TEXT: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 20, 2019
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 20, 2019
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
It is an abiding truth
that in times of great turmoil, distress or fear
human beings everywhere are able find one great consolation:
faith in God.
As St. Paul says in today’s 2nd reading:
“Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed.”
But faith would be of very little comfort for most of us
if it were simply a matter of having faith in facts and dogma
that we’ve learned.
Because as St. Paul goes on to say, faith—true faith—is faith in a person:
“faith in Jesus Christ”
Essentially faith is a response to the Divine persons
who reveal themselves to us.
All throughout Scripture God tells us: “I am here for you”,
and we respond by saying: “I believe in you.”
It is, in other words, a relationship.
God reveals Himself, and we respond with faith in what and who He reveals…
and we enter a relationship.
Now the key to every relationship is continuing communication.
Married couples know all about this.
If you want your marriage to work you have to communicate, you have to talk.
And communication doesn’t stop with the husband and wife:
all the members of the family have to talk to each other
if they’re going to know and really love each other.
So parents and children, brothers and sisters all have to communicate.
God is our Father, Christ is Brother and the Bridegroom of the Church,
and Mary is our Mother, and the Saints our brothers and sisters.
How do we communicate in our relationship with God, and with the saints?
The most fundamental way is through prayer.
As St. Luke tells us in today’s Gospel,:
“Jesus told His disciples a parable
about the necessity for them to pray always
without becoming weary.”
He then goes on to portray a worst case scenario of the nagging widow,
who talks—or prays—too much.
But at least she says something!
And she gets what she wants!
Sometimes people ask me to teach them how to pray, and what to pray.
There are lots of ways of praying, but there are basically 2 kinds of prayer
that most of us can normally experience:
vocal prayer and mental prayer, or meditation.
Vocal prayer is the recitation of prayers written by others:
formula prayers, like the Our Father, Hail Mary, the prayers of Mass.
This can be either out loud or silently—it’s still called “vocal.”
Mental prayer is the prayer in which we depend
not so much on the words of formula,
but on the ideas and affections of the mind.
What we usually do, is either focus on Jesus
and just talk to Him in our own words, or just in the silence of our hearts, and try to listen to Him.
Or we focus on a certain pious idea,
maybe some event in Jesus’ life, or an aspect of His love, whatever,
and we think about it—meditate about it—
in the presence of God, asking Him to either help us understand it,
or using it to help us understand God.
Now, all of this can be rather confusing,
and I could talk all day about methods and levels of prayer,
but instead I’m going to teach you a great shortcut to learning how to pray.
That shortcut is simple: praying the Rosary.
I say this, first of all, because the Rosary can be said
as either a vocal prayer, or as a meditative prayer
—and it can teach us how to do both well.
When we pray it as mainly a vocal prayer we remember
that it contains three of the greatest prayers we know:
the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Glory Be.
All of these are given to us, for the most part, in Sacred Scripture:
they are the words of Jesus, or an angel or a saint,
and all of them inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Some complain that the Rosary can quickly become dry:
but that’s hard to believe when we consider
the passion that the great Masters of prayer
from St. Teresa of Avila to Pope John Paul II
have had for the Rosary.
What usually makes vocal prayer seem dry is usually one of three things:
first, maybe our heart’s not in it
–we have a weak attitude, we don’t want to pray;
or maybe we’re taking the familiar words for granted,
and just racing through them.
or maybe we’re simply distracted,
which is the main problem with all prayer.
Here’s a suggestion on how to tackle all three problems:
take your time and think about the words you’re saying.
The prayers of the Rosary, like so many vocal prayers, are really beautiful.
For example the Our Father.
I mean, this is the prayer of Jesus:
this is how He taught us to pray: the perfect prayer.
The words are profound,
each line a rich treasure chest of knowledge and devotion.
Instead of racing through the Rosary—or any prayer—
we might simply slow down, thinking about the words,
remembering that we are really talking to God,
or in the case of the Hail Mary, to the blessed Mother.
Some get upset about “preset formulas”
and complain that they take away the spontaneity
and freedom of expression.
But the preset formula isn’t meant to take away our freedom,
but to help us to be free to really pray:
freeing us from having to re-invent the wheel every time,
freeing us from spending most of our prayer-time
distracted by trying to figure out what to say.
Instead with the Rosary we have the best words possible
—and we simply make them our own.
Now the central prayer of the Rosary is the Hail Mary.
