Years ago, there was a play on Broadway called the “Great God Brown” and in one scene; a man was on his deathbed. He was very frightened but his mother was at his side. She spoke to him as though he were a child. She said to him, “Go to sleep, Billy, it will be all right.” Billy starts to tell her about his life. He says, “It was dark and I couldn’t see where I was going. I had to take the drugs, because they were all picking on me.”
His mother replied, “I know, but you are tired now. Just go to sleep.” He answered, “Will I wake up?” She says, “Yes, and the sun will be rising.” Billy interrupts and says “to judge, the living and the dead.” Then in great fear, he added, “I do not want justice, I want love.” To this his mother says, “There is only love.” Then Billy says the only prayer he knows, which is “The Our Father.” We hear a great deal about prayer in the gospel today.
In fact, the whole gospel is a prayer. It is the longest prayer in the Bible. In our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we are told that the Apostles are in constant prayer. All the polls tell us that most people in the U.S. pray. What Billy shows us is that prayer originates in our concept of God. How you see God affects the way you pray. If God is a taskmaster filled with vengeance, someone who is just waiting for you to mess up, then prayer may be difficult.
But, if you see God as a friend, and loving Father, then it will be easy to pray. If you want a relationship with God, you have to pray. You cannot have a relationship with anyone unless you communicate with them. Prayer is communication with God. Billy could not pray while he saw God as a judge.
It was only when his mother told him that God is love; waiting for us to return to Him, could he relax and say “Our Father.” One woman I know has a very busy schedule as well as three children. Her husband has multiple sclerosis; she says the only way I cope is through prayer. I suspect it is the same with many people. You may often despair and ask what does it mean? You are being disappointed, what does it mean? You are fired from your job, what does it mean?
What does it mean to be alienated from your family? To be divorced; to be told of this terrible sickness you have to carry; to come to terms to put a parent in a nursing home. What does all this terribleness mean? My child is on drugs, my family is breaking up? These are tragedies that many of us have to face and the only way to come to terms with them is through prayer.
That is one of the reasons we come together every week – to support and pray for each other. Prayer is not just a personal matter. There will always be time when we pray for our own needs. But our prayers must also include those around us, even those we do not know. That is why we say, Our Father and not My Father. Often we try to make our prayers productive, it has to produce something or we try to change God’s mind. Ideally, just place yourself in God’s presence. Open yourself to Him, be receptive and let Him change you.
Private prayer is so important. Jesus showed this when He himself went off alone to pray. He knew what to do. He drew strength and regeneration from periods of private prayer. His disciples observed this and reached out to Him saying, “Lord, teach us how to pray.” Perhaps, we all need to ask the Lord, “Lord teach us how to pray.”
Teach us how to pray to find a deep sense of peace and wholeness. Teach us to pray from the heart; teach us how to pray when we feel far from any shore; far from any person; adrift without a sense of direction. Teach us to pray when we are overwhelmed with day-to-day living. Teach us to pray when we are feeling great, when we are joyful and everything is going well.
Teach us how to pray when we are celebrating and when we are growing. But, above all, and in all situations when it is convenient and inconvenient; in season and out of season; for God’s sake Lord, “Teach us how to pray.”