Gospel Reflection – Matthew 6:7-15
Now that that’s out of the way, you might be wondering why I’m writing a reflection on a Tuesday’s Gospel. Why not a Sunday Gospel? Well, to put it simply, as a seminarian on his pastoral year, as of today, I have been assigned to give a reflection at Mass every Tuesday. So, why not share it with you (plus a little extra)? Chris made me do it. He’s withholding bacon if I don’t.
So bust out your Bible if you haven’t been to Mass today, and take a look at Matthew 6:7-15. It’s where Jesus teaches us the “Our Father”. Awesome prayer; thanks Jesus! But actually what I want to focus on is the first two lines: “And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him”
The Gentiles, as worshipers of pagan gods, made particularly huge fusses when they would pray. They believed that their gods were either quite busy, distracted, or asleep, and that to get their attention, you would need to make a big show when praying. So their sacrifices, their words of prayer, were always incredibly elaborate and flashy, not for the sake of a love and reverence for their gods, but rather more like getting on a blow-horn and waving red flags to say, “HEY! HEY GODS! OVER HERE!!!! Hear our prayers okay? Give us good stuff because we think you’re SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO important”. There was no actual substance to their prayers, but it was all external attention-getters. Because if you don’t do the whole song and dance, those gods aren’t going to notice you’re talking to them.
Our God, on the other hand, already knows what we need before we ask Him. We don’t have to get His attention, because we already have it—undivided attention I might add! In fact, God takes it a step further because He knows us so completely that He knows the secret desires of our hearts which we haven’t even put into words yet. So why do we pray then, exactly? God isn’t getting any new information that He didn’t already have. It’s because the one thing God doesn’t have, without our prayers, is our hearts. When we pray, we are pouring out our hearts to Him. We are giving our lives so as to say, “Here God, let me tell you what is on my heart so that it may be yours” And a true prayer, as Jesus outlines in the Lord’s prayer, also involves an attentive willingness to do what God wills. That’s why we pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done”. So in prayer, we are offering our our lives in loving submission to God. Of course, that’s what we offer on our part, but of course prayer goes two ways, since it’s about a relationship with God. We also need to listen to what God has to say, and not just fill up the space with our own talking and petitions.
I think that this Lenten season is a good time to call to attention in our lives what we are actually doing when we pray. Are we falling into a routine where what we pray has become “empty phrases”, that we say simply because we’re doing our Catholic duty? When we pray at Mass, do we mean what we say, and do we really give the consent of our “Amen” to what the priest proclaims? Even when we pray the “Our Father”, do we think about and assent to what we say? Maybe a good practice would be to slowly read over the Our Father or any of your other favourite prayers, and really look at what it is saying! You might think, “but I already know what these prayers are about”, and that’s great, but we all need renewal in our lives. I think that especially when we are most familiar with something, we are the most at danger of becoming complacent to it. Prayer can become part of the background noise. So as Church, we have a duty to keep ourselves in constant renewal. Because as the history of the Church has shown us, we will fall again and again and again and again, and the quicker we are to reevaluate and renew our lives, the more we are living as saints.
So take stock this Lent of your prayer life: see where it is that your prayers may have become heaps of empty phrases. Give your heart, mind, will, and attention back to God.