The Necessity of Prayer
Thursday June 17, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Sirach 48:1-14) Gospel (St. Matthew 6:7-15)
In the first reading today from the Book of Sirach, we hear the glories of the greatest prophet being sung by the Wise Man, and we are told that there is no one whose glory is equal to that of Elijah (that is, of course, in the Old Testament times). He is the greatest of all the prophets who ever lived, and he is the first of them. When we look at the life of this man, we certainly recognize first and foremost that his call was from God. But to be able to live that call, to be able to be obedient to what it was that God was asking him was difficult. As we know from reading any of the prophets, the things that God would ask them were sometimes very strange, and so it was with Elijah as well.
So we ask ourselves, “How is it possible that this was done?” It is possible only with prayer, which is exactly what we see Elijah doing over and over and over again. For three years, he goes to be a hermit. At the top of Mount Carmel, he bows down and prays. Constantly, he is seeking God in prayer, and that is the only way he would know what it was that God was asking of him. His will was so completely united with the Will of God through prayer that he did only what God was asking of him. That is why the things he was asking for in prayer would be answered. When he called down fire from heaven, it came. It would be an interesting challenge to see how many of us would be able to go out and bring down fire from heaven. The problem is that we are not united completely to the Will of God. So it requires only prayer.
Now, Our Lord tells us in the Gospel how we are to pray, and He makes it very, very simple as far as the words go. Saint Teresa of Avila said very clearly and simply: “Prayer is not thinking much, but loving much.” That is all there is. People think there is something wrong when they go to prayer and they are not rambling all over the place. “Nothing’s happening,” they say. Praise God when that happens. When it is dark, when it is silent, that is God teaching you just to be quiet, to seek Him in the recesses of your heart. You are not going to find God in your mind; you are going to find Him only in your heart. And you are not going to find Him by rattling on and on and on and thinking about yourself. You are going to find Him by seeking Him on the inside in the very depths of your being because that is where He dwells.
When we consider the words of the Our Father, they would make a beautiful meditation. But you do not even need to think about the whole thing; all you have to do, for instance, is take the first couple of words. What does it mean to call God “Father” when He dwells within, He Who loves us, He Who knows our needs before we ask, He Who will provide for what we need if we trust? He is a father. He is the One Who gives us life; He is the One Who sustains life; He is the One Who provides. That is all we need to think about for the rest of eternity, and we will never get bored because that is Who He is.
If we would just simply come before the Lord and place ourselves in His holy presence, if we would open our hearts instead of our heads, just think what God would be able to accomplish within us. It is not an easy task. It is the single most difficult task that the soul will ever endure. It is not always sweet and pleasant; in fact, very rarely is it sweet and pleasant. It is painful because God needs to purify out all the things that stand in the way. Anything that is between Him and us needs to go. That, of course, is where part of our problem comes in: We like the junk that stands between us and God, and we do not want to let it go. So God has to literally burn it out of us, which is why prayer can be so very painful. But when it is done in love, it does not matter how painful it gets because what is most important is our relationship with Him, that we are seeking Him and doing His Will.
We live in a time where prayer has never been more important, and we live in a time where fewer people than ever are actually praying. It is time that we really seek God in prayer. Do not just come and “think”; do not come before Him and tell Him what He is supposed to do (it is not going to work anyway); do not think you are going to change His mind because that is not going to work either – God does not change. Come before Him and open your heart, and ask Him to change you. Ask Him to do whatever it is going to require to unite you with His Will, and then trust Him. Let Him work the way that is going to be the best, which is a way that none of us understand and a way that none of us would ever choose – that is a guarantee! – because God will use the path that is going to be the most effective for purifying your soul. And that is the path from which you would run as fast as you possibly could if it were up to you. So let God be in charge.
Come before Him every single day. It is not an option. As a baptized person, you have made a vow of what you are going to do, and that includes prayer. You need to spend time, substantial time, every single day before the Blessed Sacrament. If you cannot get to the Blessed Sacrament, then at least have a place in your home where you can pray. This is incumbent upon each and every one of us. It is not a nice idea, it is not a good theory, but it is a practical reality that must be at the essence and the heart of the lives of every single one of us. Otherwise, we are all going to be off doing our own thing and we are going to look like Laurel and Hardy out there banging into each other because nobody is doing what God wants, but everybody is doing what they think is the most important. God is just going to laugh because we are not doing His Will. If we want to be effective, we need to do His Will. And if we want to know His Will, we have to pray. And if we are going to pray, it needs to be simple, it needs to be from the heart, and it needs to be ultimately a pure act of love for God.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.