Most all of us pray constantly

Readings: Gen. 18.20-32, Ps. 138, Col. 2.12-14 and Lk. 11.1-13

The first and third readings pertain to praying perseveringly.

Most all of us pray constantly. I trust that most of us say a morning and night prayer at our bedside. Probably most of us whisper a grace before meals three times a day. Yesterday, in this church we celebrated the sacrament of baptism for one child, and we had a dozen children under the age of ten in the congregation; whenever you and I see children we can't help but say a prayer for them, for their safety and in thanksgiving for their God-given goodness. In prayer we praise and thank God, we ask for his forgiveness and we offer prayers for special needs: health, jobs and relationships. Sometimes, our prayers seem to be answered; and sometimes, not.

I want to address that last experience and its subsequent frustration in praying for something, and apparently our prayers not being answered, or at least not being answered how we would like them to be answered. All of us become frustrated over apparently unanswered prayers. Today's readings present the dilemma: we are asked to pray perseveringly, but also to pray ultimately accepting God's will.

You are in good company if you have experienced apparently unanswered prayers. Jesus and Job shared this experience. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed to his Father in heaven: "If this cup can pass from me, then let it do so, but not my will but your will be done." On the cross, Jesus quoted Psalm 22 as he prayed, "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" Job in the Old Testament never found a satisfactory answer as to why he lost his wife and children, flocks, farm, and good health. Job commented simply to his so-called friends, "God gives and God takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord."

I'd like to share with you a few principles. First, God is good and cannot do anything evil; God does, however, allow evil to happen. Physical evil happens in the world of physical nature: volcanoes erupt, storms hit our shores, and people become old and die. Much of life is not controlled by us. Moral evil happens as a consequence of sin: think of the seven capital sins. God allows evil and we humans choose to do evil.

Second, God can bring good out of evil. I would never have grown in sensitivity and responsibility, and I suspect that I would not have become a priest if I had not experienced my brother Bart being a Downs Syndrome child. On the internet this weekend is a story of a young man who was hit while riding his motorcycle, became a paraplegic, discovered that few suppliers produced equipment that paraplegics need, so he has become a major producer to help other paraplegics. God can bring good out of evil.

Third, God's will oftentimes requires our cooperation with God's will. We pray for good grades in school, promotions at work, and peace in our homes; but God needs us to cooperate with the good he desires for us. St. Augustine writes, "Pray as though everything depends on God, and work as though everything depends on you."

Fourth, God wants to pray perseveringly for things, yet simultaneously to accept reality. This seems paradoxical. Some young persons may pray to meet a wonderful spouse, and yet Mr. or Mrs. Right doesn't seem to enter their lives. When does one stop praying and simply accept reality?

Personally, I pray for many people. In this parish of 2,000 members, you can be sure many people have critical needs. One woman was rushed to the hospital this morning at 3am. Many hardworking people can't find work in the currently poor economy. Many young people are hoping and praying to be accepted by the college of their choice. I pray for these needs, and for my 19 nieces and nephews: some but not all of whom attend Mass each Sunday. For the non-attendees I pray that they might appreciate how God has created them to praise him, and how they would benefit from that. The no-attendees' behaviors, like the behaviors that I personally am trying to change, admittedly change only slowly. Like all human behaviors, individual situations are complex. What is a good-priest uncle to do?

Personally, I experience this: the more that I pray for someone, the more I grow to love them, respect them, enjoy them, appreciate them. My love for my nieces and nephews grows as I pray for each one of them for all of their needs. My heart becomes fonder, softer, closer towards the people for whom I pray. At the same time, as I pray to God, my love of God grows deeper, closer, expressed more frequently and the words, "Father, not my will but your will be done," flow more readily and happily from my heart, soul, mind and mouth. Even if my prayers don't change all situations, at least my prayers change me in deepening my affection for God and for the people for whom I pray.

Like Jesus, we end all of our prayers with the phrase, "Father, not my will but your will be done." And perhaps the anonymous Serenity Prayer captures many of our wishes: "God, give me the courage to change what can be changed; the serenity to accept what cannot be changed; and the wisdom to know the difference."

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley