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Every Summer I offer a course on the Bible. This year, due to the pandemic, I was not able to do this at the church. Fortunately, one of our seminarians had a video camera, and he is an expert at editing film, so I was able to offer a course on biblical prayer on my new YouTube channel. In the course, I explain that prayers of the Bible share certain characteristics. I would like to discuss one of these qualities now. All prayers of the Bible are short. We like short: short lines, short wait, short questionnaires, short lectures, and short homilies. Where does it ever say in the Bible that more is better? Where does it tell us to babble on like the pagans? The reason prayers are consistently short is because we will never have the excuse that we do not have time for prayer. The Our Father takes only seventeen seconds to pray; Simeon’s Canticle is eleven seconds; Aaron’s Blessing, nine seconds. We can never say that we get distracted when we pray. How can anyone be distracted in ten seconds?
The reason the prayers are short is because God wants to offer us an easy to remember and lasting message that will help us throughout the day. Take Aaron’s Blessing. “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May his face shine upon and be gracious to you. May he look upon you and give you peace.” In this prayer, God tells me that he is watching out for me. I take the message with me throughout the day, and it gives me confidence and energy knowing that God is with me during the day, no matter what happens.
One day during the clergy sex abuse crisis, I was asked to give a talk in downtown Boston. I had to walk from one end of the city to the other in my priestly collar. I felt self-conscious and I was nervous that I would stand out and people might judge me. I got to the first traffic light. I was waiting for the light to change so I could cross the street. A driver of a passing truck rolled down the window and yelled out, “Stay strong, Father, we support you.” I thought that was nice. I finally got to the other side of the city, and naturally, I got lost. A homeless man who was sitting on a bench saw me circling and said, “Father, you look lost.” I said, “I am lost.” He asked me for the address and then pointed to the building. He saved me from being late. I finally arrived at the building. There were large glass double doors in front. I went to reach for the door handle and someone beat me to it. They opened the door for me. When I got inside I thought, “Everyone was very nice to me. In fact, everyone is always nice to me. But today I had a reason to notice.”
Remember Aaron’s Blessing. I am not cursed; I am blessed because God is watching out for me. When I pray that prayer, for the whole rest of the day, I have a reason to notice God’s goodness. Biblical prayer is short, and we like short. The prayer may be only ten seconds long, but the message stays with us all day.Back to All Homilies