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Transformed by Prayer

Fr. Ed Nowak, CSP
Fr. Ed Nowak, CSP
October 14, 2022

Prayer can enable us to have an experience of God’s unconditional love for us that will transform our lives.

In this Sunday’s scripture readings for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary time, we hear about the importance of being persistent in prayer.   At first glance the image that is conveyed is that if we are persistent in our prayer we will eventually be granted what we desire.   However, our experience of prayer is often not as straightforward as that.   Ultimately persistence in prayer does not so much change God’s mind as much as it transforms us to accept and trust God’s answer to our prayer.  Prayer brings us into a deeper awareness of our union with God and all of creation. Prayer enables us to participate in God’s transforming grace in our world.   Just as there are so many types of personalities, there are so many ways of praying.   Our Catholic faith offers us a rich legacy of praying with the saints and learning about prayer from the saints.  Our life situations and experiences in many ways influence how we pray and the capacity of prayer to transform us.   All types of prayer including, adoration, contrition, thanksgiving and intercessory, have the potential to transform us but only if we truly are open to these prayers being a conversation with God.

In the scripture passage from 1 Samuel 3:1-10, Samuel hears the voice of God in the temple and at first thinks it is Eli calling to him.  After the third time this happens, Eli realizes that it is God talking to Samuel and tells Samuel to respond to God by saying, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”   One of my spiritual directors pointed out that most of us have a tendency to say, “Listen up Lord, your servant is speaking.”   Probably for many of us when we think of praying it is more of the, “Listen Lord, your servant is speaking” type of attitude we bring to prayer.   While God certainly does want each of us to speak our mind and heart to God, we also need to do a lot more listening.  After all, God did give us one mouth and two ears so that we might listen twice as much as we speak.

When we pray, how often do we listen to what God has to say to us?  One might ask what does listening to God look like?  It is not so much hearing God’s voice as we hear each talk.  But just as truly listening to what someone is saying involves more than just hearing, so too listening what God has to say to us is more than just hearing.  Whenever we pray with scripture, music, art, nature, journaling, meditation or traditional prayers do we pay attention to what is resonating in our hearts?  What is the message that we most need to hear or understand in that moment of prayer?   In our gathering together for the celebration of Mass, what is the message God has for us?  It might be in the prayers of the day, the music, the readings, the homily or in our conversation with a community member.  Ultimately the simple essence of prayer is having a conversation with God; which of course involves speaking and listening.

A pastor tells of a time he was asked by a woman to visit her father who was dying.   When the pastor came to visit him in his home.  He noticed an empty chair at the man’s bedside and asked if he was expecting a visitor.  “No” the man replied.  Then he said, “I hope you do not think I am crazy but for years I found it extremely difficult to pray until a friend explained to me that prayer was simply a matter of talking to Jesus.  He told me to place an empty chair nearby, to imagine Jesus sitting on that chair and to speak to him and listen to what he says to me in reply.  So I have been doing that ever since.  Is that ok?  Is that really prayer?”  “Is that prayer?” thought the pastor.  Wow… “Yes”, the pastor assured him it certainly is.

Some days later, the man’s daughter came to inform the pastor that her father had died.  She said, “I left him alone for a couple of hours.  He seemed so peaceful.  When I got back to the room, I found that he had died while I was gone.   It was strange though: his head was resting not on the bed but on the chair that was beside his bed.”

Prayer can indeed enable us to have such an intimate experience of God’s unconditional love for us and that is truly transforming.   When we listen to what God has to say to us, we can hopefully rest our head on the lap of Jesus when we come to our final moment of this life.