“Do you pray? How do you pray?”
The answer to these questions determines the depth of inner peace that we have in this world.
In today’s Second Reading, St. Paul writes to his beloved Christian community in Philippi that was experiencing severe trials and anxieties. He instructs them on how to find peace in the midst of the conflicts and tensions of daily Christian life. They are to begin with “prayer and petition, making all their requests known to God.” But that is not all that they are to do to find inner peace. They are also to pray “with thanksgiving” and to think about “whatever is true, just, pure, lovely, gracious and worthy of praise.” Lastly, they are to “keep on doing what they had learned, received, heard and seen” in the Apostle.
St. Paul offers to his community the essential elements of true prayer that leads to abiding inner peace. This is a prayer that is open and honest to God in presenting its every needs. But this prayer is not just about having wants met. It is a prayer that is filled with gratitude to God and that acknowledges the gifts received from God. It is also a prayer that is meditative, reflecting on whatever is true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, and gracious. The basic attitude of such prayer is: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” Lastly, it is a prayer that leads one to act on the truths learned, received and heard in prayer. It is prayer that ends with, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” Praying like this opens us up to deep abiding peace: “Then the God of peace will be with us.”
True and abiding peace cannot come from outside ourselves but it must find its origin from within. We enter into this peace that “surpasses all understanding” when we approach our prayer with honesty, speaking to God from our hearts without any pretense or presumption, recounting and acknowledging the gifts and blessings we have received from Him, listening to the truths that He reveals to us and ready and willing to act on these truths. But when the energy of our prayer and daily life becomes focused on only what we can get, we lose this peace and become really wretched people in the midst of blessings.
In today’s Gospel, after presenting the parable of the landowner and the tenants, Jesus asked the chief priests and elders, “What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?” Without realizing that Jesus was leading them to examine their hearts, they replied, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death.” They recognized the tenants in the parable as being wretched in the midst of blessings. The parable itself gives us reasons for their wretchedness.
In the first place, they were ungrateful people. They received everything gratuitously from the landowner without their asking – a planted vineyard with a hedge around it, a winepress, and a tower. But they were far from being grateful for all that they had received from the landowner. Secondly, they failed to reflect on why they were privileged to be the chosen beneficiaries of such a choice vineyard. They are not reflective souls. Thirdly, they listened only to their wants, what their covetous hearts longed for: “This is the heir. Come let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.” Lastly, they acted on their evil desire without any thought of the injustice that was done to the landowner.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, are our prayers limited to the prayers of petition where the focus is primarily on our wants and needs? Or do our prayers also express gratitude for the favours received and for God’s abiding goodness to us? Do our prayers involve deep reflection on the truths, goodness and beauty that we find in the word of God, liturgy, daily life, and in creation? How firmly are we resolved to keep on responding to and acting on these truths? The way we approach prayer will determine the quality of peace we experience in this life.
We must rediscover the necessity of regular meditation on the word of God if we are going to cultivate this true peace. We are immensely blessed by God, called to be His chosen people and equipped with the graces we need to be faithful to Him. But we become wretched people in the midst of our blessings if we do not practice regular meditation. It is this regular meditation that fills us with gratitude, opens us to be sensitive to the divine will in each moment, and gives us the grace and hope that we need to keep on acting on these truths.
In his book, The Better part, Fr. John Bartunek, LC, gives us a very easy way to begin this meditative prayer using what he called the 4 C’s – Concentrate, Consider, Converse and Commit. To concentrate, we purposely momentarily turn our attention away from life’s practical concerns and exterior activities and focus on the word of God or any spiritual writings believing that God desires to communicate with us and reveal to us something of Himself and His love for us at the present moment. To consider, we use all our mental faculties – intellect, imagination and memory – to discover what God is revealing to us here and now in our present circumstances. In this stage, we examine ourselves using the truths grasped. We then go into conversation which involves a heart-to-heart talk with God or with His Blessed Mother and the saints, expressing all our desires, hopes, feelings, frustrations, joys, fears, etc. We must pray with confidence for all the natural and supernatural aid that we and others need in life. The final stage is to commit which is to put into practice that which has been grasped in prayer by the grace of God. By persevering in such a prayer, we become acutely aware of God’s blessings to us and we gain hope to face the future with God’s own peace reigning in our hearts.
I remember the initial stage of discerning my vocation to the priesthood and religious life. I admit that I resisted thinking about this vocation because I was too scared of what it will involve. But I did not have peace as long as I continued this resistance. I even rationalized that I could serve God in other ways apart from following this vocation. My prayer life than was more on a vocal level, telling God all that I wanted. However, one day, while praying the Holy Rosary, I reflected deeply on our Blessed Mother during the Annunciation. For the very first time, I connected with the emotions that must have been in her heart. I was deeply struck by her response, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it be done to me according to your word,” even when she did not know where this will lead her. I saw in her a heart grateful to God for her unique vocation. I saw in her a heart that was listening and receptive to God and who was ready to put into practice whatever God revealed to her. I saw in her a heart that believed that nothing will be impossible for God. Above all, I saw in her the heart of she who is truly the Queen of Peace.
I remember begging Mary to pardon me for my resistance and deafness to God’s call and to help me to respond like she did so that I may have this peace too. Indeed the demands and hardships of the priesthood and religious life still remain as in any other vocation in the Church. But nothing can quench that abiding peace that comes from doing the will of God. Mary is there to teach me how to pray constantly for all my needs like she did at the wedding of Cana, “They have no wine.” She teaches me how to be grateful for my vocation no matter how demanding it may be as she herself was grateful for her unique vocation with all its demands: “He who is mighty has done great things for me.” Lastly, she reminds me to listen to Jesus in prayer and to put His words into practice: “Do whatever He tells you.” She has remained an infallible guide for me in my vocation journey ever since and a source of hope at the darkest moments.
This month of October is especially dedicated to Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. We never pray the Rosary alone but Mary prays with us and teaches us how to really pray this beautiful prayer. She helps us to advance in our prayer from mere asking for our wants to actual meditation on the mysteries of Christ’s life, being attentive to His words and grateful for His blessings. She will teach us how to meditate and ponder Christ’s words in our hearts like she did. She will obtain for us the grace to act on these words and imitate what we reflect upon. This is how she longs to guide each one of us all along the way of true peace.
Praying through and with Mary, we just cannot be wretched in the midst of our blessings but we will have a deep abiding peace. It will not be a fleeting peace that comes from the outside, from having our wants and needs granted. But it will be a peace that abides and comes from within because then the God of peace will surely be with us.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honour to Mary!!!