So in one sense we can see the Rosary
as a particular conversation with the Blessed Mother.
We remember that she is the Mother of Christ and our Mother:
she is Christ’s gift to us, and she loves us.
So, resting in the comfort and peace of the arms of our heavenly Mother,
we ask her to pray for us, to help us her children.
But the prayer doesn’t stop there.
You notice that these prayers are repeated, over and over.
The reason we repeat prayers is two-fold.
First, so that we can think about them.
Sometimes, when we’re really thinking about the words,
we’ll sort of focus on one word or phrase:
so when I’m saying the Hail Mary maybe the idea of
“Blessed are thou among women”
sticks in my head and I’m still thinking about it
as I finish the rest of the words.
Then maybe the second time I say it the words “full of grace” may strike me
and stay with me as I finish the prayer.
Then the third time something else.
It’s like a rich jewel, that we can turn around and look at the different facets,
see it from different angles, and discover wonderful things.
The second reason we repeat prayers can be much more important, though:
it helps us fight distractions
For one thing, it helps us focus our prayer,
we can keep our minds, over and over again,
on these same words, on these same ideas.
And for another, we can sort of develop a certain rhythm,
making it easier to simply ignore distractions.
Have you ever been in a church, even this church,
when Gregorian chant was being sung in the background.
The Hail Mary’s can be like that:
a background hymn that calms us and focuses us on Mary
and “the fruit of her womb, Jesus”.
And this leads us to our second kind of prayer: Mental prayer or meditation,
as we begin to realize that the Rosary is not simply a Marian devotion:
it is a truly Christ-centered devotion.
Because the Rosary is divided into 15—or 20—“mysteries”
- events in Christ’s life that we’re supposed to meditate on
—to think about and pray about as we pray the Hail Mary’s.
So that as we sit with our Blessed Mother we ask her to help us pray
—we ask the one who sees the details that only a mother would notice
—we ask her, our Mother to show us, to teach us about her Son Jesus.
In her presence and under her instruction we focus on and meditate
on the events of the life of Christ,
as the Hail Mary’s are there to calm us
and place us in her presence.
Pretty soon you’re not thinking simply about the particular prayer,
but about Jesus and only Jesus and His life, death and resurrection.
Now, obviously, there are various ways you can pray the Rosary.
You might say, “I never pray the Rosary like that.”
Okay, maybe you find yourself somewhere in between these 2 types of Rosaries
–this deeply meditative Rosary and the simple vocal prayer to Mary.
That’s fine, but in this you can discover the depth and breadth of how to pray.
And maybe you don’t even say the simple vocal prayers well:
maybe you say the Rosary on your way to work,
and there’re lots of distractions.
–maybe you get half way through
and realize you haven’t even been paying real attention to it.
You know what: that’s okay too.
It’s not the best way to pray, but by that simple repetitive prayer
you’ve done something most people don’t:
you’ve made God,
the mysteries of his life,
and the presence and love of his Mother
a part of your life.
You have made you faith come alive by living with and talking with
our heavenly family.
The first reading today tells us:
“In those days, Amalek came and waged war against Israel.”
In these days a lot of folks seem to be coming to wage war against us.
But Scripture goes on to tell us:
“As long as Moses kept his hands raised up,
Israel had the better of the fight,
but when he let his hands rest,
Amalek had the better of the fight.
…[So] Aaron and Hur supported his hands….”
Moses wasn’t raising his hands simply to be seen better by the Israelites:
he was raising his hands in the classic Hebrew form of prayer
—like the priest at Mass.
In other words, as long as Moses prayed his people won the battle.
You don’t normally raise your hands in prayer, like Moses did
–in fact, at Mass only the priest is supposed to do that
—but we do have to keep our hearts raised in prayer.
Because if we don’t pray always, if we don’t constantly talk to God,
we can never be close to Him,
we can never know His strength and consolation.
Sometimes it becomes difficult to pray,
we become weary or distracted or unsure of our prayer,
We may not have Aaron and Hur around to help us, like Moses did
–but we do have the Blessed Mother.
If you ask me if you have to pray, I’ll say
“only if you want that faith you profess
to be in Jesus Christ as a person
whom you can really know, understand and love;
only if you want to find strength and consolation in this world
and perfect happiness in the next.”
If you ask me how often you have to pray,
I’ll tell you “pray always without becoming weary.”
If you ask me how to pray, I’ll tell you “begin by praying the Rosary.”