Prayer matters most
At the beginning of today’s Gospel, St Matthew tells us that Jesus went up into the hills by himself to pray. He had just finished a very long day teaching the crowds, healing the sick, and peforming the miracle of the multiplication of the laves. At the beginning of that day he had heard the news about the death of his cousin, St John the Baptist. At the time, he had wanted to go off alone to reflect, to pray, and to mourn the loss of that great prophet, his cousin. But the crowds didn’t let him. Now we see that although he delayed his time of prayer out of compassion for the crowds, he didn’t skip it, even though he must have been exhausted. Now, as the sun sets, he climbs up the mountain to pray. And he doesn’t appear again until about three o’clock in the morning – six hours later.
We know from other Gospel passages that our Lord Jesus Christ frequently went off alone to pray.
Is that not kind of strange? After all, Jesus was God, true God from true God, as we profess in the Creed. Why would he have to dedicate large chunks of His time to pray? Because He was also true man, the Word made flesh, born of the Virgin Mary. Jesus had two natures: divine and human. Because He was human, he needed to pray. As humans we are not meant to go it alone. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us,
Man was created to live in communion with God, in whom he finds happiness.CCC 45
No one can have communion with God without a life of prayer.
Today, our Lord is teaching us to keep first things first. If He who is the Son of God needed time alone in prayer, only an arrogant fool would claim not to need some as well.
Following the example of Elijah
The same lesson is reflected in today’s First Reading. This is one of th emost memorable and beautiful passages from the Old Testament.
The Prophet Elijah has just had a run-in with the pagan prophets that have allied themselves with the evil Queen Jezebel. Elijab came out victorious in that encounter, and it made Jezebel furious. She threatened his life, so he escaped to the mountains of the desert to pray.
He did so for two reasons.
Firstly, he needed to renew his strength. He has been worn out byhis efforts to protect the faith against the evil Queen, hwo has all the power and wealth of the nation at her beck and call. He is tired. He feels discouraged. He wants to give up. What does he do when these feelings come upon him? He goes of to a sacred place to pray.
Secondly, he needed to find light. He doesn’t know what to do next. His options seem to have disappeared. He doesn’t know where to turn, how to proceed, he is unclear about what God is asking of him. What does he do when these feelings come upon him? He goes off to a sacred place to pray, he goes to Mount Horeb.
Mount Horeb was where Moses had received the Ten Commandments, establishing the Old Covenant of the Law.
It was a sacred place—just as every one of our churches is a sacred place, because the Mass is celebrated there—the holy sacrifice of the new, everlasting covenant.
Like Elijah, when we need to renew our strength and find light, we need to pray.
When we climb the monutain of prayer with living faith, we find new strength and light. The storms of life fade away, and the ‘tiny whispering sound’ of God’s eternal wisdom reverebrates in our heart.
The Eucharist: our secret weapon for a healthy prayer life
Most of us do not live in monasteries, so what can we do to make sure our prayer life keeps growing, to make sure that we pray better at age of 40 and 50 than we did at the age of 10?
Our Lord has himself given us a secret weapon for growth in prayer: the Eucharist. Prayer is spending time with God, speaking to Him about what matters to us, and listening to what matters to Him. The Eucharist is the real presence of Christ, body, blood, soul, and divinity.
In the hustle and bustle of our busy, twenty-first century lives, we need a time and a place where we can be sure to find Christ, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week—something that is objective, not dependent upon our feelings or our moods.
That is the Eucharist: the rock-solid foundation for a healthy life of prayer. When we receive Holy Communion, physically or spiritually, when we gaze upon the Host at Mass, when we come and kneel before the Tabernacle containing the Blessed Sacrament, or when we pray in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament solemnly exposed, we are doing whtat Peter did as he stepped out of that fishing boat. We are fixing our gaze on the Lord. We are cultivating our personal relationship with him. We are praying to the one whose love and grace gives meaning, direction, and strength to our lives. This miracle of Jesus walking on the water takes place right after the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves. Both miracles have to do with bread and with Christ’s body—just like the Eucharist.
Today, as Christ recommits Himself to us in the Mass, let us recommit ourselves to a healthy life of prayer.
Let us promise Him that we will never let a day go by without coming to visit Him, to speak with Him, heart-to-heart in the Eucharist, even if only for a minute, so that we can keep deepening our soul’s communion with God, in whom alone we will find happiness.
Readings for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
- First Kings 19:9, 11-13
- Psalm 85:9-14
- Romans 9:1-5
- Matthew 14:22-33