Fr. Mark's Homily - Connecting with God, the Great St. Henry Prayer Challenge

Several years ago, they did a study of Catholics all across the United States, in big cities and small towns, in suburbs, in rural America – all across the country.  They asked pastors to identify some of their most dedicated, committed, and engaged Catholics, and they interviewed those Catholics in depth to find out what motivated them.  One of the things they discovered was these Catholics they interviewed across the country shared four common characteristics.

The first characteristic they shared was, when asked the question “Do you pray every day?” they would say “Yes.”  They discovered that those really committed in our Church tend to be people who have set aside time each day to be with God.  They were asked a follow-up question, which was, “How do you pray?”  And every one of them said, “When I pray …,” and they would describe in some detail the prayer routine that they had developed.  It’s interesting because they had all developed their prayer routines, and they weren’t the same ones for different Catholics, but they all developed one.  They asked them, “Did someone teach you this?,” and most of them said “No, it’s something I developed on my own.”  Isn’t that interesting that most Catholics who are daily prayers, we sort of had to learn how to do it on our own.

I did not start praying regularly, I mean daily, until the year that I left the seminary to come back to the United States.  Up to that point I suppose I was depending on the community prayer we had at seminary.  Well, when I got back to the United States I thought, “Now it’s up to me, God.  If I’m going to be connected to you, I’m going to have to take time to do this.”  And that was the beginning of my prayer journey.  But after a number of years of praying I hit what I call a very dry spell in my prayer.  I went to see my spiritual director, and I said, “You know, for months now I’ve been praying and I don’t feel any connection to God. I feel a sense of dryness on the inside.”  I thought perhaps he was going to teach me how to pray better.  But he looked at me and said, “Well, if you’ve still been praying and you’re not getting  anything out of it, it may be your best prayer yet because you are not doing it for yourself, you’re doing it for God.”  So that sent me back to my prayer with a new attitude.  

Many months after that I was on a retreat and I was asked to pray with the Gospel where Jesus comes to the house of the tax collector. And, you know, St. Ignatius likes you to imagine yourself in the Gospel story.  So I imagined Jesus knocking at my door, arriving at my home.  He came into my house and I started to give him a tour – this is the living room, this is the dining room, kitchen, and so forth.  I went up the stairs with him, and we got to the my bedroom, and I was just about to walk through the door and tell him this is my room.  But before I could get the words out of my mouth, he looked at me and he said, I know this place very well.  And suddenly I felt through me a flood of his love.  It was the place where I prayed every day, for weeks and months, wondering if it mattered, and when the Lord said to me, I know this place very well, I knew with certainty that all the time that I had spent with him meant something to him and it also had begun to change me.

So today, as you all may know, we’re beginning here at St. Henry, a great prayer challenge.

 The words of Jesus today in the Gospel, Little flock, do not be afraid. The Father is pleased to give you the kingdom – Now what is the kingdom about but the connection that we have with the God who created all of us and this universe that we live in, this God who desires for us what is truly best.  And to be able to take that time to be with the God of the universe and to let God begin to change us on the inside, it’s one of the greatest adventures the human being can ever experience in this life.  Abraham and Sarah encountered the living God and they were never the same afterward.  Their great journey has really touched all of human history, the descendants of Abraham as numerous as the stars in the sky or the sands of the seashore.

The world today needs changed people more than ever, doesn’t it?  It’s a world full of woundedness and brokenness.  To meet the living God enables you and me to be changed and to discover what the true treasure of life is.  Where your treasure is, there will your heart be.

So what’s the challenge?  I’m going to invite you all to consider what I will call “the 20 minute prayer challenge.”  So if you’re not yet taking time each day to be with the Lord, I’m going to invite you to think about how you might spend 20 minutes of your day each day with God.  Maybe it’s walking in the woods, maybe it’s coming to the chapel, maybe it’s finding your first cup of coffee in a quiet place in your home.  That time with the Lord, if you say yes to it, may change your life for good, forever.  So that’s my great prayer challenge today.

We’ve given you these cards when you came in today …

There’s a place for you to make the personal commitment.  You can can drop them in the collection next week;  you don’t have to put your name on them, if you want to put your initials or some symbol of your own self.  It’s not for us, it’s more for you.  We can write something down and say, God, I’m going to make this commitment to you this year.

Now what about those of you who are already praying 20 minutes a day?  Well the challenge is for us as well.  Maybe God is inviting us to take the next step in the life of prayer.  So what is God calling us to do today?  Are we open to letting God do that for us?  I want you to prayerfully consider this coming week how God might be inviting you to a deeper connection and your willingness to say yes to that.  I really believe it will change the world.

I taught a class on prayer several years ago and I asked people who weren’t praying regularly, “Why don’t you pray more often?”  You know what the number one answer was?  They were too busy, they said, to pray.  And I said, “Wow, we get up in the morning, were we ever too busy to take a shower or put on makeup or brush your teeth and all these other things we do in the morning.”  So if we’re ready on the outside, doesn’t the inside matter so much more?

Little flock, do not be afraid, God is pleased to give you the kingdom.  Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.