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Homily for Sunday, April 14, 2024

Third Sunday of Easter

 


How to pray with your family


I begin with a scene from one of Stephen Segal's early movies. Stephen Segal is an action star whose movies were very popular in the 80’s and 90’s. In this movie, Segal plays a policeman and a father. In one poignant scene, he is praying with his little boy and shares the “secret of prayer” with his little one. He says,


“The secret of prayer is to pray for what others want.”

“But what about the things I want?” says the little boy. “That’s why God invented work.” That line beautifully summarizes how the entire way of perfection is understood in the Catholic faith and spiritual theology. Our perfection is in God since God alone is perfect, and we are created for union with Him. Our perfection, then, consists in living our lives according to God's purpose, which is, ultimately, eternal life.  On earth, this “way of perfection” consists of imitating Christ and His virtues, and the greatest virtue of all, the one that summarizes every single virtue, is love, and that love is fulfilled by sacrifice. Somehow (don’t ask me how), Segal’s character managed to hit on the essence of the way of perfection in this little dialogue: love of God through the love of others and the improvement of ourselves and our world through work and sacrifice for the sake of God.

  

Today, I wanted to share a point or two about how to pray as a family. This is getting more difficult with each passing moment; we become so incredibly busy. The perfect Gospel story to illustrate this need for prayer and how to achieve it is in Luke’s Gospel, the story of Jesus’ visit with Martha and Mary. Mary has chosen the better part: 


Luke 10:38-42: Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at Jesus’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her, then, to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things, but few things are needed—indeed only one. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.


It is important, Jesus is telling us, to keep our priorities focused on God. But that was written 2000 years ago. How can we do that today? 


In my own life, faith was always a part of our family, and so was prayer, but it never felt like a heavy burden. I remember that, occasionally, my dad would teach us how to pray before we went to bed: God bless mommy, God bless daddy, and any number of people we could think of. You may remember a different prayer: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I hope my God my soul to keep, if I die before I wake, I hope my God my soul to take.” Or this one: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I hope I pass tomorrow’s test. If I die before I wake, that’s one less test I have to take…” 


I also remember going to Church and not going to Church (I seem to remember taking the summers off from church at one point, but I’m not sure!) I remember worrying about not having any friends, and my mom said, ”Why not just pray about it?” which I did, and I feel that prayer was answered beautifully. I remember my brother worrying about what to do for a living and my mother suggesting he pray to Our Lady of perpetual help. 


In our household, family prayer was quite simple, maybe not all that frequent, but it was always there. We always felt it was important, like an element on the periodic table - part of our reality, sometimes rare, sometimes not. Over and above all that, faith in our family was most clearly present. 


What does Pope Francis say about Prayer in the family?  His 100th general audience was exactly about how to pray as a family. First, he reminds us that prayer in the family is connected to love. “Think of the formulation of the Great Commandment, which supports all the others:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5; cf. Matthew 22:37).

The formula uses the intensive language of love, pouring it over God. See, the spirit of prayer abides first of all here. And if it abides here, it abides all the time and will never leave.”


Secondly, Pope Francis connects love to the Holy Spirit, “And it is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Let us never forget to ask for this gift for each of us! Because the Spirit of God has that special way of saying in our heart “Abba” – “Father,” in fact, it teaches us to say “Father” as Jesus said it, a way that we can never find on our own (cf. Galatians4:6). It is in the family that one learns to ask for and appreciate this gift of the Spirit. If one learns to say it with the same spontaneity with which one learns to say “father” and “mother,” one has learnt it forever. When this happens, the time of the whole of family life is enveloped in the womb of the love of God and seeks spontaneously the time of prayer.


Thirdly, Pope Francis offers some very beautiful and simple gestures that can have great and long-lasting meaning. He speaks about reading the Gospels, meditating on the scriptures with the rosary, and teaching small children how to make the sign of the cross or even to send a kiss to Jesus or to Our Lady. These small gestures imbued with authentic love of God are powerful signs to our children that communicate our own Love of God and His love for them.


I also have three pieces of practical advice about family prayer that I am happy to share. 


First, think about your faith and what you believe. Turn your life over to Jesus completely, make Him the lord of your life, get to know him and learn to pray yourself. Hallow App. Mark Wahlberg is on it.  


Second, when your children approach you and ask you to pray, please don’t turn that away. Sometimes, families express concern that when they ask their children to pray, they refuse because they would rather watch TV or play video games. But what about the opposite? Sometimes, when children ask their parents to play, they refuse because they are too busy. My suggestion is not to let that happen. Those moments are sacred. 


Thirdly, I strongly encourage you to go to Mass every Sunday. Don’t miss it. And I don’t want to say that in any kind of judgemental or critical way. I just want to encourage you that Sunday Mass is something that will benefit you in ways you cannot possibly even imagine. It is the worship of God, our primary responsibility as human beings. But I know what you might think: “That’s easy for you to say; it is part of your vocation, your career. The implications of just not showing up for Mass are way more serious for you because of your level of responsibility as a pastor. So you’re not likely to miss it; and if I were in your shoes, I wouldn’t either. But I’m not in your shoes; I’m in mine. My life is different. You don’t have to take your kids to important sports tournaments they have also committed to!” All true. 


But I invite you to consider a comparison. The Divine Office is a series of prayers that I promised to say every day on the day of my ordination, and it’s not always easy to keep up with. I’m not proud of this, but sometimes I don’t have time. Really. Or, worse, I’m just too tired. But when I give in to that, and I fall out of the habit of praying it (even though I have made a promise inside my heart to do it), my life just doesn’t have the same energy. It goes on the same way, but something is missing. I feel less grounded, less focused, and less fulfilled. I can’t explain it; I’m not going to try, but we have all made certain promises and must try to balance them as best we can. But the promise to go to Mass every Sunday (part of being Catholic) is deeply fulfilling. It not only “feels right,” it is right, and God will fill your life with exactly the blessings you need in exactly the right amount. Then, praying as a family becomes that much easier and also more fulfilling. 


I conclude once again with a quotation from Pope Francis : 

“The spirit of prayer gives back time to God, it steps away from the obsession of a life that is always lacking time, it rediscovers the peace of necessary things, and discovers the joy of unexpected gifts. Good guides in this are the two sisters Martha and Mary: they learned from God the harmony of family rhythms: the beauty of celebration, the serenity of work, the spirit of prayer.”

 


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