Prayer can change the course of the future and when we pray we touch God

Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday of Year C

by Fr. Tommy Lane

When I was in Florida recently I visited the Kennedy Space Center. I saw Cape Canaveral and the launch site for the space shuttle. In the Space Center I was able to look at and touch moon rock. Through the miracle of modern science and space travel, I reached out and touched the moon! When we pray we leave this world and touch God.

When we pray things happen. Prayer changes us and others to be ready to receive the grace of God. Perhaps sometimes that is why our prayers are not answered quickly, because we need time to prepare our souls for the grace God will give us. In the Gospel (Luke 11:1-13) Jesus taught the parable about someone going to his friend in the middle of the night for bread. If friendship will not make his friend get up out of bed, persistence at the door will. So Jesus said,

“I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10)

With human eyes we cannot understand why sometimes a prayer request is granted quickly, and at other times it seems like it will never be granted. However we do believe that prayer is never wasted and somehow our prayer will be answered in God’s own way even if we have to wait until the next life to see how our prayer helped. Let us never think a situation is hopeless and so let us never give up praying. Christians are never without hope because we see everything in the context of eternity. As we heard in the second reading,

“you were also raised with Christ through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Col 2:12)

So let us keep praying because Jesus,

“brought you to life along with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions; obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims, which was opposed to us, he also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross.” (Col 2:13-14)

Sometimes people see the hand of God afterwards in the way situations worked themselves out. As Christians believing in the power of prayer we know that our futures are not controlled by the stars or tealeaves in a cup or the lines on the palm of our hand. Our futures depend on decisions we make and we know and believe that when we pray we can change the future course of events.

One of the prayers that has special significance for us is the Our Father, the Lord’s Prayer, because it was taught to us by Jesus. Although we listened to the Our Father today in Luke’s Gospel, the version the Church uses is the one in Matthew which is slightly longer than Luke’s version.

Our Father who art in heaven: Jesus taught us to call God Father because he is the source of all life. Jesus taught us to call God Father because this shows the intimacy that should exist between us and our heavenly Father. We see Jesus calling his Father “Abba” in Mark 14:36. Aramaic was the language spoken in Palestine and Abba was approximately the equivalent of our word “Daddy.” Calling God Abba was quite unique because until then people had been accustomed to God as Yahweh. What is your image of the Father? The Father is Abba, Daddy, who wants you to reach out to him every day and be intimate with him. (See stories about God as Father)

We call God OUR Father because we are all one family in the Church. Civil society makes distinctions and differences but it is not so in the Church. Since baptism we all belong to the one family of God. Baptism is what gives us dignity in the Church.

Hallowed be Thy Name: In this petition we ask that God’s name be recognized as hallowed and holy all over the world. The respect shown to God’s name by the Jewish people reminds us of the holiness of God’s name; when reading the Hebrew Scriptures they could not pronounce the word “Yahweh” and instead said “Adonai.” The only person allowed to pronounce “Yahweh” was the high priest and he was allowed to do so only once a year (on the day of Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement in the Holy of Holies.) In the New Testament we see miracles performed using the name of Jesus. Peter said to the crippled man, “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the NAME of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, (rise and) walk.” (Acts 3:6) We also read in Acts 4:12 that only in the NAME of Jesus is there salvation. Too often there is a lack of respect for the holiness of Jesus’ name and in this petition we pray that the whole world may respect God’s name.

Thy Kingdom Come: Jesus preached many times about the Kingdom of God using parables. When praying this petition we pray that our world will more and more come to reflect the goodness and love of God.

Thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven: This petition is only in Matthew’s version of the prayer (not in Luke’s). We pray in this petition that God’s plan may be fulfilled in our lives and in the life of every person in the whole world. When God’s will is done in our lives, then we become most fully who we are meant to be.

Give us this day our daily bread: we ask God to provide us with all the physical needs we have e.g. food, house, car. Although we work to earn money to provide for our needs we know that ultimately everything we have is a gift from God. We can also see this petition as asking God to fulfill our spiritual needs, which God does in the Eucharist. We fill our minds with much information every day from TV, newspapers, magazines etc. This petition reminds us that we need to fill our minds above all every day with spiritual food.

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us: We all stand in need of God’s mercy. There is no limit to God’s mercy. Let us not put limits on God’s mercy to us. Both Peter and Judas failed Jesus during his Passion in different ways but the difference between Peter and Judas was that Judas put limits on God’s mercy. Let us reach out to God for his mercy.

This petition also reminds us to forgive those who hurt us because we ask God to forgive us just as we forgive others. Forgiveness is not just an emotion, it is a decision. We need to decide to forgive those who hurt us. Forgiveness does not mean suppressing painful memories but it does mean not acting out of them. When the hurt is deep, counseling may be necessary to develop the skill of not being controlled by former painful events. For those who find it difficult to forgive I say to people to say to themselves, “I will not allow X to control my life. I take control of my life back from X. From now on I will control my life.” Another help is to picture the person who caused the hurt beneath the cross of Jesus and Jesus dying for that person. Jesus loves that person just as much as he loves you. Praying in that way helps to free us from acting out of pain that has been inflicted on us. Giving up the need to control another person in the sense of expecting them to apologize to us also frees us to forgive them. I say to couples who have difficulty forgiving each other to remember their enthusiastic love when they were first in love and to rekindle that enthusiastic love once again.

And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil: Obviously God does not want us to fall into temptation or be overcome by evil; in this petition we ask God to prevent us from falling into temptation, but God forbid, should we do so then to rescue us from temptation and evil. Testing and temptation can be an occasion for us to strengthen our relationship with God.

Our future is not controlled by the stars or tealeaves in a cup or the lines on the palms of our hands. Our future depends on decisions we make and depends on our prayer. Let us reach out and touch God in prayer because we know and believe that prayer can change our lives and the lives of others. Prayer can change the course of history. So let us pray, pray, pray.

“Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10)

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2007

This homily was delivered in a parish in Maryland near where I have joined the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More homilies for the Seventeenth Sunday Year C

Prayer is good for your health, continue in prayer as Jesus asked us

Related Homilies: Intercessory Prayer

stories about God as Father

stories about God's mercy

stories about prayer

stories: The Lord’s Prayer (a dialogue)