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One of the priests in my community had a very rare neurological terminal illness. One of the symptoms of the disease prevented him from doing his work as a priest. His blood pressure would drop significantly when he stood too long in one place. So it was hard for him to stand at the altar and say Mass. I brought him to the doctor. We were hoping for a stronger medicine, or maybe perhaps a kale diet, anything that would give his body a bit more strength to do his work. The doctor told him that his body was now beyond the help of medication and vitamin supplements. We needed to focus on a new goal. We needed to look for ways to keep him comfortable.
And that is what we did. If you went to visit him in his room, the first thing you had to do was genuflect because he had a tabernacle…and a monstrance, chalice, holy water, candles, and the Stations of the Cross. Yes, he had turned his room into a chapel. That is because he prayed day and night.
At the final stage of his decline, he was no longer able to hold his Divine Office or see the pages. The only way he could pray was if one of us said the prayers out loud. That way he could hear the words. After he died, I realized that as the illness had progressed, he also himself had progressed in prayer until he reached its highest form–listening.
Jeremiah tells us God is going to transform Israel. Israel was a mess; it was a wasteland. Yet, according to the prophet, God will transform it into a lively and vibrant community of believers. How do you transform a mess?
When Jesus entered the garden of Gethsemane, He looked like a soldier that wanted to desert the army. He fell to the ground. He was weak, afraid, and wanted the cup to pass by Him. When Jesus left the garden, He looked like a five-star general who was about to save the world. And He did. He was entirely transformed! What happened in such a short span of time? Prayer. Jesus wanted us to see Him when He was weak and vulnerable to show us what happens when we pray.
At the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, we get to look at a day in the life of the Lord. He started out by going to the Synagogue to pray there. He preached and cast out an evil spirit. Next, He went to Peter’s house and cured Peter’smother-in-law. When He was about to go to bed at night, the Sabbath restrictions ended and everyone in town with an illness or an evil spirit showed up at the door. He cured them all. Then before the sun came up, He rose and went to a deserted place to pray. Why? Because He was exhausted and had no energy, just as He had been in the garden. When the disciples found Him, however, did they see a man who was exhausted from hard work and little sleep? No. They saw a man who was ready to save the world. He told them, they had to repeat the day at other places. Where did he get all of that energy? Again, He prayed. That is what prayer should do to us. It transforms us. So how do you pray in a way where you are transformed? You do what my priest friend did. You listen. You listen to the words as if you want to do them.
When the pastor Fr. John, or Mark, the administrator for St. Cecilia parish, calls me and asks me to help out with a wedding, a funeral, or a baptism, I am energized. There are a lot of priests in Boston whom they could ask, but they asked me. I am happy when they ask me because that is what I was educated to do. That is what I was made to do. When we pray the Our Father we do not just say words; we listen to the words. God is talking to us, giving us our marching orders. I am energized when I hear God speak because the words I hear are what I was made to do. That is who I am. When I pray the first psalm, I want to be that tree planted near running water that bears fruit. People will benefit from me because of the way I live my life. The next time you are a mess and turn to prayer, do not just say a bunch of nice words. Listen to the words because they can transform you.Back to All Homilies