Last week, when Jesus came to visit, Martha made a choice; she went to the kitchen. Mary, too, made a choice: She sat down at the Lord’s feet and listened to him speaking. Jesus pointed out to Martha that Mary had made the ‘better choice’.
Martha set about preparing food and drink. She became distracted, very distracted and upset. First she accused the Lord of not caring: Lord, do you not care...? Then she accused her sister of neglecting to help her: my sister is leaving me to do all the serving by myself. And then she started ordering the Lord around: Please tell her to help me.
But Mary’s choice was not ‘to be taken from her’.
Imagine how it must have been for them. There is a knock on the door – and there is the Lord. He has come to visit them. Imagine it was your house. There is a knock, you open the door, it is Jesus.
Martha rushes to the kitchen – Mary sits at his feet. What would you do? It’s all about choices, isn’t it? Martha has chosen, Mary has chosen, you have chosen.
Today the scripture readings presents us with another area of choice - prayer. In fact, our personal prayer, after Sunday Mass and regular Confession, is one of the most critical choices we face with respect to the presence of God in our lives.
Do you pray? Why? How? When? Where? How do you choose to pray? When do you choose to pray? Where do you choose to pray? Do you choose to pray well or do you choose to pray badly? Let’s watch and learn from the Master.
First, the obvious – Jesus prays. Once Jesus was in a certain place praying... . Even though at the core of his being Jesus is always in profound communion with God his Father, he still desires and chooses to pray. This is natural. Loving means communicating. Perhaps we would more appropriately say that Jesus needs to pray and so we have a context for the question: Why do I pray?
Jesus made a prayer which had a beginning and an end and so, clearly, Jesus spent time in prayer; time when he ceased entirely doing other things and gave himself wholly to communion with his Father. We often convince ourselves that there is no time in our busy lives for this kind of prayer and we are tempted to excuse ourselves with ‘let-offs’ like – ‘everything I do is a prayer’ or ‘I pray while driving the car or doing the garden.’
... and when he had finished... implies a total giving over of time completely dedicated to nothing but focussing on the loving God. Nothing can substitute for this kind of prayer, no matter how busy we are.
Lord, teach us to pray. Every Christian who prays wants to pray better. They can’t help but want this. If prayer is desire for God they want to desire more. If prayer is a reaching out they want to reach further. If prayer is opening to God they want to open wider. If prayer is union with God they want closer union. Lord, teach us to pray: this is the plea of every disciple.
The Lord’s best answer to this question is: Say this when you pray: ‘Father, may your name be held holy, your kingdom come... .’
We can well imagine that these opening lines of the Our Father formed part of Jesus’ personal prayer as well. Indeed, it would be difficult to imagine a more sublime form of words than these with which to begin our prayer. We imagine them on the lips of Jesus, wondering how he spoke them, and then ask that we may learn to say them as he did.
Two wonderful things are going on here. Firstly we praying in the words Jesus himself has given us to pray and secondly, we discover that we are praying with him.
We are praying together, side by side – prayer partners – if you like. But more than that, Jesus allows us, through the prayer he has given us, to join him in his prayer, and we discover that we are praying through him, with him, in him. Our prayer becomes his prayer.
To summarise the rest of the Gospel reading today we might say that Jesus teaches us to pray also with persistence and with hope. Our prayers will be answered. That is his promise.
And what should we pray for? That is up to us. Jesus specifies only one gift the Father will never, ever refuse to grant us. The more experienced and mature we become in the Christian life of prayer the more we will come to appreciate that this gift, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the spirit of love which exists between the Father and the Son, is the ultimate Gift of gifts – the deepest desire and fulfilment of every heart, the goal of all prayer.