In the Gospel today, Jesus tells his disciples When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases, as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. There is a misunderstanding of what Jesus meant when Catholics are accused of repeating empty phrases when we pray the Rosary. Sometimes, this accusation is right. Some Catholics pray the Rosary thinking God will hear them because of the number of words they say. But what is the intent of prayer. The Greek word for prayer comes from two Greek words: come before and wish. Prayer is coming before God to wish. What is a wish? Webster’s dictionary defines wish as a desire or yearning; to long. What should a Catholic long for? What is the only desire of a true Catholic? God himself.
This is what prayer is: to come before God because we desire him, we want to be with him. We want to know him and love him. This is why we repeat the words of the Angel to Mary, because we reflect on God’s mercy, that he so loved the world, that he gave his only Begotten Son, to become man in the womb of Mary. The Angelic Salutation or what is commonly known as the Hail Mary is not empty phrases. It is the Message of God to humanity through the Angel to Mary. The Message of God becomes flesh because God has fulfilled the longing of Mary, to have God enter her life, and in her case, literally. There is nothing wrong reflecting on the Words of the Hail Mary because it is Scriptural and it reveals who God is. 1 John 4:1-2 tells us, Do not believe every spirit but test all spirits... Any spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God. When we pray the Hail Mary, we remember the Word of God becoming flesh, which according to Scripture, is from the Spirit of God. What is of the Antichrist is that which denies the fact that God became man to make visible his love.
Yes, we agree, God is not moved by many words, but prayer is not to move the heart of God. Prayer is to move our hearts, so we can know him and as we know him, we submit ourselves to his will and make visible this submission to him, through our actions.
The First Reading is a tribute to Elijah and Elisha. When we read the lives of these prophets, we do not see them praying long prayers. Their hearts were bent toward doing God’s will. Elijah showed us what prayer is. It is not in the great signs of God’s presence, but in the still silence. He made visible his commitment to God by obeying God in everything.
Prayer then is coming before God, to know who he is, to encounter what Pope Benedict XVI says the Person and Event that gives us a new horizon and a decisive direction. Prayer leads us to make visible our faith through our actions. It makes us go beyond our fears and doubts. It makes us understand who God is, so we can discover who we are. It makes us see the power of God in our lives. It makes us realize what the Psalm says: God is king, he comes with power. Fire goes before him, his lightnings light the world. The mountains melt like wax before the Lord. Hebrews 12:27 tells us, he removes what can be shaken so what remains are immovable.
God uses bad things for his good, and one of the good things that come out of this corona virus is God has removed what can be shaken. Things that are not essential to our lives, he has removed. What remains is what is unmovable: God himself. This pandemic is a call to prayer, a call to come before God and express our deep longing for him. If we are searching for something, we are searching for God and only he can satisfy our longing. The Psalm today tells us: those who worship idols are put to shame, those who make their boast in worthless idols, all gods bow down before him. Stop chasing after idols, over things that are not essential. Come before God and long for him.
Lord, there are many things that distract me from you. I have made idols of things that are worthless, that do not matter in my life. I come before you, to tell you how much I desire to know you. Reveal yourself to me Lord. Let me know your immense love for me, that you sent Jesus to pierce creation to redeem it. Enter my life Lord and redeem it. Remove what is created in my life so that the only thing that remains is you.