Sunday, July 24, 2016

July 24, 2016
The Ninth Sunday after Trinity
(Just as a matter of note and because I feel we need to keep a vigil of prayer going for our nation especially, but also for the world. We had 218 shooting deaths this week in the United states. 3 of them law officers in Baton Rouge. And the multiple terrorist and war deaths that continues to escalate throughout the world which included Brussels. Let us keep our lost brothers and sisters in our thoughts and prayers and may their souls find rest eternal.)
How can we stay spiritually fresh and alive and plugged into the power of the Spirit?
We rely on being able to do some things automatically, without thinking our way through them. Some things -- like tying our shoelaces, walking or riding a bike -- are the result of skills we have learned so well that our bodies perform them without fail. Other things -- like brushing our teeth or putting on the seat belt -- are habits that many of us have developed so fully that we no longer realize we are doing them. 

But in other parts of our lives, we don't want to be on automatic pilot or to rely on programmed skills or habits to get us through. In some situations, we need to give our full attention and demand that same degree of attention from others. Spouses can quickly tell the difference between an automatic, "I love you," and a heartfelt expression of genuine love. Our kids can tell the difference between an automatic, "What did you do at school today?" and a parent's honest, authentic interest in the events in their lives. Friends can tell the difference between an automatic, "How are you?" and the compassionate reaching out of one soul to another.

It is amazing and amusing how we have convinced ourselves that God hasn't yet caught on to the difference between our expressions of genuine spirituality and our automatic, rote readings of the "Lord's Prayer." How many times have you recited the "Lord's Prayer" known in by Catholics as the “Our Father” in worship, at weddings, at funerals, with your mind and your spirit on full automatic? The words are so familiar that we can be on "cruise control" for the entire prayer. Kind of how I tease when we prayer the Rosary prior to Mass and we have gone too fast in my mind. Have we actually prayed it, or have we merely raced thru it to get it done? If we are honest with ourselves – myself included – we sometimes merely race thru it.

For too many people, in too many situations, the "Our Father" has become little more than a meaningless mantra, or even worse, a kind of "good luck" saying. One Christian recalls this tendency in an amusing story

The High School football team used to recite it every Friday night, right before we'd go out to play, the whole team would gather around in one moment of sanity, as together we said "The Lord's Prayer" and ended it with "lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen." Then two or three seconds later, we'd all scream, "Let's kill 'em!"
The tragedy of that story is that it demonstrates how the very prayer Jesus gave us to keep us spiritually alive and alert, and not tied to praying simply "vain repetitions," we have managed to turn into the biggest vain repetition of all.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen tells of a woman who expressed her disfavor of becoming a Catholic because, in prayer, we say the same words over and over, and she believed anyone who is so repetitive isn’t sincere.
She came to me and said, "I would never become a Catholic. You say the same words in the Rosary over and over again, and anyone who repeats the same words is never sincere. I would never believe anyone who repeated his words and neither would God."

I asked her who the man was with her. She said he was her fiancé. I asked: "Does he love you?" "Certainly, he does," "But how do you know?" "He told me." "What did he say?"

"He said 'I love you.'"

"When did he tell you last?"

"About an hour ago."

"Did he tell you before?"

"Yes, last night."

"What did he say?"

"I love you."

"But never before?"

"He tells me every night."

I said: "Do not believe him. He is repeating; he is not sincere."
Today's lectionary texts, Luke and Colossians, go well together. They both talk about staying in the fullness and freshness of the Spirit. Jesus promised us that we could stay fresh and alive and plugged into the power of the Spirit. "Ask," He insisted, "and you will receive" -- not just some of us, not just those with special gifts, but "everyone." 

In fact, Jesus gave his disciples their own prayer so that they might live a "wired" life -- being "wired in" to the Spirit. The "Our Father" was never intended to be a creed or a catechism, repeated exactly the same by all Christians at every stage of their lives. The "Lord's Prayer" is only a template, a blueprint, showing us how we can gain access to the power and love and grace God offers to us daily. Essentially, Jesus says, all we have to do is ask.

Admittedly, there is something compelling and comforting about a mantra. There are, and need to be, mantra prayers. Consider the quieting peace that comes from repeatedly reciting the "Kyrie", or in the English form -- "Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy." To stay vitally connected to the Spirit, however, we must expand our understanding of a "mantra" and view it as the repetition of certain practices, attitudes and relationships, instead of just the recitation of words alone.

