Prayer is good for your health - Jesus asks us to keep praying

Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday of Year C

by Fr. Tommy Lane

Since the apparition of Our Lady in Lourdes in 1858 more than twelve hundred physical healings claimed to have occurred there have been said by doctors to be scientifically inexplicable. The Church has strict guidelines on accepting a healing as a miracle and so fifty-four of those healings have been accepted by the Church as miracles (according to René Latourelle The Miracles of Jesus and the Theology of Miracles  pages 313-314 published in 1988).

Since the mid 1990’s the amount of research in the US on the effects of prayer on health has doubled. The results of the research are very interesting. In May 1999 the Demography magazine published the findings of studies about the effects of prayer. The study was carried out on 22,000 people over nine years. Those who attend church weekly live 10% longer than those who do not. People doubted the results of the findings because they said regular church goers live healthier lives but the study had already taken that into account and had already made adjustments for lower rates of alcohol and tobacco use among church goers. So the researchers stood over their results. Recently Duke University released the results of a study on 4,000 people over the age of 65. Those who prayed regularly had significantly lower blood pressure than those who did not. Those who attended religious services had healthier immune systems. More findings from Duke University and from Dartmouth and Yale Universities show that people in hospital who never attend church regularly have an average stay in hospital three times longer than those who do attend church regularly. Elderly people who never or rarely attend church have a stroke rate almost double that of those who do go to church. Studies in Israel show that religious people have a 40% lower death rate from cardiovascular disease and cancer. So the data is there, the secret is out of the bag, prayer works.

Why is prayer so good for one’s health? A scientist at Harvard, Herbert Benson, has conducted MRI brain scans on those who meditate. The scans have shown that physical changes take place in the body when someone meditates. (Intense activity takes place in the brain’s parietal lobe circuits, and a “quietude” envelops the brain, the frontal and temporal lobe circuits become disengaged, and the limbic system becomes activated.) The result is that the body becomes more relaxed and body activity becomes more evenly regulated. So prayer and meditation is good for you.

In the Gospel today (Luke 11:1-13) Jesus taught his disciples to pray the Lord’s Prayer, the “Our Father.” We listened to Luke’s Gospel today and you will notice that the Lord’s Prayer in Luke is slightly different to the version we pray. In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus teaches a longer version of the prayer and it is Matthew’s version that the Christian Churches use. After the prayer we see Jesus teaching to pray for what we need (Luke 11:5-13). If you go to your friend in the middle of the night for something and he is slow to get up to answer the door, if you persist your friend will get up to give you what you need. In other words, keep praying to God for what you need, do not stop praying, continue to pray until your prayers are answered. Jesus continued,

“Ask and it will be given to you; search and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you. For the one who asks always receives, the one who searches always find, the one who knocks will always have the door opened to him.” (Luke 11:9-10)

Why did Jesus say to keep on praying? Jesus knew that prayer is good for us, we had to wait almost 2000 years for the scientists to discover the same but Jesus knew and so he emphasized the importance of prayer.

There are many other reasons why Jesus said to keep on praying. Sometimes when we pray for something our intentions are not always good. Sometimes our intentions in prayer are selfish and need to be purified and by praying for some request over a long time our intention is purified. Often you would hear sick people who went to Lourdes say that although they did not receive physical healing they received the grace of acceptance.

There are also those occasions when there seems to be no answer of any kind to prayer, at least for now. This is a real test of faith and some people have crosses to carry, often silently and unknown, and that makes them real heroes. Suffering is a mystery and we do not know all the answers, we only see bits and pieces of the answer in this life. But as Jesus said, we keep praying no matter what.

Not only is prayer good for your health, not only did Jesus ask us to pray, but we actually need to pray for our happiness. If we do not pray we will not be happy because the deepest part of our being will be starving for God. A beautiful Psalm, Ps 63 describes our longing for God like this,

O God, you are my God, for you I long;
For you my soul is thirsting.
My body pines for you
Like a dry weary land without water. (Listen to my meditation on Psalm 63 mp3)

So just as a desert is thirsty for water we are thirsty for God and we satisfy that thirst in prayer. So let us pray, it is good for our health, Jesus asked us to pray and prayer satisfies our thirst for God.

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2004

This homily was delivered when I was engaged in parish ministry in Ireland before joining the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More homilies for the Seventeenth Sunday Year C

Prayer can change the course of future events and when we pray we touch God 2007
Related Homilies: Intercessory Prayer

stories about God as Father

stories: The Lord’s Prayer (a dialogue)