Sunday, February 26, 2012

Prayer Is First

1 Lent 2012 B #23

Gn 9, 8-15
Ps 25
1Pt 3, 18-22
Mk 1, 12-15

Saint Mary’s Church, Marlboro, N.Y.
February 26, 2012

Deacon Tom Cornell

Have you lost any weight yet? Just last Wednesday I realized that I won’t be able to get into my suit trousers if I don’t lose a few pounds. Lent is just in time. It’s a very good idea to revive the old Lenten fast, not because we have to, but because we want to. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving: these cover a multitude of sins, and they are the three essential elements of the penitential season. Prayer comes first!

It’s really so good to see you here, every Sunday. You are the faithful ones. You are here. Where are the others? Father Bader and Deacon Vinny and I and the lay ministers of the Eucharist, when we stand at the foot of the altar to give you Communion: every time we feel the same warmth of recognition. We are native born and foreign born, liberals and conservatives, of many different racial and ethnic strains, but here we are all one, together, united in the love of God and Jesus Christ and all our differences fade away into insignificance. Communion: that’s what the word means. We are one with God in Christ Jesus who died for us, who showed us a way to live and who rose again to take us with him; and we are one with each other. The sacrament makes it real. Where are the others? Don’t they know what they’re missing?

Let’s get back to the subject, the penitential season of Lent, prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Prayer comes first. If I fast seriously enough to get back into those trousers, that’s all well and good. But if my fast did not begin in with prayer, if it was not carried out in prayer and if it does not end in prayer, then it is of no spiritual benefit whatever. If I tithe and write a substantial check to the Campaign for Human Development, that’s all well and good. But if my charity does not begin in prayer, if it is not sustained in prayer, if it does not end in prayer, again, it avails me nothing in the realm of the spirit.

Saint Paul counsels “pray without ceasing” (1 Th 5,17). How do you do that? One way is to start the day with The Morning Offering.
There are many forms of that prayer. Here’s the one I learned as a boy:

O Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
I offer you my prayers, works, joys, sufferings of this day,
in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world.
I offer them for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart;
the salvation of souls, reparation for sin, the reunion of Christians; and in particular for the intentions of the Holy Father this month. Amen.

The Rosary is a very good way to pray. We let our fingers do the walking, as it were, counting the beads. Giving our hands something to do helps us to concentrate on the prayers itself. The repetition of the words of the Hail Mary, especially, are supposed to become automatic, freeing our minds to concentrate on the mysteries, from the Annunciation to the Birth of Jesus, from the Agony in the Garden to the Crucifixion, from the Resurrection to the Coronation of Mary, Queen of Heaven and Earth. If you want, you can concentrate on other events in the lives of Jesus and Mary. Of course your mind will wander. When that happens, just bring it back!

Then there is silent prayer, contemplative prayer. Don’t be frightened off by the idea that this form of prayer is only for the spiritually advanced, monks and cloistered nuns. Not at all; we can all do it. One way is to read a short passage of Scripture, just to get in the right frame of mind. You’ll have to have a quiet place, nobody else around, no radio or TV noise in the background. You’ll have to set aside a few minutes, just a few at first. Sit in a comfortable chair with your back straight. Take a deep breath in through your nose, as deep as you can, then let it out through your lips, slowly. Do it again, and a third time. Now as you empty your lungs, empty your mind. There’s a lot of noise in our heads, so many thoughts, a lot of busy-ness. Breathe it all out as best you can. Empty you mind. Some people focus on a word or a short phrase, a “prayer word” or a “mantra.” Many people use the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner.” I use the beads for this prayer too, repeating it over and over. Again, inevitably, your mind wanders. All right, just call it back. Shorten the prayer, to just two words, “Jesus, mercy,” or one word if you like, “Jesus”! If you try this once a day, you will find that you will need just the word to call you back when you are distracted. Then maybe you can try it twice a day.

Let us pray! By the end of Lent may we all be prepared to meet the Risen Lord; may our waist lines be a little smaller and may some people living in poverty have some relief from our giving in Jesus’ name. 

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