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The Practices of Prayer – A Homily for the 29th Sunday of the Year

October 19, 2013

101913The readings today speak to us of the power of persistent prayer. In particular the first reading from Exodus pictures prayer powerfully:

In those days, Amalek came and waged war against Israel. Moses, therefore, said to Joshua, “Pick out certain men, and tomorrow go out and engage Amalek in battle. I will be standing on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” So Joshua did as Moses told him: he engaged Amalek in battle after Moses had climbed to the top of the hill with Aaron and Hur. 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. Moses’hands, however, grew tired; so they put a rock in place for him to sit on. Meanwhile Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other, so that his hands remained steady till sunset. And Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword. (Ex 17:-8-13)

We can notice here six practices related to prayer, six fundamental teachings on prayer:

I. The Problem for Prayer. In those days, Amalek came and waged war against Israel. None of us like problems, but one thing about problems is that they help to keep us praying. Israel is at war and their enemies are strong. It was time to pray.

In the Gospel for this weekend’s Mass, a widow is troubled about something and it keeps her coming back to the judge. Sometimes God allows us problems to keep us praying. Problems also keep us humble and remind us of our need for God and others.

Problems aren’t the only reason we pray but they are one important motivator. It shouldn’t be necessary that problems would cause us to pray. But if we’re honest, we’ll probably admit that problems have a way of summoning prayer from us.

II. The Priority of Prayer. Moses, therefore, said to Joshua, “Pick out certain men, and tomorrow go out and engage Amalek in battle. I will be standing on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” So Joshua did as Moses told him: he engaged Amalek in battle after Moses had climbed to the top of the hill with Aaron and Hur.

Notice that Joshua and the army did not go forth until after Moses took up his prayer place. Prayer ought to precede any major work or decision.

Too often we rush into life without praying. Each day should begin with prayer. Important decisions are a time for prayer. Prayer needs to precede, it has a priority over and before action.

Too many people use prayer as a kind of rear-guard action wherein they ask God to clean up the messes they have made by bad decisions. We end up doing a lot of things we shouldn’t because we don’t pray first. We also end up doing a lot of things poorly that prayer might have clarified or enriched.

And prayer isn’t just about praying for this or that specific thing. Prayer involves an on-going relationship with God in which we gradually begin to receive a new mind and heart, where our priorities and vision are clarified and purified. This new mind and heart we get from prayer and study of our faith are an essential part of the prayer that precedes decisions and actions.

III. The Power of Prayer. 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.

As long as Moses prayed, Israel got the best of the battle. But when fatigue caused his prayer to diminish Israel began to lose.

The fact is, prayer changes things. We may never fully know here how our prayer helped to change world history but I am sure that one of the joys of heaven will be to see what a real difference our prayers, even the distracted and poor ones, made. We’ll tell stories in heaven of prayer’s power and appreciate what difference it made for us and what a difference we made for others. For now, much of this is hid from our eyes. But, one day, by and by, we will see with a glorious vision what prayer did.

I suppose too that one of the pangs of purgatory might be to see how our failure to pray also had negative effects and how only God’s mercy could over-rule our laziness and failure to pray.

Moses is struggling to pray here in this story. So do we. But remembering prayer’s power is an important motivator to keep us on our knees and at our beads. Pray!

IV. The Partnership of Prayer. Moses’ hands, however, grew tired; so they put a rock in place for him to sit on. Meanwhile Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other.

Moses, because of his fatigue, knows he needs to get Aaron and Hur to assist him in praying. As a team they pray together and, once again, Israel is strengthened and begins to win through.

Prayer is not supposed to be a merely “lone-ranger” experience. It is true that personal prayer is important but so is communal and group prayer. The Lord says, Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Matt 18:20). Likewise he says, Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven(Matt 18:19).

Hence, we are taught to gather in prayer liturgically and also to find partners for prayer. Since prayer is so essential and we are individually weak, we ought not have it all depend on us. We need our own Aaron and Hur to support us in prayer and make up for our weakness.

Do you have some spiritual friends who help you not only to pray but also to walk uprightly? Scripture says, Woe to the solitary man! For if he should fall, he has no one to lift him up….where a lone man may be overcome, two together can resist. A three-ply cord is not easily broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:10,12)

Do not pray or journey alone. Find some good spiritual friends to accompany you on your journey and to pray along with you.

V. The Persistence of Prayer. so that [Moses] hands remained steady till sunset.

The text says that, with Aaron and Hur to help him, Moses prayed right through to sunset. They prayed right until the end and so must we. There is a mystery as to why God sometimes makes us wait. But pray on anyway. We may at times get frustrated by the delay, pray on anyway. We may get fatigued or even lose heart, but pray on anyway.

Like Moses, get some friends to help you, but pray on anyway. Pray, pray, pray.

Be like the woman in today’s Gospel who just kept coming to that old judge until he rendered justice for her. Pray until the sunset of your life. I have brought people into the Church long after their spouse or mother who prayed for them has died. Just keep praying till sunset.

VI. The Product of Prayer. And Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.

The text says that the enemies of Israel were utterly defeated. This is the product and the power of persistent prayer. This is what prayer does.

We have already discussed above that we may not fully see prayer’s power and product on this side of the veil. But one day we will on glory’s side. We may not need God to mow down a foreign enemy. But how about the enemies like fear, poverty, illness, and sin? Yes, we have enemies and God still answers prayers. Pray and wait for the product of prayer.

So there it is, six practices and teachings on prayer.

This song says, “I Can Go To God in Prayer”

This song says, Somebody prayed for me. Had me on their mind, took the time and prayed for me. I’m so glad they prayed for me!

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Comments (10)

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  1. Eileen says:

    Dear Monsignor,

    I can attest to the power of prayer in a mighty, convincing way – because that is just how God acts – in a MIGHTY and CONVINCING way.

