5th Sunday in Ordinary Time. February 4, 2018.
Job 7:1-4, 6-7; 1Cor 9:16-19,22-23, Mk 1:29-39
Praying our way into God’s plan for us
Jesus Christ, true God and true man, lacks nothing because “all things were created through Him and for Him.”(Col 1:16) In today’s Gospel, He successfully shows His power to heal the sick and to drive out demons. He wins the esteem and admiration of the crowd who pursue Him as attested by Simon Peter, “Everyone is looking for you.”
He owns all things. He is all powerful. He is successful and yet He makes out time for prayer, “Rising very early before dawn, He left and went off to a deserted place where He prayed.” What is He praying for? What does this show us about prayer?
Prayer is not just about getting results but it is primarily about deepening our relationship with God. The more we are ready and committed to life of honest prayer, our relationship with God is strengthened and in that deepened bond with God, we begin to grasp the beauty, love, power and wisdom of God’s plan for us even when our prayers are unanswered.
The fruit of Jesus’ prayer to the Father was to keep His focus on the Father’s plan for Him to be raised from the grave after His death on Calvary. By embracing this divine plan for Him in and through His early morning moments of solitude, Jesus was not swayed by the passing enthusiasm of the crowd that was searching for Him. He was ready to leave the place where He was successful and the people who esteemed Him and to journey to the place of rejection and to people who would condemn Him to death and crucify Him, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” Through prayer, Jesus never lost contact with the beauty, power, love and wisdom of His Father’s plan.
What happens when we do not pray as we should? What happens when we give up prayer because we do not get favorable results? Then we begin to lose the sense of God’s plan for us in those difficult and painful moments just like the faithful Job did in today’s First Reading. Having lost his wealth, children and health, Job lamented how futile and meaningless life was, “Is not life’s man on earth a drudgery?… My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle; they come to an end without hope…I shall not see happiness again.” He grasped the beauty of God’s plan for Him only when he later surrendered to God’s hidden wisdom, power and love.
Today’s Second Reading shows us the zealous St. Paul maligned and accused of selfish motives in preaching the Gospel. He is not distracted but embraces the divine plan for him even in the midst of all the false accusations, “For an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it.” He remains faithful to the Father’s plan to preach the Gospel free of charge.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is so easy for us today to say that we do not pray because we do not have the time to pray. It is so easy for us in our secular times to grow and advance in age, status, materially, academically, technologically, etc., and still be very immature in our relationship with God simply because we are not ready to sacrifice anything to make time and space for deep and honest prayer with God.
It is also so easy for us to limit our time of prayer to communal prayer in the Sunday Eucharist or daily Mass. The Mass remains the highest prayer itself because it is the prayer of Jesus Christ and a way for us to participate in His own perfect prayer. But we must also be ready to sacrifice something for that one-on-one prayer time with our Loving Father who has given us in His Son, Jesus Christ, the Spirit to assist us in our prayer, “We do not how to pray as we ought to prayer; but the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”(Rom 8:26) Nothing kills personal prayer like that self-indulgence that refuses to sacrifice anything for the sake of a deeper relationship with God.
In today’s Gospel, after Jesus had left the communal prayer of the synagogue, He still sacrificed His early morning sleep just to have some quiet time with the Father. Why then should we think that communal prayer of the Mass is enough prayer for us? Unless we nurture and grow in our relationship with God through that privileged one-on-one encounter with the Lord, we will never grasp God’s loving, wise and powerful plan for us and for the world. But when we grasp His plan for us, we become beacons of hope, bringing souls to Jesus like the disciples in today’s Gospel, “They immediately told Him (Jesus) about her (Simon’s mother-in-law)…After sunset, they brought to Jesus all who were sick or ill or possessed with demons.”
I recall that my very first month in the seminary in Boston was very difficult for me. I performed poorly in my first few classroom exams. I was struggling to get used to the new culture, language, and food. I felt I would die of the cold soon enough. I was in hospital twice in that first month alone. I felt I was not fitted at all for this religious and priestly life.
I also felt a strong desire to pray more intensely and I did not know how to respond. I make a deal with Mother Mary that if she would wake me up by 4.30am every morning, that I would pray for at least an hour every day before the time for community morning prayer. I know for sure that Mama Mary took my challenge seriously because I have never been more awake at 4:30 in the morning with an intense desire to open my sinful and wounded heart to God in prayer! I would pray the Rosary and spend time meditating on the word of God. Of course, I still had my struggles in the seminary but I began to grasp more deeply and certainly the divine love, wisdom and power behind my vocation to the priesthood and religious life despite my weaknesses and failures. I don’t think that I would have persevered in my vocation without this signal grace in prayer from Mother Mary.
We may be in that position where our prayer does not seem to be bearing visible fruit. We may be tempted to make that usual excuse that we do not have time to pray. We may be falling into the temptation of limiting our prayer time to only Eucharistic worship. Let us make a serious and honest deal with Mother Mary too as I did. She is more than equal to the task. She will do anything for us to pray as we should because her greatest desire for us is that we embrace the plan of God for us just as she did and thus know the power, wisdom and love of God for us all.
In our Eucharist today, Jesus comes with both grace and a renewed invitation for us to embrace His plan for us. No matter our sins and failings, our sufferings and pains, our answered or unanswered prayers, God’s loving plan is ever intact for us. With the help of Mother Mary, let us be ready to sacrifice anything just to pray as we ought so that we will know that God has a beautiful plan for us that is filled with nothing but His power, wisdom and love.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!