Praying from the Heart
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
What is your prayer story? When I say, “prayer story,” I mean, an encounter with the divine when you’ve experienced an intimate moment with God … a moment that has changed you completely as a person and a believer of God. For spiritual theologians, they would call it “interiority” – where one encounters God in the depths of his/her inner self and notice God’s love stretching him/her: the breadth of what he/she can see, the depth of what he/she can feel and value, the import and substance of what and whom he/she loves.
Well, mine wasn’t that extraordinary. In fact, there was no actual “praying” going on though it felt like I did given the circumstances:
7 years ago, coming back to the States from the Philippines to report to my first assignment in Oakley, CA, I went there all by myself as I didn’t want to bother people from my previous parish in Holy Spirit to take me to the boonies (the middle of nowhere – urban dictionary). And so, as I was driving Interstate 580 leading to Oakland then to Oakley, I felt so tired and was very sleepy (a big “no no” when driving) due to jetlag. But just as when I was about to fall asleep, I heard a police siren right behind me with the traffic patrol signaling someone to pull over. At first, I didn’t mind it since I thought it wasn’t me. It was only until he started using his megaphone as if shouting at me that I realized that the one being asked to pull over was no other than ME, MYSELF and Fr. G! I had no recollection of the policeman as to how he looked like, but he gave me a ticket for breaking the “MUST EXIT” sign as I swerved back to the freeway. From that point of my journey, I was wide awake until I reach Oakley! Other than that, the huge amount that’s at stake did really keep me awake the entire time. For how much? A staggering 480 dollars! But how was this prayer? Let me explain later.
Last Sunday, Jesus encouraged His disciples through a parable to pray with perseverance. This Sunday, Jesus still tackles the same subject matter, but calls His disciples to pray authentically, that is, to pray from the heart. But what makes prayer AUTHENTIC? Let’s see the answer from our readings:
1. When it is ROOTED in the HEART. It is a prayer where one encounters God in the depths of one’s inner self and deeply notices His presence in almost every aspect of one’s life. Today’s Psalm proclaims: “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” But why the “poor?” Because, it is the poor who possesses a prayerful heart; the poor who surrenders his/her heart to God completely without being forced whatsoever by externalities as he/she is freed from such luxury. It is such a heart that speaks and listens attentively to the voice of God.
In his book Directions, author James Hamilton shares this insight about listening to God: "Before refrigerators, people used icehouses to preserve their food. Icehouses had thick walls, no windows, and a tightly fitted door. In winter, when streams and lakes were frozen, large blocks of ice were cut, hauled to the icehouses, and covered with sawdust. Often the ice would last well into the summer. One man lost a valuable watch while working in an icehouse. He searched diligently for it, carefully raking through the sawdust, but didn't find it. His fellow workers also looked, but their efforts, too, proved futile. A small boy who heard about the fruitless search slipped into the icehouse during the noon hour and soon emerged with the watch. Amazed, the men asked him how he found it. 'I closed the door,' the boy replied, 'lay down in the sawdust, and kept very still. Soon I heard the watch ticking.'" ["To Illustrate," Leadership, (Fall 1992), p. 46.]
At times, we ask whether God is really listening, but should we ask otherwise? Are we still enough, and silent enough, to hear? Do we really listen to God and allow Him to speak to us in our heart?
Prayer of the Heart
2. When it is done in PRAISE of the Lord for His GOODNESS to us. Who do we hold praises in our prayers? Whose primary goodness is it done for? In our Second Reading, we hear St. Paul say these words as if boasting, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” How was he any different from most of us in our prayers? Paul’s boast was not really about himself but it was ABOUT the LORD! His exaltation was all done in order that the Lord may be glorified. Later in the same letter he would say: “But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it.” He recognizes his winning the battle through the grace of God without which he will never finish victorious. Such is authentic prayer. It must uplift the heart in praise of God and not in praise and glorification of one’s self.
3. When it is done in HUMILITY. It is made possible when one ACKNOWLEDGES one’s SINFULNESS and in so doing, one is moved to conversion and a change of heart. In the Gospel today, the parable describes to us two opposite ends of the scale of righteousness: The Pharisee being a “law-abider” while the Tax collector being a “law-breaker.” Judging from their external appearances even in their manner of praying, you can readily see what’s hidden within their hearts: the Pharisee standing with head unbowed while the Tax collector is bent forward, beating his breast. Jesus, as He narrates this parable, invites his disciples to go beyond externalities and see them through their hearts where the great difference lies.
The great difference of course is PRIDE. The Pharisee, out of pride, is convinced that he has done no wrong while the Tax collector with bowed head neither boast about his goodness nor denies his sinfulness. Authentic prayer and Christian living starts from acceptance of one’s sinfulness. Such acceptance could lead not only to conversion, but to the intimate selfless loving with God to eternity.
Going back to my prayer story, what made it a prayer? When I went to Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in order to pay my ticket, the guy who was at the front desk told me that there was no record of such ticket in the system. Though, I have the docket number, the system could not just find it. And so, he told me to wait for it in the mail and to give it some time. But, my dear friends, up until this point, I have never received a mail for that ticket. Sheer luck? Maybe. But, I believe SOMEONE was there to pull me over through the traffic enforcer in order that I may arrive to my destination safely. This became my prayer story because it changed my life inwardly to see what prayer truly is. By NOTICING God’s presence in that very ordinary experience, I’ve experienced an intimate moment with God. Such a wonderful life, when in everything you do, you see God there present!
A good life, like a good prayer, comes from emptying ourselves to let God in. That means a realization of the truth of the words scribbled long ago by an anonymous soldier of the Confederacy:
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve – I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for help that I might do greater things – I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy – I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life – I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for – but everything I had hoped for.
Despite myself, my prayers were answered.
I am, among all men, most richly blessed! - Harold Buetow in God Still Speaks! Listen