How to pray well

Readings: Is. 40.1-11; Ps. 104; Titus 2.11-3.7; Lk. 3.15-22

John the Baptist and Jesus are the main figures in today's gospel. Wonderful things are said of these two men. Today's gospel reading concludes: "the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in a form like a dove, and a voice came from heaven, 'You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.'" In another gospel Jesus says about John the Baptist: "There is no man born of woman greater than John the Baptist." (Mt. 11.11)

John is singular in the New Testament on account of his birth, diet and dress, message and mission. The Scriptures report that John's elderly parents became pregnant by gift of God, and an angel told them to name their child John. He grew up and chose to live in the wilderness. He dressed in a camel skin cloak and ate wild grasshoppers and honey. His message is, "Repent and believe. Prepare the way of the Lord. One greater than me is coming after me; I am not worthy to unloosen his sandals." His mission was that of an itinerant preacher, prophet and precursor of Our Lord.

John and Jesus were cousins. They encountered each other first in their mothers' wombs. Both dedicated their lives to doing God's will. Both practiced humility: the Lord and Savior Jesus humbled himself to be baptized by John. John replied, "I should be baptized by you."

Jesus and John enjoyed a common dedication to prayer. How can we pray well? May I suggest four basic steps in how to pray well. 1). Choose a time and place that is quiet. Put down your distractions, and turn off your electronic gadgets. Can you think of some physical space at home that is quiet? Personally, my favorite place is my bedroom Go there at the same time every day. That place will become sacred for you by your praying there. 2). When you pray, begin by briefly reading something good: maybe the Scripture reading for that day's Mass, or something about the Blessed Virgin Mary or the lives of the saints. Reflect on the material. Learn some new information or insight to pray over. 3). Speak from your head and heart exactly what you are thinking and feeling. Speak with words that are true and deep. God won't be shocked; he's been around for a long time! Your words may describe your mood, or some situation at home or school, or perhaps you might pray for someone who is sick or who is fighting in a war far away from home. Personally, I would be happy if you prayed for your priests. 4) Listen to God as he speaks through your mind, heart and soul. God is not going to shout to you. God will speak softly and gently. Let God's gracefully touch your mind, heart and soul. How do you know if God is speaking to you? If your prayer helps you to grow in obedience, compassion, patience, forgiveness, self-sacrifice, generosity and other virtues, God's grace is working through you. Prayer is validated by action.

Today begins National Vocation Awareness Week. God gives everybody two vocations: a general vocation and particular vocation. Generally, all baptized Christians are called to holiness; to live absolutely faith, hope and love; and to live moderately the moral virtues. Every baptized Christian is called to follow a life of poverty, chastity and obedience. Religious priests and sisters take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Every other Christian by his/her baptism vows promises to follow the virtues of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Poverty for me as a Vincentian priest means that my salary goes to the Vincentian community and I receive a monthly allowance. Married and single peoples' virtue of poverty directs them to share generously their time, talent and treasure. Oftentimes, single people have more time and treasure than married people.

Chastity for me means that I dedicate to God my whole mind, heart, soul and body to praise God and to serve God's people. Almost every priest and religious sister would love to enjoy the company and conversation of a spouse, and to be blessed with children; the vow of celibacy is the most profound sacrifice that priests and nuns make. Chastity for married people means that they come to God with and through their spouse. Married couples try their best to bring their spouse closer to God, closer than if that person had not been married. Spousal mutual respect, communication, affection and suffering help to create a Christian home in which, if so blessed, to raise children in Christ. This is not an easy vocation. There is no perfect home; every family experiences impatience, misunderstandings, arguments, hurtful words, selfishness, and even self-destructive behavior at times. We keep trying our best. Single people are called to be celibate until they are married, and to act lovingly towards everyone.

Obedience for me means that I listen to God and do his will as manifested through my religious superiors and Church leaders. Obedience for the laity, both married and single, means that they listen to God's will as revealed through the Scriptures and manifested through the Tradition of the Church and teachings of Church leaders. Obedience means "to listen" after which people try to live out God's will in their daily lives.

For everybody, but especially the young people and children in the congregation: Pray to God that he will enlighten you regarding your general and particular vocation. How does God want you to live a Christ-like Catholic life, and what special vocation might God be calling you to live? Most people will follow the married life, many will follow the single life, and some will follow God's call to be a priest or religious sister or brother. Like John the Baptist, learn how to pray so that God might inspire you to know and to live well your vocation. Be like John the Baptist. Pray at a regular time in the same space. Read good religious material as you begin praying. Speak openly and honestly to God. Listen to God as his Spirit fills your mind with insight and moves your heart and soul to live with greater obedience, compassion, patience, forgiveness, self-sacrifice and generosity. Just as Jesus and John the Baptist followed God's will for themselves, pray that you might learn and follow God's will for yourself.

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley