If you look back through the annals of sports history, you may note that though these are just games at their core, sports provide an opportunity for talented people to bring a sense of meaning and virtue to the world through entertainment, particularly through moments of triumph.
In those moments of triumph, we see the culmination of athletes’ hard work, perseverance, determination, blood, sweat, and tears. They have overcome obstacles to set records, win championships and gold medals, and show that the game will never be the same after this. Wilt Chamberlain scores 100 points against the Knicks in 1962. Tom Brady sets every QB record and wins his seventh Super Bowl at the age of 43. Jackie Robinson breaks the color barrier in 1947. These are game-changing moments in sports history.
The Bible is filled with moments like this, where we witness scenes that fundamentally change the course of human history forever. In last week’s gospel, we witnessed one of these scenes when the Lord taught us to pray.
Josh Raymond welcomed Father Joseph Illo onto The Inner Life to talk about the Lord’s Prayer, why praying with intention is integral, and what it means to call God “Our Father”.
At various times throughout the gospel, Jesus gives us explicit advice on how to pray.
“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on 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.
In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words.
Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:5-8)
But it isn’t until the Apostles ask that Jesus gives us the express words to use in prayer:
“This is how you are to pray:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from the evil one. If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” (Matthew 6:9-15)
When it comes to praying together versus alone, Father Joseph said that both are needed. When we can, we should find a time and place where we can be alone with God, preferably in front of the Blessed Sacrament. There, we can have the intimate conversations which are not suited for prayer with others.
But, as the Lord said, wherever there are two or more gathered in His name, He is present. So praying together is just as essential. It is here where we can use the Holy Rosary and the Mass as opportunities to pray the Our Father, conjoining our petitions and intentions with those around us.
The key to making both forms of prayer count is our mentality and our intentions going into it. Jesus said if we ever do something noble and receive applause or recognition for it, we have already received our reward. We shouldn’t think about the way others perceive us as we pray.
“If all you want is the approval of other people or popularity, you can have that,” said Father Joseph. “But it’s skin-deep.”
He admitted that it’s difficult not to get distracted because our instructions for prayer almost seem counterintuitive. We want to be aware of those around us and recognize that we are praying together, but we need to direct our prayer toward God. That’s the strength of the Our Father. “Our” shows that we are pilgrim brothers and sisters traveling together, but “Father” lets us know the object of our prayers.
“It’s easy to babble like the pagans. It’s easy to pray thoughtlessly. So? Don’t do it.”
If we simply think about this dichotomy from a purely logical perspective, the choice is easy: We can either say a bunch of words thoughtlessly and pointlessly or we can mean it and use this opportunity to grow closer to God. Why waste our time and effort? Half the battle is done. Jesus gave us the words to address God. Now we have to use them to pray with intention and purpose.
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