A Christian mantra, empowered by the spirit of the "Our Father," has at least three components or possibilities that we might take up in our daily life

Daily Scripture reading. This does not mean books of scholarship about Scripture, or study guides and manuals for investigating Scripture, though these are key growth-agents in the life of faith. But prior to that is the ability simply to understand the Word through repeated readings of the Bible. There are a few good study bibles out there that can help you while reading. 

The men and women of the Old and New Testaments should not be strangers to us. They are our family. We are related to them in the faith. Daily readings soaked in the stories of our tradition will make for a stronger, fuller, richer faith. We can only remain spiritually "fresh" by conscientiously feeding and watering the roots of our faith. Scripture remains a miraculous gift of God because despite its antiquity, its misuse by the church, its abuse by its doubters and its overuse by literalists, it still speaks a fresh word from God to us every day. I don’t miss a day without it, and if I do, everything about the day seems off or wrong.

Then there is daily prayer. The "Our Father" was not intended as a "daily prayer." It only points to the fact that God the Father wants to hear from us every day. Jesus counseled his disciples to be persistent in prayer, to the point of peskiness. 

Four-year-old Thane likes to get up at 5 a.m. every day -- weekends, holidays, winter, and summer. He immediately climbs into bed with his parents and parlays a series of specific requests: a pop tart, orange juice and a video. Every morning, they groan sleepily and tell him to go back to bed because it is just too early. Every morning, he prevails -- not because they love him, not because he is a joyful child, not even because they want him to be happy. They give in because they want him to go away! His persistence pays off. Not that God will give in and give us what is not good for us necessarily, but you get the point. (Sometimes he will, however, merely so we can learn from it.)
Likewise, Jesus encourages his disciples to go continually into God's presence in prayer. But God, unlike human parents, delights in our clamoring’s in prayer all hours of the day and night. He doesn’t want us to go away; He wants us to keep coming to him!

We also should daily relationship with others. Reading the Word and praying to God are faith mantras we must exercise on our own, but we must also read and pray, praise and question, in small groups. We need that communal, cellular contact with faith every day of our lives. 

Part of our spiritual freshness depends on opening up our hearts and spirits to the sounds and sights of other Christians. We need to be involved in cell groups, where the members are spiritually connected to one another. In some areas of the country and various church groupsprayer meetings are coming back into popularity again -- and yes, prayer groups among the faithful on the "Internet" do count, at least they do for those of you who want to be a closeted prayer group person!

All Christians struggling to keep their faith fresh and vital develop favorite ways, personal mantras, which aid and sustain them in that task. They might employ techniques as ancient and honorable as fasting, or they might involve something as trendy as "Christian aerobics." 
We all need to stay spiritually fresh. If you do not believe me, I ask you to take a challenge. Set aside two days. One day get up as normal and go through your day without any actual formal prayer. No set ritual or anything. No biblical readings; nothing, squat, nada! Make a mental note of how your day turns out. Then on the second day, set aside time at the beginning of your day to read a passage of scripture, or use a formal prayer book or some written prayers of some sort. Or maybe simply sit quietly for about 10 minutes or so and talk to God. Mention what matters to you, your concerns, your joys and your hopes for the day. Watch how that day goes for you. Even if you hit a road bump during the second day, you will find the day still went far better than the previous day – far more bearable, peaceful even!
Like a car without an alternator, the battery will eventually give out. Living organisms without physical food eventually dieWhen we distance ourselves from the source of our creation; the source of our power, we eventually die in spirit and soul and simply take up space on the planet. We become nothing more than a callous human being living out his or her time. We cannot live without food, water or air. We cannot live without God either.
Take my challenge. Include the “Our Father” each day. Concentrate on the words and what they mean. Then watch your days get brighter!
Let us pray.
Father God, when we are honest about it, we do not pray to You as often as we should – some us only on Sundays. Help us to seek You out more each day. Little by little, until we see the impact it has on our lives and our spiritual wellbeing. 
Dear Lord, we ask You today to fill us with Your love and Spirit in ways that will touch each of us here. Help us to feel Your presence and grace in such a way that it will draw us too You more strongly than any recreational drug or habit. Let everyone feel You and the awesome peace, calm and happiness that comes from being in Your presence.
Impact our prayer lives today, Dear Lord, that we may walk henceforth in continual prayer and mantras in Your presence, now and each day of our lives. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.