and internal combustion engines, people were forced to follow a    more natural rhythm of life. Night and day mattered. It took time to communicate and to travel, so that meant there was more time to reflect on life's mysteries and enjoy life's simple pleasures.

Our scientific and technological advances have changed things a lot. Now it is possible to live at a reckless pace in which we become enslaved to our own to-do lists. Now it is necessary to choose to follow a healthy rhythm of life. Many people don't know how to defend themselves against this slavery, which is why today's psychologists are dealing with a literal plague of stress and depression.

Christian prayer, confident, persistent, personal conversation with God, is one of the weapons God gives us to keep us human in this mechanized culture. Whenever we turn to God in prayer, we put our minds and hearts in contact with the very source of life, beauty, and truth. That refreshes the human soul, just as rebooting your computer refreshes all the hardware and software that makes your computer run. When stress, discouragement, and frustration start to clog our circuits, we don't need to jack up the voltage by working more hours or by distracting ourselves with even more exciting entertainment - no, we need to rebootWe need to pray.

Today, in response to Christ's reminder about the nature of Christian prayer, let's renew our commitment to taking time every day to be alone with God, to reboot our souls every morning and evening; so that our lives can run more smoothly, the way God designed them to run.

"The man who prays looks above to the goods of heaven whereon he meditates and which he desires; his whole being is plunged in the contemplation of the marvelous order established by God, which knows not the frenzy of earthly successes nor the futile competitions of ever increasing speed; and thus automatically, as it were, will be re-established that equilibrium between work and rest, whose entire absence from society today is responsible for grave dangers to life physical, economic and moral." Pope Pius XI


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