Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Oct. 20, 2019.)

The Today show once invited Billy Graham to be interviewed. The show’s producer,  wanting to be hospitable, prepared a room where the noted preacher could pray before the interview.

When the producer advised Billy Graham’s assistant about the room, the assistant told him it would not be necessary.

The producer asked, “Wouldn’t a man so noted for prayer want to pray before a nationally televised interview?”

The assistant replied, “Mr. Graham started praying when he got up this morning, he prayed while eating breakfast, he prayed on the way over in the car, and he’ll probably be praying all the way through the interview.”

The liturgy today invites us to consider the importance of prayer. Jesus tells the parable of the persistent widow who seeks a just verdict from the unjust judge. She does not give up, but continually seeks a decision. Jesus uses the unjust judge for emphasis. He says if the unjust judge will give a just decision because of the woman’s persistence, how much more will the just God give to his children who call upon him.

The first reading recalls the story of one of Israel’s battles. Moses stands on a hill overlooking the soldiers of Israel. He raises his arms as a prayer over the field, so long as he does this the Israelites “had the better of the fight.” If his hands were lowered, then the Amalekites would have the advantage. Needless to say, as the battle went on, Moses got tired. He was having difficulty standing as well as keeping his arms raised. So Aaron and Hur found him something to sit on and then held up his hands.

The story reminds us to be steadfast in prayer and to get others to help us when needed. Moses, Aaron, Hur and the Israelites remind us of the importance of seeing God’s involvement in our lives at all aspects of life and at all times. When we avail ourselves of his presence and involvement in our lives, we recognize that no force is greater than him and no power more powerful than his love.

St. Paul reminds us of the importance of Sacred Scripture. The word of God contained in both the Old and New Testaments is a source for hearing God speak to us. God uses those texts to draw us into a relationship. He makes himself known and invites us to know him and his way.

A powerful example of this is when a person has a familiar text and uses it often. Over time, the words and message take on a new significance and “hit them” in a different way. God uses the words, events and stories to speak to us always and in every situation of our lives.

And so St. Paul writes: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” The upcoming National Bible Week (November 12-18) might be a good opportunity to renew our personal commitment to using the Scriptures in personal prayer and meditation.

Prayer is the way in which we converse with God. Underlying that is the recognition that God is God. He sees all things, knows all things. He is present to us in every moment of our lives. He draws us to himself and speaks to our hearts. Prayer is the way we enter into this conversation of love. The Lord is the divine physician who heals and strengthens us for the journey of life.

A few years ago, I needed an appointment with a doctor. When I got through to the scheduling secretary, the first thing she said was the next slot available was two months away. Such delays seem to happen often when trying to make an appointment, not just with doctors, pointing to the busyness of our culture.

God, however, is not limited in this way. When St. Paul says “pray always” (I Thessalonians 5:17), he reminds us that God is always present and he never makes us wait.

Last Sunday, Pope Francis canonized John Henry Cardinal Newman. Newman was a great scholar and theologian at Oxford University and an Anglican preist before eventually converting to Catholicism. He had a deep faith and awareness of God’s presence in his life. Newman knew, as all the saints, that God’s relationship with us is founded on love and moves us in love to love. Our life of prayer helps foster this movement.

Perhaps today we can make Newman’s prayer our own:

Help me to spread Your fragrance everywhere I go.
Flood my soul with Your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly,
that my life may only be a radiance of Yours.

Shine through me, and be so in me that every soul I come in
contact with may feel Your presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me but only Jesus!

Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as You shine,
so to shine as to be a light to others; The light, O Jesus will be
all from You; none of it will be mine;
It will be you shining on others through me.

***

Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.