Tag Archives: sermon on the mount

What’s the Right Way to Pray?

By Orlando Hernandez

This Wednesday’s Gospel (Mt 6:1-6, 16-18) continues the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. This same Gospel is read at the beginning of the Lenten Season, when we resolve to give alms, fast, and pray. Of course, our love of God should lead us to do this all year round. However, our Lord warns us not to be “ show-offs” when we do good for others or when we fast from so many things that we have too much of. He warns us, “ do not blow a trumpet before you” nor “neglect your appearance” so people might admire your kindness and piety.
The part about prayer, though, is the section that has captivated my attention:

“ When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. ( Mt 6: 5-6 )

Jesus says that we will be rewarded. I believe that God’s repayment for our attempts at prayer happens then and there, at the moment of true connection. The increase in faith that our efforts and His grace give us, the consolation and joy that His luminous Presence gives us, the love we feel, from Him and for Him, are great rewards indeed. And during those dry, frustrating days, when prayer does not seem to “ work “ and we don’t get any of those consolations, the faith He endows us with gives us the hope that He, in His love and goodness will eventually “ repay “ us, perhaps for all eternity. Either way, something powerful always happens because we return and try again and again.

Our Lord seems to say, that, rather than a public display of piety, prayer is a very private activity. In the end, it has to be an intimate one-on-one encounter with the loving God, in that “ inner room“, within our inmost selves, where I know the Lord lives. The less  “babbling”, the better. The essence, it seems to me, is the knowledge of a being together, a silent mutual awareness of loving intentions, a union, all initiated by Him.

And yet, I have to say something in defense of those “ who love to stand and pray “ loudly and boisterously in churches and prayer groups, even in street corners! Nine years ago my Lord beckoned me back into the faith through His Body, His people: peasants on their knees, advancing painfully towards the Blessed Mother’s Shrine at Fatima, Portugal; hundreds of people singing and moving toward the altar to receive Communion during Mass in Miami, Florida;  women loudly praying the Rosary in perfect synchrony in a church in Puerto Rico; people full of devotion, with eyes closed and arms raised, praising God at he top of their voices in a Charismatic Meeting in Queens, N.Y.  They were all shining examples to me ( and to many others I am sure ), bringing the Presence of the Living God into my life. Of course, I believe that during those moments each one of them, at some point or another, were totally lost in the power and love of their God, in that place where He sees us all in secret. Private and communal prayer in the end must merge, because our Lord loves us, each and every one of us, together and individually, and calls us to communion with Him and community with each other.

In the end the mystery of prayer is beyond me. My spiritual director, Fr. Richard Schiner, used to say that the only right way to pray is to just pray, trying again and again. And so I push on and on, alone and with others. All I can say is that I feel so much cherished by this God who lovingly created each one of us. He calls me to love, and to work for His people, each one a shining light where He lives and loves.
Thank You Lord!

Wednesday, 3rd Week of Lent

Lent 1
Readings
In Matthew’s gospel, chapters 5-7, Jesus speaks to his disciples from a mountain, a place Moses once chose to speak to the Jews. From a mountain Jesus now speaks God’s revelation to a wider world. Yet, the words he speaks from here are loyal to Jewish traditions and laws that Moses taught. He’s not abolishing them. Jesus came “not to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

First, remember them. That’s what the Jewish scriptures tell us to do. “Take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.”

Second, practice them, from the greatest of the commandments to the least. Lent leads us to great thoughts and great visions of faith, but this season reminds us to remember small things as well. “A cup of cold water,” a prisoner, someone sick visited, someone naked clothed, someone hungry fed, “a word to the weary to rouse them.”

The law of God often comes down to small things like these. They’re always at hand, readily available. They’re within our power to do, and the greatest in the kingdom of God are best at doing them.

Saturday, 1st Week of Lent

Lent 1
Matthew 5,43-48

We pray often in the liturgy to grow in love, as individuals and together as a church. Jesus in today’s reading tells us to imitate our heavenly Father “who makes his sun rise on the bad and the good and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” We’re called even to love our enemies.

Be careful, though, we’re told from our earliest years. There are some people you can’t trust; they’ll take advantage of you; they’ll do you harm. You have enemies in this world.

Certainly Jesus doesn’t condemn reasonable caution; evil and evil people do exist. He had enemies too and he was careful what he said to them. Rather, he was concerned with a pessimism that leads us to condemn someone or some groups absolutely. If we see no possible goodness or possible change in people, only intractable evil, then we don’t see as God sees.

The sun of God’s goodness shines on this world; the rain of his mercy softens its hardest places. His love changes people for the good.

But we can’t just reason our way to a love like this, St. Paul of the Cross taught, we grow to it through prayer, and so we need to rest in God whose love is so much greater than ours.

“So lose yourself completely in God, rest on his divine breast, adore him, love him, and, if you cannot say a word, that’s even better. Remain continually in prayer, recollected in God. Love speaks little and expresses itself more in silence. One loving word is enough: ‘Father! Great Father! Goodness! Love!’ One word is enough to hold a loving soul for a long time in prayer.” (Letter 1156)

Teach us, Lord, a love like yours,
that never gives up or draw limits,
or settles for those in its small circle.
Help us to love like the sun and the rain
that reach everywhere.

Ready for Lent?

Lent 1
Communicating isn’t easy. Before the Olympics a Russian writer wrote an article in one the papers about how hard it is for Russians and Americans to understand each other. She gave as an example the simple phrase “How are you?” If you ask an American “How are you?” the answer might be “I’m great,” “Wonderful,” the writer said. But if you ask a Russian “How are you?” you’ll likely get a litany of complaints about health, the government, the neighbors, and everything else that’s going wrong.

I was with some of priests the other day, one is from Ireland the other from Argentina. If you ask the Irish priest “How are you?” his answer usually is “Not too bad.” That seems to be somewhere between the American and the Russian. The Argentinian priest told me that a friend of his was flying to America on an American carrier and he had a bad accident and had to cancel his flight. He called for a refund for his ticket, but was told it was a “non cancellation” ticket. You’re out of luck. After realizing he was getting nowhere his friend said: “OK, Goodbye.” The American agent on the line said. “Goodbye. And have a wonderful day!”

If human communication can be difficult, so is our communication with God. For the last few Sundays we’ve been reading from the Sermon on the Mount from St. Matthew’s Gospel, chapters 5-8. Jesus goes up a mountain and calls his disciples to himself and begins to teach them. He calls them “the salt of the earth,” “the light of the world.” The Sermon on the Mount is a summary of Jesus’ teaching, and what he teaches can bring flavor and light to our world.

Jesus’ words are not always easy to understand, however. So much of the Sermon on the Mount sounds beautiful, but we find ourselves asking What do you mean by that? What do you mean when you say “Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, what you will wear?” I have to pay bills, keep my job, take care of my family. I worry about them. Is that bad? What do you mean when you say, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” “Turn the other cheek… give someone your cloak…give to everyone who asks. Go the extra mile.”

The Lenten season begins this week. It’s a time to turn to God and ask what’s he saying to us and to our world? Let’s go up the mountain and listen to him.

Lent is a time to imitate the way God acts. From the mountain where he taught Jesus came down and cured a leper, according to Matthew’s Gospel. His miracles of healing and kindness reveal a God who heals and comes to the aid of the poor. Lent’s a time to imitate God’s way of acting through acts of kindness towards those in need.

Lent is a time to see how God acts towards us. He ascends another mountain at the end of Lent and dies for us. That vivid sign is something we need to look at again and again. What are you saying to me and to the world? Do you really love us that much?