Praying Like Jesus

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

From the start to the finish of his public ministry, Jesus makes time for private, personal prayer. We see this throughout the gospels. In the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, the morning after Jesus cured Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and others in the town of Capernaum, it says, “Rising very early before dawn, (Jesus) left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.” Then, before calling certain men from among his many followers to form his key inner circle, Luke’s Gospel notes: “(Jesus) departed to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God. When day came, he called his disciples to himself, and from them he chose Twelve, whom he also named apostles.” And Matthew’s Gospel records how, on the night before he died, “Jesus came with (eleven of those Apostles) to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his apostles, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took along Peter, James, and John, and began to feel sorrow and distress. Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me.” He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” Today’s gospel begins with another example of Jesus’ commitment to private, personal prayer.

After Jesus had fed the crowds with the loaves and the fishes (which we heard about last Sunday) he made the apostles get into a boat and depart before him for the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Then Jesus went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening, he was there alone. Like the Prophet Elijah in our first reading, who retreated to a mountain to encounter God, Jesus seeks out a quiet and deserted place to pray. Though the wind, the earthquake, and the fire outside of Elijah’s cave all reflect something of God’s glory, chasing after these would be a distraction. God’s presence is revealed to Elijah as “a tiny whispering sound.” Do you put yourself in a place, do you give yourself enough time and space and silence, to encounter within you God’s tiny whispering sound through prayer? If it was very important for Jesus Christ the Son of God to devote focused time for prayer (and he did) how much moreso for you and me?

What was on Jesus’ mind and heart the night he prayed in today’s gospel? What did Jesus take to prayer? Recall that John the Baptist had recently been murdered. John’s disciples, after burying his body, went and told Jesus. When Jesus hears this news, he withdraws in a boat for a deserted place with the apostles where he finds thousands awaiting him. He heals them and teaches them and feeds them all. Then he dismisses the crowds, sends the apostles off ahead of him, and goes up the mountain to pray alone.

Was Jesus feeling sad that evening? Our Blessed Lord once said, “Blessed are they who mourn.” And he himself wept at the tomb of Lazarus. Jesus mourning at the death of John the Baptist, his friend, relative, and ally, is easy to imagine. Might Jesus have felt angry that night? Anger is the natural human reaction to a perceived injustice, and what happened to John was gravely wrong, a great injustice. Anger, like all human emotion, can be turned toward good or evil. For instance, zeal for his Father’s house moved Jesus to make a righteous mess of a marketplace that was hindering peoples’ worship and profaning the temple in Jerusalem. There are a number a divinely-inspired prayers among the Psalms which give voice to human sorrows, frustrations, and anxieties.

Did Jesus feel stress and strain about the steps of the path ahead of him? When people saw Jesus multiply those loaves and fishes, John’s Gospel tells us the crowd was going to carry him off to make him King of Israel, the Messiah of their dreams. But that would have derailed Christ’s redemptive mission as the Lamb of God, so Jesus did not permit his followers to do so. Jesus’ enemies, of course, presented obstacles as well. How was Jesus to reach and drink the cup at his mission’s end? In the Garden of Gethsemane, we see Jesus under great stress and strain even speak to his Father about the course of the Father’s plan. In prayer, Jesus could bring to God his Father, whatever he thought or felt.

Did Jesus pray for other people? In our second reading, St. Paul reveals a “great sorrow and constant anguish” in his heart. He swears by the Holy Spirit that he could wish himself “cut off from Christ,” could wish himself condemned to Hell, if that would somehow lead his people, the Jews, to Heaven. Do you think Paul prayed with that sorrow and anguish for others’ salvation? If Paul prays with such intense feeling, how much moreso does Jesus pray for the salvation of others from his Sacred Heart?

Jesus Christ is not only our Lord and Savior, he’s the best example for our Christian life. We must learn from him and imitate him. Here are three things Jesus does that we all should do likewise. First, Jesus makes time for private, personal prayer. Whether early morning or late at night, he created time for communing with the God who loves and leads him. Turn off the car radio, the TV, the devices, to make some silence to hear within you the “tiny whispering sound” of God. Second, Jesus prays with everything on his mind and heart. No thought or feeling need be hidden from the God who knows and loves you better than you do yourself. The Holy Trinity and our other heavenly friends want us to share these things, so that we may grow close together in their likeness and friendship. And third, Jesus prays for himself and others. Jesus says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Therefore, if you only pray for yourself, or only pray for other people, something is out of balance in your prayer. In conclusion, make time for personal private prayer. Pray about anything on your mind and heart. And pray for yourself and others. Make this sacrifice, give yourself this gift, of communing in prayer with the Lord who loves and leads you.

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