Sunday. Ordinary Time 2013. Week 12

The Lord is the strength of His people,
a saving refuge for the one he has anointed.
Save Your people, Lord, and bless Your heritage,
and govern them for ever (Psalm 28 :8-9).

Grant, O Lord,
that we may always revere and love
Your holy Name
for You never deprive of Your guidance
those you set firm on the foundation of your love.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

RESPONSORIAL PSALM (click for full Psalm)
My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God. (Psalm 63: 2).

SCRIPTURE EXCERPT (click for all readings)
“Once when Jesus was praying in solitude (προσευχόμενον, proseuchomenon),
and the disciples were with him,
he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
They said in reply, “John the Baptist;
others, Elijah;
still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.’”
Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter said in reply, “The Christ of God.”
He rebuked them
and directed them not to tell this to anyone.

He said, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly
and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised.”
Then he said to all,
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it (Luke 9:18-24).”

“Once when Jesus was praying (προσευχόμενον, proseuchomenon) in solitude (κατὰ μόνας, kata monas) …” The experience of prayer certainly holds a treasured place in any discussion of the spiritual life. As the ‘lights of the spiritual life’ come on and the heart becomes more excited about the Divine realities, prayer is one of those activities that ignites a ravenous appetite for discussion and study. ‘Am I praying correctly?’ is a question that is commonly posed by women and men seeking a mature spiritual life. While the question itself ‘Am I praying correctly?’ is born from a genuine desire to make one’s spiritual life a vital dimension of life, it is helpful to begin with Jesus’ experience of prayer as presented in the Gospels. After all, the ponderous question “Who you say that I am?” as well as His teaching about the Cross are grounded this Sunday in the ‘praying Jesus.’

προεὐχομαι (proeuchomai) is the Greek verb that translates into English as “to pray.” Not surprisingly, there are a handful of verbs in Greek that generically are rendered into English as “to pray.” A number of the verbs and related nouns are influenced naturally throughout time by a variety of factors and linguistic scholars note that it is difficult to draw absolute lines of demarcation among the various words. That said, it is important to note that the ancient words that form a ‘family of prayer words’ do have shades of meaning that are certainly worth exploring.
Generally speaking, the various ancient words that form a foundation for the verb “to pray” or the noun “prayer” appear to share a common element of ‘voicing a desiring, wish or some type of petition.’ What is unique about προεὐχομαι (proeuchomai) is that the voicing is clearly directed to God. Other verbs appear to suggest prayer as a ‘throwing it out there’ as if one did not know who or what to contact. ‘Praying,’ therefore, involved not only one’s wish or desire but equally a wish that someone or something, both unknown to the one praying, will respond! Jesus’ manner of prayer is quite different.
The Gospel use of προεὐχομαι (proeuchomai) to express the many facets of prayer is grounded in the Jewish experience of prayer. While there are a couple of words that historically ground the activity of prayer throughout the Old Testament, 1 point is noteworthy. Even when the words come to include the voicing of desires and petition, Jewish prayer is first and foremost a conscious awareness not only that prayer is definitely directed to God, but directed to God Who is One! The words offered to God, the petitions voiced, the sacrificed rendered, the silence accepted – all of this is done in the context of the God Who is One! Thus while I may ask for this or that, while I may have the Temple priest offer a particular sacrifice, while I may sit silently for a period of time, all is ‘colored,’ all is affected and effected by the reality that God is One! As I ask for a particular reality, implicitly I need to ask: ‘is this about the Oneness of God, or is it selfishly idolatrous?’ Is the sacrifice being offered because God is worthy of all, or are there other motives (e.g. bartering with God, feeling good about myself because I offered sacrifice)?
From this emerges a second point essential to prayer among the Israelites of Jesus’ day. “I” pray to God Who is One conscious that “I” am part of a community and as such prayer always involves my fellow Israelites. In other words, ‘saying MY prayers’ would be a phrase foreign to any Israelite of Jesus day and foreign to Jesus Himself. Notice the beginning of this Sunday’s proclamation: “Jesus was praying in solitude, and the disciples were with Him,” Jesus’ communing with His Father is an act of solitude, not individualistic privacy. Communing with God the Father is an act that is not about me, myself and I. Even as an individual is drawn into the life and love of the Divine Persons, it is not to the exclusion of others who are part of the Body as well.
The blessing of prayer that comes with discipleship in Jesus is a gift of the Holy Spirit that is a marvelous, splendid gift. Each disciple ‘knows’ God the Father is the One to Whom all prayer is addressed. No wonder St Teresa of Avila had ‘difficulty’ voicing the “Lord’s Prayer.” As soon as she mentioned “Our Father,” she was caught up in Divine Love, knowing the One love of God the Father. Jesus invites us to ask in prayer for all that we need. Each disciple voices those needs and sits silently all the while growing in what it means to live in union with the Oneness of God our Father and the Body of His Son energized by the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit.

Universal Prayer or Prayer of the Faithful (click here)