Losing one’s self in prayer

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe, Wk. XVII-C, 28 July 2019
Genesis 18:20-32 >< }}}*> Colossians 2:12-14 >< }}}*> Luke 11:1-13

I have always loved this photo by Ms. Jaileen Jimeno or “JJ”, a former colleague at GMA-7 News. JJ told me how on the evening of May 28 she dropped by the Adoration Chapel of the UP Parish of the Holy Sacrifice for a very special intention when she was stunned by this sight of the “headless man” praying in one of the pews. Always a journalist, JJ took this shot with her camera phone and after praying, posted it on her FB with the caption, “losing one’s head in prayer.” I have not talked with her since then but perhaps, her special intention that evening must have been heard by God because her photo itself is essentially a prayer too!

This is what prayer is all about – losing one’s self in God.

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.”

Luke 11:1
The Our Father Church outside Jerusalem where Jesus taught his disciples to pray the Our Father, 04 May 2019.

This is the third Sunday in a series of “things to do to gain eternal life” following that conversation by Jesus with a scholar of the law on his way to Jerusalem when he taught us to “love God and love others” by showing compassion to the suffering like the Good Samaritan. Last Sunday during his stopover at the home of Martha and Mary, he taught us that the more we are busy, the more we must pray; and the more we pray, the more we realize of the need to be active. This Sunday, Jesus deepens this lesson about prayer which is also the more essential – “the better part” – as he told Martha that we must do to gain eternal life.

For St. Luke, this episode of Jesus teaching his disciples the Our Father is more than the teaching of a prayer to recite but the attitude itself they must possess in praying.

Of the four evangelists, St. Luke is the one who always present to us Jesus at prayer like at this scene today. Unlike with St. Matthew’s version when Jesus taught the Our Father during his sermon on the mount so that his disciples would know what to pray for instead of multiplying words like the Pharisees and scribes at that time, St. Luke set this teaching in the context of the Lord at prayer to teach us how to pray.

He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.”

Luke 11:2-4

Jesus came to make known to everyone God is our Father whose name we must always revere and never take in vain. By dying on the Cross, he revealed the glory of the Father who loves us so much that “he gave us his only Son so that we may not perish but gain eternal life”.

This is the first lesson of the Our Father. By teaching us the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus involves us in his own prayer to form our inner being to be like him in total obedience to the Father so that his kingdom may come. Remember the acronym ACTS in praying: “A” for adoration, “C” for confession of sins, “T” for thanksgiving, and “S” for supplications. So often, we only pray the “S” that we no longer merely ask but even demand from God so many things without even praising and thanking him for all his kindness, without realizing how we have turned out to be gods and the Lord our servant!

Wailing Wall of Jerusalem, May 2019.

“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

Luke 11:9-13

Another unique feature of St. Luke’s version of the teaching of the Lord’s prayer is the parable that follows about an insistent neighbor asking for bread followed by a series of valuable sayings about prayer. Contrary to common interpretations, Jesus is not telling us to ask God for anything we want like money and gadgets. Prayer is essentially asking for God. It is God whom we must desire in prayer because when we have God, we have everything!

In St. Luke’s second book, the Acts of the Apostles, we find the Holy Spirit animating the early Church as a community as well as every individual. Every decision, every plan, and every prayer is always powered and guided by the Holy Spirit. When Jesus told his disciples to ask, to seek, and to knock, he was referring to always pray for the Holy Spirit for we really do not know how to pray. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to speak rightly to God for things we need to tell him.

See how the two basic prayers we have, the Our Father and the Hail Mary are actually the words of God, not by men. The Our Father is by Jesus Christ himself that is why we call it the Lord’s prayer. The Hail Mary are the words of God through Archangel Gabriel when he greeted Mary to deliver the good news she would be the Mother of Christ. Even its second part are also the words of God when the Holy Spirit filled Elizabeth to praise Mary and the fruit of her womb, Jesus!

We need to ask for the Holy Spirit so that we can truly pray and enter that wonderful dialogue with God. When we pray like Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit, we realize what God wants from us and we are able to respond properly as he gives us the necessary grace to accomplish them. Praying like Jesus is entering a dialogue with God, searching him and acting on his words.

Deacons prostrating before God in earnest prayer before their ordination.

That dialogue between God and Abraham at Mamre before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in our first reading shows us that prayer helps us discern good and evil. Abraham did not bargain with God to save Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of up to at least ten good people. In fact, only two good people remained there, Abraham’s nephew Lot and his wife who eventually perished after disobeying the angels’ instructions. What really matters in that episode is how Abraham recognized not only the good people but most of all, the prevailing evil at Sodom and Gomorrah.

Chapel of the Assumption Sabbath in Baguio, January 2019.

When we pray like Jesus, we also realize our giftedness of being saved from sin, of being “buried with him in baptism and brought to life along with him” (Col. 2:12,13) and thus becoming children of God. As children of the Father and brothers and sisters of Christ, prayer is where we enter into that deep relationship with God, learning his plans for us and how we can accomplish them by staying out of sin.

The example of Abraham and the teaching of Jesus show us that prayer is not a flight from the realities of this life and of this world. Far from being an escape, real prayer brings us closer to life, to following Christ our Savior for the glory of the Father by bringing his kingdom in this imperfect world marred by sins.

When we pray like Jesus, we get in touch with our true selves as well as with the many pains and hurts we share with others in this life journey, making us realize that we cannot do it alone. And more than the love and support we can get from our family and friends, there is God who loves us so much, giving himself to us to make it through eternal life. Have a blessed Sunday! Amen.

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