8th Grade Faith: Prayer
Welcome to the fourth week of our series, “8th Grade Faith. You know for many Catholics the sacrament of Confirmation is effectively graduation. 65% of our confirmation students and their parents stop coming to Mass after Confirmation. We may come a few times times a year, but that’s about it. When that happens we are left with what we learned about our faith up until about 8th grade.
If we are in high school, young adulthood, middle age and beyond, we need a bit more than an 8th grade understanding of our faith. Can you imagine doing other important things in your life, like, marriage, raising children, doing your job, based on an 8th grade level of understanding of those things. That just won’t do. And neither will trying to live your life, building a great relationship with God and God’s church, based only on what you knew about faith and life in 8th grade.
This is not about guilt or judgement or trying to make anyone feel bad. It is about discovering together how we can truly grow in our faith, way beyond an 8th grade level.
A few weeks ago we talked about a more mature understanding of God’s law, which we live out of love, not fear. The Lord invites us to put aside instant gratification, look at our lives long term, and follow him out of a loving relationship with him, not a fear filled relationship. Last week we looked at seeing faith as an integrated part of your life, not a Sunday event only. In that context we encourage you to be active in parish ministry.
Today we’re going to look at prayer. Most of us were taught to say our prayers before we went to bed, in the morning, before meals… etc. You memorized prayers and repeated them. As expressions of worship, and acknowledgment of the power and presence of God, that is a good thing.
However, saying prayer is one thing. Entering into prayer is a completely different thing. Today, we’re looking at entering into prayer as a way of moving on from our eighth grade faith.
Look at the first reading today from a fellow named Habakkuk. Habakkuk lived about 650 years before Christ. He lived in Jerusalem under the rule of a cruel, corrupt, tyrannical king. Jerusalem was supposed to be a shining city on the hill, an inspiration to the rest of the world of God’s goodness and grace. It had become something far from that. It was filled with violence, corruption and injustice. This bothered Habakkuk.
It bothered him so much that he prayed to God about it, “How long, O Lord, how long, how long I cry for help but you do not listen? I cry out to you, violence, violence, but you do not intervene. How long O Lord?”
Ever felt like that? Well, Habakkuk did. He’d been asking God for help, asking God to do something about the problems all around him, but he felt like God didn’t care. He felt ignored and he told God about it. You might think that’s disrespectful, you might be afraid to talk to God like that, but Habakkuk wasn’t. In fact, he teaches us that God is big enough to handle our anger. God invites us to move beyond saying prayers, to entering into prayer, prayer that is a conversation with God.
The best way to enter into a conversation with God is by being honest about your feelings, honest about your hopes, frustrations, and anger. Prayer doesn’t require piety, but it does require honesty. In any relationship, honesty is the basic ingredient. If you’re angry, suppressing it isn’t going to help. It’s only going to make matters worse and possibly damage the relationship. In order for that relationship to grow, you must communicate. Maybe you stopped going to church or you stopped praying because you thought God should have done something, and He didn’t. He didn’t prevent the accident, He didn’t remove the problem, He didn’t save the marriage, and you’re angry. You’re angry at God because, if He is God, He could have done something about it.
The best thing to do is talk to God about it. That’s what Habakkuk did.
Nowhere does our Christian faith promise that because there is a God, everything will be perfect. Everything is not perfect, and there is a God. For this reason, some people lose faith. They stop going to church exactly on this point.
Habakkuk doesn’t buy that lie. He didn’t use the suffering and injustice to conclude that there is no God or that God doesn’t care. He uses it as an opportunity to turn to God in prayer. He allowed his frustration and his anger to drive him deeper into prayer. Imagine if you did that, if you used the opportunity for your frustration and anger to drive you deeper into prayer. So, Habakkuk complains to God and eventually, God responds. He gives him the answer, but it’s not the answer he wanted.
God tells Habakkuk some pretty bad news. He says, “Don’t worry about those corrupt politicians in Jerusalem because I’m sending the Babylonians.” Now, the Babylonians were really bad news. The contemporary equivalent of this would be you praying to God, expressing your frustration about politicians in Washington, that’s just hypothetical, but let’s just say, you are praying to God about your frustration about the political picture and God answers your prayer and says, “Don’t worry about that because the North Koreans are going to invade and take over the government.” All right. It’s not exactly comforting news, but that’s the news that Habakkuk receives. He’s utterly confounded. He’s speechless.
Now, if God is all powerful and all knowing, then we could expect that, sometimes, His way of doing things will not be our way of doing things. But when that happens, what are we to do? Here’s what Habakkuk did. Habakkuk says, “I’m going to strategically place myself in exactly the right position to hear what God has to say to me, if in fact, he has anything else to say. I’m going to stand ready to listen.”
Conversation is listening as well as talking, we’ve got to position ourselves to be able to hear because most of the time, most of our life is so filled with noise, we can’t hear anything.
If you don’t have a daily prayer time, you owe it to yourself to carve that out and to guard it. Have a time and a place to pray, even if it’s just five or six minutes a day. And as a part of your daily prayer time, you need a quiet time, a quiet time in which you don’t say anything at all. You could try Eucharistic adoration, a tradition of silent prayer before the exposed Eucharist. We offer Eucharistic adoration every Friday morning from 9am to Saturday morning at 8am. It’s just silence and it’s very powerful: a daily prayer time with a daily quiet time.
That’s what Habakkuk did. He waits on the Lord in silence and God responds. God says to Habakkuk, His vision will be accomplished in His time and in His way, period. It’s not for Habakkuk to know or see or understand. It is for Habakkuk to trust, no matter what’s happening, that God is at work, and God will triumph.
The person who enters into prayer understands this. They wait patiently and sometimes they’re able to spot God’s action. They get where God is going and what he’s doing. Prayer like this trusts that in all our circumstances and beyond our understanding, God is present. God is present even when he seems absent, God is moving even when we don’t know where he’s going.
In today’s Gospel reading, the apostles approached Jesus with a naive request. They say, “Increase our faith”, as if it were magic. If we want to move beyond our 8th grade faith we have to work at it. Jesus answers the apostles’ request by discussing service and the role of a servant in a household. What’s that all about?
More than anything else, a servant is attentive to the master and that’s what prayer is, being attentive to God in all things. Aim to see where God is moving and join him. Go where God is blessing. Don’t expect to hear from God what you desire. Instead in prayer, learn to desire what you hear. Don’t expect to hear from God what you desire. Instead in prayer, learn to desire what you hear.