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

The 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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