Sunday, August 7, 2011

A sermon on Christian meditation from Father Ryan Erlenbush. August 7th

Elijah, praying alone on Mount Horeb

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
August 7th, 2011
1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a; Matthew 14:22-33

At the mountain of God, Horeb, Elijah came to a cave where he took shelter. […] There was a tiny whispering sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.

Jesus went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone.

Beginning to sink, Peter cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Today’s readings, especially the first reading and the Gospel, teach us the fundamentals of prayer. We see the two essential movements of prayer: First, there is mediation and contemplation – which is shown in Elijah and, most perfectly, in our Savior; it is the example of going up the mountain alone to prayer – and, second, there is supplication or petition – this we see (albeit in an imperfect way) in St. Peter, when he cries out “Lord, save me!”.
These are the two movements: Meditation, which is that mental prayer where we quiet ourselves and enter into loving union with God; and petition, the prayer where we ask the good God to give us all the graces we need for today, for tomorrow, and at the moment of our death.

First, there is mental prayer, that meditation which leads to contemplation. St. John Chrysostom tells us that two things are necessary for true mental prayer – a quiet place, and time. Notice the example of Elijah, the great prophet of the Old Testament. First, he heard the wind which crushed the rocks, but God wasn’t in the wind. Then there was the earthquake and finally also the fire, but God was not in these either. Rather, God came to Elijah in the tine whisper – this is the gentle and often very subtle movement of the Holy Spirit.
If the Holy Spirit is so gentle and often speaks to us through a little whisper, then it is obvious that we will have to listen attentively in order to hear him. We need to quiet ourselves in order to hear his voice and to follow his inspirations.
Today’s world is so busy and loud, we need a quiet place to pray. Of course, the church is a very special place for prayer, but also in our homes we need to take time to step away from the daily duties of life, to retreat to a quiet room, to shut the door, to quiet ourselves and to seek God.

We must point out that every family has not only the right but also the obligation to set aside time for daily meditation or mental prayer. Husbands and wives have a duty to provide each other with time for prayer – and parents with young children should be teaching them how to pray as well.
Of course the family should pray together – we mention especially the family Rosary. If your family is not in the practice of saying the Rosary together every day, the month of August (which is the month dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary) is a great time to start. Perhaps five decades seems like too much at first … fine, we can start with one decade, or at least three Hail Mary’s. Then, we can build from this starting place. Little by little we will grow as a family.
Still, in addition to that common family prayer, the couple must allow each other – and their children as well, once they are old enough – the time for quiet personal prayer and meditation in a separate room apart from the business of the family life.

Now the next question is about time. How much time should we give over to prayer every day? The saints recommend at least fifteen minutes, though twenty would be better. Yes, twenty minutes of quiet reflective meditation every day is so important for us! How can we expect to fulfill all the duties of our daily lives if we are not praying?
Moreover, when we think about how many minutes we should pray, we ought to remember that prayer is all about developing a relationship with the Lord. Could we have a loving intimate relationship with any human being if we only spoke for two or three minutes a day? What if the only time we spoke to our husband was to ask for things, never to simply speak words of Love? Likewise, what if a man only spoke to his wife in a distracted and disinterested manner, perhaps for a few minutes a day or not even every day? This would never work among human being! Why should we think that such little prayer would work with God?
We will say this: If fifteen minutes of prayer every day seems too long, I reply in the spirit of St. Josemaria Escriva – the prayer is not too long, but your love is too short!
Still, we must not be discouraged. If all we can do in the beginning is five minutes, that is fine, it is a place to start. We begin wherever we are and we try to build from there. Sometimes I think that if we only got a little bit better at prayer every day, we would be saints in no time!

And what is this meditation supposed to be about? What are we supposed to do for those twenty minutes every day? We can consider the Rosary – the Rosary will teach us much about the nature of mental prayer and meditation.
When we meditate, we are to consider the mysteries especially of Jesus’ life, death and Resurrection, as well as the other mysteries of our Faith – the Trinity, creation, the final judgment. We think upon these mysteries and we consider the great love that Almighty God has shown us through these events.
Christian meditation is all about love, thinking upon God’s love for us and how he has shown us this love in Christ Jesus – and, filled with the divine love, making small acts of love for God in return. To say, “Jesus, how you have loved me! You love me so much that you have died for me! In turn, let me love you!”

Notice how different Christian meditation is from Eastern forms of prayer. Eastern meditation is all about emptying ourselves, dissolving into the “power” of the Universe, clearing our minds to become nothing. Eastern prayer is self-annihilation, but Christian mediation is focused primarily on being filled! Christian prayer is about being filled with God’s love. Far from clearing our minds and entering into nothingness, Christian meditation is focused on thinking about Jesus, about the mysteries of the Faith, about the love of God; and then making acts of love in return. Finally, Christian meditation culminates in the simple loving gaze of the creature upon his Creator.
How far we are from Eastern prayer, and from such practices as “centering prayer” or “yoga”. Centering prayer and yoga are focused on emptying the self, on clearing the mind so as to think of nothing – this is the opposite of Christian mediation. If we are practicing centering prayer or yoga, we need to cut that out immediately – it has nothing at all to do with the Gospel!
Remember, “Mother Earth” does not love you. I hope you know that “Mother Earth” does not love you – she cannot love you because she is not a person. God, the Most Holy Trinity, is three Persons who love you intensely, who want to be united with you, to dwell in you, to elevate you and glorify you by a share in their own life.

And then, finally and very briefly, we come to the very necessary second movement of prayer: Supplication, the prayer of petition. When we see just how much Jesus loves us, we are then filled with a confidence to ask of him all the graces we need to fulfill our vocation in life.
St. Peter, when he was walking on the water, became troubled and fearful seeing the storm and the waves – we too will have many storms to weather, but like St. Peter will be saved if only we cry to the good Jesus, Lord, save me! This is the prayer of petition – asking for the graces needed in the moment and, especially, for the grace to be united to God at the moment of death.
More than anything else, every day we must ask God to bring us to heaven when we die. We must ask God for the grace of final perseverance, which is the grace to turn to him in the last moment of life and to give ourselves completely over to his love.

Be sure of this, if we do not pray and ask to go to Heaven, we won’t. If we do not beg the Lord for the grace to be faithful to the end, we will certainly be damned. All the saints in Heaven are there for this one reason, they prayed and asked for the grace of salvation. Conversely, all the damned in Hell are there for this one reason, they did not pray and they did not ask for the grace of perseverance.
Do you see? Prayer is everything! Our good God loves us so much and he has so many good things that he wants to give us, if only we would pray, if only we would ask for his benefits. Indeed, if we are filled with the love of God and if we persevere in asking the good Lord to bring us to union with himself, we can be sure that he will give us the great glory of life everlasting.