How many people here would say that they have busy lives? I asked one of our gracious parishioners what her average day was like as a mom, and it got me to thinking, “I live a pretty cushy life!” On the average day, she gets up, then gets the kids up, yells a few times, gets everyone a good breakfast and yells a few more times to get the kids moving. Meanwhile, she has to get herself read for the workday with all the usual routine. But before she can go, she makes sure they have everything they need for the day. My mom used to have a checklist: books, belt, wallet, keys, coat, etc. Moving on, this mom then piles the kids into the car, realizing at the last minute that one of them forgot their coat… and another forgot their lunch. She gets to work (late) putting a hard day of work in while trying to remember to make a doctor’s appointment for one of the kids. Then of course, she runs to Wal-Mart to get toilet paper on the lunch break, getting back to finish the day and pick up the kids, then helping with the homework, throwing some dinner on the table…baths…showers…bedtime…before collapsing and getting a few minutes for herself and her husband (about 5)…assuming of course, that none of the kids brought home stomach flu in the middle of the night. Wow. I don’t know about you, but I think this woman deserves a medal. But I think lots of us have days like this from time to time (or every day). Life is busy, right? So how do we make time for prayer in all that?
One of the biggest challenges of the Christian life is establishing that discipline to offer time for God each day. Jesus gives us a great example of that today. Prior to the gospel passage for today, he had been running around, healing the sick and driving out demons like crazy! Huge crowds have been following him around, and his name is on the tip of everyone’s tongue! You’d think that this would be enough to drive his work, but he knows that despite the great success he’s had, he needs to go off and pray. He made prayer part of his life, and we hear it many times in the gospel that he went off to pray, such as in today’s reading. He even did this on the eve of his crucifixion! No matter whether he was experiencing the anguish of anticipation, success or popularity, or if he was worn down after a long day, he was praying.
I think this is important for each of us. Sometimes we just put off our prayer until the worst times, the times of crisis. Or sometimes, our day is just so packed with stuff that we’d rather spend those 15 minutes catching up on sleep rather than offering them to God, which is understandable. But we know that just as much as prayer was an essential part of Jesus’ ministry, so it is with our lives as well!
As Christians, I think we need to do two things: making our work part of our prayer, and making our prayer part of our work. So first, making our work part of our prayer. In the seminary, there was a ton of stuff to do – grad school level classes, apostolic service, parish work, conferences and workshops, communal prayer, and of course, each professor gave tons of reading, because obviously, their class was the most important. So that seemed pretty busy to us. But our rector would always remind us that we weren’t busy. Many people would love to have the opportunity to spend time at a holy hour or on retreat, the sort of things that made our lives busy. But instead of being busy, we were blessed with many opportunities to do good. I think this is pretty true with everyone. Pretty much any job out there is filled with opportunities to do good for others, unless you’re a hitman or a bounty hunter or something. If we see the things in our lives as gifts from God, we start to see them less as another job or another item on the calendar, and more as an opportunity to spread the Gospel.
The other half of the equation is making our prayer part of our work. As Christians, I think it’s pretty clear that making time for prayer in our lives is something we ought to do. I mean, how can we try to follow someone if we barely make time to listen to him, to talk to him about our difficulties and struggles, and to thank him? But we have to work at this! We have to make prayer an essential part of the day. So how do we do this? Well, here are a few tips. First, you have to know yourself. Jesus knew that if he was going to pray, he was going to have to get up early to fit it in his busy schedule. But if you’re not a morning person, you’re probably not going to be able to do anything at 5:00! Your prayer will basically consist of rolling over in bed and pressing the “snooze” button! So pick times you know will be helpful and fruitful! Second, start simple. You’re never going to succeed at your two-holy-hour-a-day goal if you don’t have a base to work from, and in fact, you’ll probably just get fed up and frustrated, and quit altogether. So start small: offer a few minutes of prayer at key parts of your day – the lunch break, the few minutes in the shower, the car drive to work or school. Spending these small moments helps to develop an awareness of the presence of God, and can help you grow in the future. Third, and very importantly, don’t skip it! Most people don’t flat out quit prayer or quit going to Mass. It’s just a matter of putting it off one too many times. Stick with it, even if you don’t want to. Those moments when you get anxious while praying and feel like you have to get something done are the very moments where God is calling you to stay, and to offer that anxiety as a prayer to him. Sometimes the sacrifice of doing this is what helps you to grow in love of God.
Let’s be clear: none of us here are monks. At this moment, maybe we’re not called to spend all day on our knees, but each of us are called to make prayer an essential part of our busy day. Christ truly desires that holiness for us! So as we prepare to celebrate these sacred mysteries around this altar, let us join together with Christ in offering the perfect prayer to the Father.