Today’s mass Gospel relates the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. Mercy is the lesson usually drawn from all three tales, but there is another insight in the last story not possible with the first two: prayer.
Sheep and shepherd don’t talk, nor coins and the woman, but the brothers could and should have talked with their father. They didn’t.
The younger son got his inheritance and didn’t talk again with his father until he was desperate.
The elder son stayed with the father, but didn’t talk much with him either. He never shared his gripe about not having a goat to feast on with his friends. Only when the fatted calf was slaughtered on his brother’s return did he speak up.
Nor did he speak much with his father about the latter’s sadness over his brother’s departure, and the father’s great wish to see the wayward son back. Otherwise, the elder son would have long known that his father would forgive his brother instantly upon his return, and celebrate it with the fatted calf.
So it is often between us and God. We don’t talk much, especially in our age when He is deemed either a figment of age-old fancies or simply ignored as irrelevant.
Yesterday this writer spoke at a rural parish near Lipa City about praying the Rosary. Some among the audience wondered what’s the use of repeating the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be many times through one set of mysteries, and doing it every day.
And there are those, probably more of them, who ask aloud or silently if God listens, especially when He seems to be silent and not answering prayers.
The answers given in the talk are perhaps common enough for devout believers, but one hopes they gave food for thought, if not action for the parishioners of Barangay San Benito. And maybe some of us.
Praying with the Blessed Trinity
One thing about prayer that many probably don’t realize is that it is one of the two things God has done for eternity.
Love, of course, is the first: He is Love, as seen in the Father begetting the Son and creating the cosmos through Him, the eternal Word of God, and Their Love coming forth as the Holy Spirit, which imbues the world and humanity with divine grace.
The second action of the Blessed Trinity is total, constant and loving communication among Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And that communication among the three Persons of God — well, that’s prayer, which is the act of speaking with God.
That is this writer’s simple understanding of one seminal insight from Catholic convert and mystic Adrienne von Speyr (1902-1967), in her 1951 book Die Welt des Gebetes (The World of Prayer).
So when we pray — and also when we love — we join Almighty God in what He has done forever and ever.
Prayer too is the paramount activity in Heaven. Spirits and souls cook, clean, commute, or couch-potato through the day. Instead, they do the one thing there is to do in the afterlife: the loving and unencumbered communication with God, sharing His all-knowing, all-loving embrace of all and sundry.
Participating in the endless prayer of God and His angels and saints — that’s hardly a bad way to spend time. Surely better than hunting for Pokemons.
God listens — Do we?
Next question: Is God listening?
Take it from our Lord Himself. He said, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8).
So do we need to ask, since He already knows? Evidently yes, since right after that counsel, He taught the Our Father.
God listens even before we speak, but we must speak, for prayer affirms and strengthens our faith and hope in God, and our love for Him and obedience to His will.
If a close relative or friend goes away and we lose touch with him or her, our closeness and affection wanes to some degree. So it is with the unseen God. Stop talking with Him and we become less mindful of Him. Pretty soon, we forget that He’s there, as many do today. Or worse: we lose sight of His will and go astray.
Losing sight of what God wants also makes it hard to hear Him, even when we pray.
When people say God isn’t answering their prayers, it often means He’s not giving the answers they want. But to those constantly seeking and listening for His word and will, He replies.
This writer’s octogenarian mother, a devout builder of churches, constantly prays for what God deems best. For her 60-year-old nephew stricken with debilitating ailments, the answer was his peaceful passing.
When deeply depressed over a family death, she asked the Lord for a new purpose in life. Otherwise, she wanted Him to take her. On a visit to the then-dilapidated San Bartolome Church in San Manuel, Pangasinan, she heard a voice saying, “This is your mission: help my priest and build my church.”
Starting with San Bartolome in 2006, her Bahay ng Diyos Foundation has since funded the repair or building of more than 60 places of worship in poor parishes nationwide.
If we want answers from God, it may help to first heed His call to know and do His will. And like anyone dutifully waiting on his or her Lord and Savior, we set no time limit on when He will reply.
What’s with 2,000 Hail Marys?
On the Feast of the Virgin Mary’s Birth last Thursday, devotees in many parishes prayed the 2,000 Hail Marys for various petitions, including world peace, the conversion of sinners, and the prevention of abortions.
Not a few similarly devout Catholics question the practice of repetitive prayers.
One can understand their misgivings about rosary decades and other formula prayers. Still, some points are good to consider.
First, repeating perfect prayers that come from God, His Blessed Mother, and His chosen messengers, offers strings of perfect devotional words. That can only please Him, and probably more than what those with less grace can come up with.
Second, repetition focuses the praying faithful on holy thoughts and events, and away from worldly cares. Different prayers, however, require effort to remember or read them, distracting from contemplating the mysteries of salvation.
Of course, what truly counts in prayer isn’t the multiplication of words, but the openness of the believer to God in humble worship, obedience, and hope in His mercy and love.
If that is how we face our Creator and Savior, then we will pray. There is no other way to face Him. Amen.