The Power of Prayer – Mark Lopez, SJ

Luke 18:1-8, 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

There was once a young mother who came to a Jesuit priest for spiritual direction. In the beginning, the Jesuit asked her “What is your deepest desire ? What are you really praying for ?” (In short, why have you come for spiritual direction?) And so this young mother shared her deepest anxiety – about wanting her son to pass the entrance exam of the Jesuit University in the Philippines. This, she said, was what she was most earnestly praying for.

As time went on, the prayer exercises she was given for everyday prayer progressed, and she devoted herself more and more regularly to spending quiet time with the Lord. And after a couple of months, the priest asked her again, how is it going with your prayers for your son? Do you think you are being heard?

To this she surprisingly replied – “You know what Father, although I love my son very much, and would be really happy if he passed, it doesn’t matter as much anymore, she said. It doesn’t matter as much as this beautiful relationship with the Lord that I’ve found, which I never thought possible. And because of this relationship, more and more I feel the Lord saying, I will be with you, and things will turn out right, no matter what.”
The experience of this young mother for me has always signified the power of prayer. The real power of prayer, I think, is not so much in the miracles or wonders that result from it – but rather that it makes us realize and value what it really means to have a relationship with God.

If you take a look at the first reading in light of this relationship, you’ll see how empowering such a relationship with God can be, such that Moses stands before an army and lifts his staff, in such remarkable trust that the Lord would be with his people. And again in the Gospel, we are reminded that if some people render us good, merely out of our persistence or out of fear of what we might do to them, how much more we can trust in a God with whom we have built a relationship, to whom we are beloved.
And so today, just a few points that I myself have found helpful to ponder about prayer and relationship.

“Why pray, when God is supposed to know everything we need?” Some people ask. Well, if God is just your personal vending machine for everything you need, then that would be fine really. But is that all He is to you? A vending machine? Think about a husband and wife who have lived together for a long time. After 20 years of marriage, the guy says, “Ok honey, I think by now you know everything I need and I know what you need. So let’s just stop talking to each other.” What do you think would happen to that relationship?
Today I pray we realize that we relate with each other, not only out of need. We relate because we value the other and know the other values us. What’s true in relationships, is true in prayer life.

Secondly, something on the difference between a blessing and a grace. I know that many cultures would simply use these words interchangeably, but suspend your disbelief for the moment and see if this will be helpful. What comes to mind when you think of blessings? I think of how life is so full of them – family and friends, good food, a good job or vocation, sufficient wealth and health. Yes. Blessings would mostly be material or tangible gifts we receive from God.

On the other hand, in spiritual speak, when we refer to graces, these are blessings too, but are usually of the spiritual kind – peace, love, gratitude(yes believe it or not even being able to be thankful is a blessing!), courage, clarity of mind, mercy, etc. Gifts we receive in the heart, so to speak.

And so ask yourself now, most of the time, when I pray, do I pray for blessings or graces? I would think most of us still often pray for blessings (we are material beings, after all). But for those who want to get to know God and experience Him more intimately, and to see how he really works in our lives and persons,I suggest you try more and more to pray for graces, over blessings. Pray for the graces you will need to receive God’s blessings more fully.

Since I myself have tried to make this shift, to rely on God for graces and not just blessings, the relationship has deepened tremendously. I’ve grown to trust the Lord who really never fails to provide the graces I need most at any given time. (Maybe so much so that I would trust him enough as Moses did, and will be able to lift my own wooden staff against an army in some future spiritual battle.)

It’s by grace that I’ve seen friends with cancer go through their last days with grateful and peaceful hearts. It’s by grace that I’ve seen once fearful, insecure people (me included), bloom into a fuller, joyful kind of living upon embracing their personal vocation. It’s by grace that I’ve seen people learn to forgive the unforgivable – the infidelity of a husband, the murder of a loved one – it’s by grace that I’ve seen such sins forgiven, out of love. It’s by grace that I’ve seen the impossible happen.

Lastly, ponder also the difference between giving thanks and giving praise. When we thank others, it’s usually the gift we are thankful for, isn’t it? (Thanks for the cake, the greeting, the help . . .) But when we give praise, it’s the giver that we see. (You really are the best, the most thoughtful, like no other!)

Again, I’m guessing that for most of us, prayers are heavy on the thanks and light on the praise. If you want to grow in the spiritual life, I suggest we learn more and more to let our thanksgiving lead us to praise -giving – both to people and to God, that is. Because when we praise each other, and name who and what that person has been to me – that’s a beautiful way of affirming the relationship isn’t it? It’s a beautiful way of valuing the other. Of seeing that the giver is always so much more important than the gift.

And so to You, Master-giver of all that is good in our life, we thank You for this day and the chance once again to pray, for giving us quiet time with You, for giving us gratitude, and peace and trust. And we praise you for you are faithful and present, “no matter what happens”, and merciful and relentlessly loving, like no other. Continue to teach us to be persistent in our prayers, Lord, so that we may trust, love and serve you more and more each day. Amen.

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