The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on March 1, Thursday of the First Week of Lent, at Blessed John XXIII Seminary in Weston, Mass.
Surely, it is obvious to all of us that the one thread common to both scripture readings at this Mass is the theme of prayer. How vividly the first reading depicts before us Queen Esther praying to the Lord. "Help me, who am alone and have no help but you, for I am taking my life in my hands. … Now help me, who am alone and have no one but you, O Lord, my God." In today's gospel account, Jesus Himself urges us to pray: "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you." Why does He urge us to pray? Because "how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him." Without a doubt, God's Word is instructing us to be people of prayer.
How timely this instruction on prayer! After all, we are now in the first week of our Lenten pilgrimage. Is not prayer one of the three principal works of Lent, the other two being fasting and almsgiving? St. Leo the Great reminds us: "What the Christian should be doing at all times should be done now with greater care and devotion." Every disciple grows into a deeper union with Jesus through the experience of prayer. Pope John Paul II wrote: "Prayer develops that conversation with Christ which makes us his intimate friends: ‘Abide in me and I in you' (Jn 15: 4)" (Novo Millenio Ineunte, No. 32). Prayer is the way in which we express and affirm our radical dependence on God. Today's opening prayer echoes this total reliance on the Father: "Father, without you we can do nothing" but "By your Spirit help us to know what is right and to be eager in doing your will." Yes, in the transformation effected in us by prayer, we do come to know what is right and to be eager in doing God's will. Prayer enables us to praise and adore the Lord, to thank Him for His blessings, to ask His unfailing help for ourselves and for others, and to make reparation for our sins and those of others. Once again Pope John Paul II writes: "Our Christian communities must become genuine ‘schools' of prayer, where the meeting with Christ is expressed not just in imploring help but also in thanksgiving, praise, adoration, contemplation, listening and ardent devotion, until the heart truly ‘falls in love,'" (Ibid, No. 33). And taking our lead from Queen Esther, prayer is often intercessory, that is, interceding, not for ourselves, but for our brothers and sisters both within the household of faith, the Church, and within the human family worldwide.
Now if prayer is an essential element of every disciple's journey to the Lord, it is all the more so of those preparing to act in the Person of Christ, Head and Shepherd of the Church, as ordained priests. Therefore, how timely is today's instruction on prayer for you, dear seminarians. Through the sacrament of holy orders, you will be configured to Christ in a very unique way. He draws you to Himself in truly an intimate way; you — every priest — become His friend, even more, His beloved. Only in prayer do we hear Christ inviting us to ever-deepening intimacy. Only in prayer will we receive the gift of enduring hope and steadfast perseverance. Only in prayer, especially in the Lord's Eucharistic Presence in the tabernacle, will we hear the beating of His Sacred Heart with love for us and His invitation: "…give me your heart; note carefully the way I point out to you!" Only when we become and remain men of prayer — oh, not perfectly but perseveringly — will we be able to be faithful in our priestly life and ministry, no matter the season.
Finally, as priests, we must be prayerful intercessors for the Church, the members of Christ's Body, and for the world, the members of the human family. Once ordained a deacon, you will be mandated to pray the Liturgy of the Hours for the Church and the world. This intercessory prayer will mark your daily life. And in doing that, you — and I — are imitating Christ Himself, whose own priestly prayer of intercession is so beautifully recorded in chapter 17 of St. John's Gospel.
Yes, prayer is the one thread common to both scripture readings today. We must not only listen to the Lord's instruction on prayer; we must put it into practice in our daily lives as disciples, as seminarians here, and later as priests. May this seminary become a "school" of prayer, so that each of you — all of us — will become men of prayer, in love with the Lord Jesus!