    My husband suffered a series of strokes that left him brain dead in 2 lobes of his brain. These were the lobes that control movement and vision. The doctor advised me to get the family together because they expected him to continue to have strokes and die within 24 hours.

    Well, the first person I called was my pastor but he was out of town and so the priest from the town 45 miles away came the next morning and anointed him after morning mass. We live in a very rural area and now we only have 1 priest for 5 parishes. There is no assistant pastor.

    The priest who anointed my husband was Polish and prayed all of the prayers in Polish except the parts where I needed to respond. That is just an interesting aside because of course God knows all languages.

    After Father finished the anointing and left, I knelt down next to my husband and put my rosary onto his forehead and prayed the rosary quietly into his ear with my cheek to his cheek. The rosary that I used had been with me in Rome where I had held it directly onto a Eucharistic miracle site.

    I could sense that with each decade of the rosary, he was becoming more and more alive. By the time I finished, I knew that he had substantially recovered. But I did not know how much he had recovered. I kept talking to him for 2 hours and praying in his ear. Then I told him, “I have to go now and get something to eat because I have a headache. So don’t leave without me.” He had an imperceptible expression that only a husband and wife would know after 25 years of marriage. It was a look of, “Would you please just go! I am tired of listening to you already and I am NOT going to die!”

    I kissed him on the lips (which appeared to be dead) and put my other cheek to his other cheek and he raised his arm and put it around my neck. It was not fully around my neck, but it was purposeful movement – from the brain lobe that was ‘dead’.

    So I left for lunch and called my best friend. She said she would meet me at the hospital. I had arrived just minutes before her and when she walked in, my pastor arrived seconds behind her. He came immediately beside me and my friend was standing at the foot of his bed. I told him, “Ingrid is here.” He opened his eyes, looked straight at her and said clearly, “Hi Ingrid.” Then I told him, “Father Aldrin is here.” And he turned his head toward him and brought his arm over his face because he was embarrassed.

    Of course, we were all shocked. I was meeting with hospice in a few minutes and so I told my pastor that Fr. Darius had anointed him. He was glad because he was concerned that he was not there sooner. I thanked him profusely and he left.

    The nurse from hospice came and gave him simple neurological tests like, squeeze my hand, raise your right leg. He raised his left leg. She said that was good but that was his left leg, can he raise his right leg as she tapped his right leg. He raised the right leg this time.

    To shorten the story a bit, he came back home and could drive and live a normal life for about a month and a half until the pancreatic cancer put him into the hospice house until the end. We were going to have surgery that would eliminate the cancer. But they would not do the surgery until they had evidence that he did not have brain damage. This surgery was going to be done 6 hours away from where we lived. They did all of their tests and there was absolutely NO evidence of any brain damage.

    But this time of 45 days was what was needed for my husband to reconcile with God and man. He had not reconciled with his children in a lifetime (of a previous [annulled] marriage) and I strongly suspect that he was not in the state of grace at that time. But I had prayed for him all throughout our rocky marriage and I believe in the promises of Christ for He cannot deceive nor be deceived. And I trust that my prayers now are also beneficial to him.

    Also as we know, God lives ‘outside’ of time. He created time for man and so that is generally the only way we can think, chronologically. But for God, all time is present, all at the same time. That is why with our limited human thinking, we cannot even conceive of how our prayers are used by God in the past, present and future.

    So I want to also encourage everyone to PRAY, PRAY, PRAY as you have – because as the last sentence of this weekend’s readings asks the somber question, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

    We know that the Church will last until the end of time because Jesus promised that it would. But if we don’t continue to pray, the faithful will be very few indeed. This was the focus of our homily today – to pass on our faith because within one generation, the faith can be lost. And whole countries that used to be predominantly Catholic are now less than 1% Catholic. But we know that NOW is the time of Mercy. Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

    • Stefanie says:

      Thank you for your powerful testimony to prayer, Eileen. May the Holy Spirit continue to testify to the truth of your good words.

  2. Robertlifelongcatholic says:

    It could be said that since the birth, death and resurrection of Christ, the focus of Christian prayer has made God more accessible than in the times prior to the Holy Trinity. As Catholics, is this Tinity to be taken into consideration as we pray or leave the significance of that up to God?

    • Doubleplusgoodful says:

      “Before the Trinity” is not a time that existed: God, Who Is Trinity, always and eternally Is. God, in the Person and ministry of Christ, and by the coming of the Holy Spirit, has revealed Himself as Three Persons in one Divine Nature. This, as with everything of revelation, He has revealed for our good. Thus, the Trinity must be taken into account in prayer because elsewise they would not be praying to God. The personal distinction & essential unity need not be mentioned explicitly, however.

  3. RichardGTC says:


  4. Orland Akers says:

    Thank you! My wife has Alzheimers and can’t be left alone. I need to be with her constantly, even when she sleeps. Her suffering has turned into a great blessing for me because I find myself praying constamtly but not only that, although I have spent most of my life as a failure in temporal things, praying so constantly has given me peace I never knew. Prayer has helped me to see how the failures in my life have been stepping stones to a new life in Jesus Christ.

  5. Heidi Keene says:

    I was an atheist until 2 years ago. I found out after my conversion that a childhood friend had said rosaries for my conversion for the last 20+ years.

    • Doubleplusgoodful says:

      Our Lady worked for my conversion, too. My nan (rip, domine) included me among her evening Rosary intentions.
      May we always live AMDG et HBVM!

  6. Zen says:

    Orland and Heidi, thanks for sharing!

    I am always frustrated by praying for my dear ones’ conversion. I will take your suggestions, Monsignor, especially having a prayer partner.