Don Bosco Philippines South Province

Salesians of Don Bosco – Philippine South Province FIS

Prayer Powered by Persistence

Homily on the 17th Sunday in OT, 24 July 2022

Some time ago before the pandemic I was in Manila to give a seminar in Don Bosco Makati. Before going up to my assigned lecture room in the school, I dropped by the chapel to pay a visit to the Blessed Sacrament. While praying, I was disturbed by one young man who unexpectedly greeted me saying he was my former student. I smiled at him. Then after a brief chitchat he knelt down to pray at the pew behind me. Then, I began to notice several other students coming in for prayer. Their presence inspired me to pray more fervently.

After giving my talk, I dropped by the same chapel again, and saw another set of students praying before the Blessed Sacrament, some for a brief moment, others for a longer time; some with eyes closed, while others just staring at the tabernacle. At any rate, their prayerful silence before the Real Presence of Jesus gave me encouragement as a Salesian, but also got me thinking. What could these young people be praying for? How fervent and how constant are they really in their piety?

Today, on this Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time our liturgy focuses on prayer. If you would recall, the Lord had been teaching us for the past two Sundays to be “good Samaritans,” always sensitive and responsive to the needs of others. However, he also taught us that we cannot allow ourselves to be too busy serving others that we neglect personal prayer and meditation on God’s Word. And that is why in last Sunday’s gospel he affirmed more the attitude of Martha’s sister Mary who immediately sat down at his feet to listen to him, while Martha got busy at the kitchen trying to prepare something for her guest. And so today Jesus’ teaching is particularly on the “what” and the “how” of prayer in our very busy lives as Christians.

The gospel passage that we have just heard opens up with Jesus spending time to pray, not in the usual place like the temple or the synagogue, but elsewhere. And so his disciples after noticing this asked him to teach them how to pray. Jesus gladly responded to their request and began teaching them the basics of prayer. Allow me to share with you just three important points in this regard.

The very first point is the FATHER. Whenever we say a prayer we ought to address it not just to God in general but to the Father. It is not enough to simply say “O God” or “O Diyos,” we should rather say “Our Father” or “our Papa” or “Tatay.” The exact Hebrew word Jesus actually used was “Abba” which is a Jewish expression of endearment towards one’s biological father. In our language today its nearest equivalents could be “Itay” or “Tatay” or “Papa” or “Daddy.” Jesus’ point here is that God is not like a vendo machine which you go to only when you need something. He is a person we need to relate with in a very intimate way. Have you ever tried using any of the words mentioned above when speaking to God in prayer? If not, I believe it’s high time that you as a Catholic grow more in relationship with the Father and level up in your prayer life according to the standard of Jesus.

The second point on prayer power is SELFLESSNESS. Jesus, in teaching us the prayer of the “Our Father,” is telling us that before we actually present our personal petitions to God we should first focus on the concerns of the Father: “Hallowed be thy name; thy Kingdom come; thy will be done…” To believe in God and pray to him is fundamental for every disciple. However, the point of Jesus is praying to God only for the sole purpose of obtaining one’s needs is being too self-centered. That probably was the kind of prayer many Jews knew about during his time. The sad reality is that today as in the past so many people are still far away from God. They do not believe in him, or they live as if there is no God at all. They neither worship him nor glorify his name. The worse part however is that many believers and many of Jesus’ disciples don’t seem to be concerned about this, for all that they think of when at prayer is themselves and their own interests.

Try to consider this. If a worker or an employee comes to his boss everyday and asks “Boss, puede ba akong mag-advance, kasi…?” Then the following day he comes again saying “Boss, puede ba kong mag-absent bukas, kasi…?” And then he asks again “Boss, puede ba ibang trabaho na lang ipagawa nyo sa ‘kin, kasi…?” Kung ikaw yung Boss, di ba maiinis ka sa sunod-sunod na request at reklamo nung staff mo.” But what if a staff is super diligent at work, submits complete and orderly reports and expresses sincere concern for the good of the company with updates on how he has been successfully addressing work-related problems, then I’m sure he or she will receive bonuses beyond his/her expectation. And chances are will even be recommended for promotion to a higher position. In much the same way will we receive bonus blessings from God if his “business” becomes our own primary concern and preoccupation. He is like a boss, or better still, he is really like a good father who never gets to be outdone in generosity. He definitely hears us and grants us what we need even beyond our prayers and petitions, way beyond our personal dreams and imaginations.

Allow me to share this true story with you. There was once a little boy named Gamay (not his real name) who loved to collect small metal toy cars more popular known as “Matchbox.” His parents knew those were his favorite toys and so they would surprise him with these gifts during Christmas and his birthday. However Gamay longed to have more “Matchbox” cars in his collection. And so, knowing that his dad wasn’t so keen on pampering him, he thought of a different strategy. He would get hold of the broom everyday and do some chores sweeping the floor inside the house and at the garden outside. He would gather all the fallen leaves under the Star apple tree and bundle them up for disposal. After some time, therefore, the mother saw how “kugihan” or “masipag” her little boy has become by his own initiative that she began surprising him more frequently with gifts of mini toy cars even outside Christmas season. I believe God deals with us in a very similar way. If we first focus on how his Name could be glorified, or on how his Kingdom may be more fully established, or on how his holy Will may be fulfilled, then his grace and blessings will be ours to enjoy, at times even much more than what we can ever ask for, expect or imagine.

The third point on prayer power is PERSISTENCE. Whenever we pray to God we should never get tired or give up so easily but persevere. In the example presented to us by Jesus, the man who knocked at his friend’s door in the middle of the night asked persistently for some bread he intended to offer to his “midnight” guest. After hearing the repeated knocking at the door his friend finally got up from bed and gave in to the annoying request. So according to Jesus the man got from his friend what he was asking for through his persistence.

We see a more graphic example of persistence in the first reading from the book of Genesis. Sodom and Gomorrah were about to be punished by the Lord for their evil deeds. But Abraham tried to intercede for them because his nephew, a good man named Lot, and his wife were actually living there. His persistence brought him to bargain with the Lord repeatedly for the sake of the few good people who might be residing in those doomed cities. He dared to pray for them saying “If there were fifty…forty… thirty…twenty… or only ten innocent people there, would you still destroy the cities?” Biblical scholars say that Sodom and Gomorrah had about a thousand inhabitants at that time. So, ten would be only one percent of the total population. And amazingly God’s reply has consistently been negative: “No, I won’t destroy the cities for the sake of those fifty… or ten innocent people.” From this dialogue we come to know God to be really a God of infinite mercy and compassion even long before Jesus would fully reveal him to the world.

Sad to say the story actually ended with the punishment being carried out against Sodom and Gomorrah. Those cities were indeed destroyed by fire and brimstone. By God’s mercy however Lot and his wife were saved as they were brought out of the city before its total destruction took place. They were the only ones who remained faithful to God despite the strong influence of evil surrounding them. Abraham’s intercessory prayer might not have been answered in the way he wanted it. But because it was powered by selflessness and persistence, he actually got what he was asking for, the safety of his own nephew who chose to remain innocent and faithful in God’s eyes until the end.

In this Holy Mass may we be inspired to grow in our personal relationship with the Father. May we strive to practice the basics of Christian prayer as taught by Jesus and soon experience its tremendous power in our lives. GiG… sss!

Disclaimer: This section of the website is a personal creative writing of the author and does not necessarily reflect the official views, opinion, or policies of the Salesians of Don Bosco – Philippines South Province. For concerns on the content, style, and grammar of this piece, please contact us.

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