All month we have been talking about what it means to live the life of a saint. To be officially declared a saint by the Catholic Church there is a 4 step process called canonization. It begins by being considered a servant of God and then someone who is heroic in virtue. The third step is to live a blessed life which means that the faith, work and prayers of the person were used by God to perform a miracle and today we see that the final step also involves a miracle. To be a saint, a second miracle has to be authenticated as taking place through the person’s intercession or prayers. So while a miracle is needed, what brings about this second miracle is the intercession or the prayers of the person. So powerful and effective prayer is necessary to becoming a saint and it is what is necessary for us to live the life of a saint.
Prayer needs to be at the heart of our faith just as it was for Jesus. After the stories of Jesus birth, the next time we hear about Jesus is when he is an adult coming to John to be baptized and as part of the process of Jesus submitted himself to God through the waters of the baptism, Jesus would have prayed. While we don’t know exactly what he may have said, the psalms were really the prayer book of the Jewish people and so maybe this was the prayer Jesus said at his baptism: Psalm 36:5-10. Can’t you hear Jesus saying this as he walks into the water? If it wasn’t this prayer, it was certainly some kind of prayer and so Jesus begins his ministry with prayer and he ends it with prayer. Jesus final words from the cross was a prayer to God, Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.
From the beginning to the end, the ministry of Jesus was marked with prayer and prayer can been in seen everywhere in between. Jesus sought times alone to pray. He prayed when he needed direction from God, he prayed at the Passover, he prayed as he fed the 5,000, he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed for healing and he prayed to raise people from the dead. Prayer was at the heart of everything Jesus did and the disciples could see this which is why they asked Jesus to teach them to pray. The reason we have the Lord’s Prayer is because Jesus himself was a man of prayer. Living the life of a saint means having prayer at the heart of our faith, just as it was for Jesus and just as it was for the first saints.
The first saints were men and women of prayer and like Jesus their prayers were powerful and effective. We heard last week that the prayers of Peter and John healed people, but the prayers of the people, the church, were powerful too. In Acts 12 there is a story of Peter who had been thrown in jail because of his faith and during the night an angel came and woke Peter up and removed his chains. Peter walked right out of prison and immediately went to the home of the disciples and this is what it says happened. Acts 12:12. So the disciples were praying for Peter to be released and as they are praying Peter is being released. As they were praying their prayer was being answered. That’s power!
Prayer is at the heart of the early church and all that they do. Even the first person killed for the faith in Jesus was a man of prayer and that was Stephen. Stephen actually died praying. Stephen was being stoned for his faith and it says this in Acts 7:59-60. So Stephen, who became a saint of the church, was a man of prayer who followed Jesus so closely that he died praying the same prayer Jesus did.
Prayer was not only at the heart of the first saints lives, it was a key part of their teaching as well. Teachings on prayer are found all through the New Testament, here are just a few:
Romans 12:12 – Persevere in prayer
Ephesians 6:18-20 – Pray in the spirit and for others
Philippians 1:3-5 – Pray with joy
Philippians 4:6 – Pray with confidence and assurance
1 Timothy 2:1 – Pray for all and pray in different ways
1 Timothy 2:8 – Be united in prayer. Be of one heart.
James 5:13-16 – Pray believing things will change (miracles)
So we see that prayer was at the heart of everything the first followers of Jesus said and did. They knew on their own they could do nothing but through payer they could do all things.
The saints have taught and shared this ideas throughout history. Listen to this teaching on prayer from Saint Padre Pio who lived in the early 1900’s and was officially named a Saint in 2002:
God is captivated by our prayers and will come to our aid.
All prayers are good when they are accompanied by good intentions and good will. In other words we need to not only pray but work to make our prayers become a reality which goes back to being a servant and living a blessed and heroic life. Prayer is the best weapon we have; it is the key that opens God’s heart.
So if we want to live the life of a saint then we need to be men and women of prayer who not only have prayer at the heart of our faith but also focus on the H.R.T. of prayer: H.R.T. Humility, Requests, Thanksgiving
The heart of prayer begins with humility; prayer begins when we humble ourselves before God and say, God I can’t be faithful and follow you on my own – I need your help and grace and power. Humility isn’t putting ourselves down, it is not hating ourselves, it’s simply acknowledging that on our own we really can’t do much. Humility in prayer is saying, God we need you and maybe more importantly it’s saying God we want you. We want you working in us and through us. If we aren’t willing to genuinely humble ourselves before God I’m not sure God is willing or able to do much in us. So the heart of prayer begins with humility and a prayer of humility we might use from the Bible is Psalm 131:1-3. Our eyes aren’t lifted too high, we don’t think too much of ourselves but we think of ourselves as children who still need the protection and care of God.
From humility we turn to requests and for most of us, this part of prayer is easy because we ask God for things all the time. We ask God for help and strength and healing and power. We ask God for hope and encouragement, inspiration and peace. We ask for forgiveness and salvation and we ask all of this for ourselves and for others. Our prayers are filled with requests which is ok, I think God wants to hear what it is we want and need. Like Saint Padre Pio said, God is captivated by our prayers and will come to our aid. Think about those we love and care for deeply, don’t we want to know what they want and desire? Don’t we want to know the hopes and dreams of our children? The concerns and fears of our loved ones? Don’t we all want to know what lies in the heart of those we care for the most about? God loves us so deeply and he longs to hear the desires of our hearts and the needs of our lives. Actually, God knows all these things already, but I think he longs to hear us request these things because our requests show God how much we love and trust him and that is what God longs for from us – love and trust. So it is good to ask God for what we need. It’s ok to ask God for what we want and it is faithful service when we request God’s help for others.
We can’t forget that our requests it prayer can’t just be for ourselves, we need to spend time praying for others as well. We need to pray for those in need of healing in their body, mind and spirit. We need to pray for those who will be hurting and lonely this holiday and those who won’t have enough food. We need to pray for the children who will receive these shoeboxes and their families and their communities that are in need. We need to pray for the people of the Philippines as they continue to try and put their lives, homes and communities back together. We need to pray for our church and national leaders who are so divided on so many issues and we even need to pray for our enemies. The Bible teaches us that we need to pray for all people, family, friends, leaders and enemies.
The last part of prayer we are going to consider is what needs to be the focus of our prayers this week – Thanksgiving. Over and over again God calls us to be thankful, in fact God is looking for us to turn and give him thanks. There is a story of Jesus healing 10 lepers and when only one came back to thank him, Jesus asked, “where not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?” God is looking for us to stop and give thanks and a saint is someone who does this and this is the best week of the year for us to do this.
I want to invite us to do that this week. Take some time before Thursday (because that day will be too crazy with family and friends and food and football and shopping to do it), take time to find a few things for which you can give thanks. The number doesn’t matter, just find something that you can turn to God and say, Thank you. Maybe it’s physical healing – like the lepers. Maybe it’s the healing of our heart or spirit. Maybe it’s for faith and hope when everything else seems to be falling apart around us. Maybe it is for our family and friends who have helped us make it through the year. Maybe it is for the food we have to eat and the food we have to share.
For me at this is the time of year I always give thanks for my family because it is the only time of year we all get together. I have such a supportive and loving family and while we may not see each other a lot through the year, thanksgiving is the one time when we all are able to get together in some form or another and when we are all gathered and I can look at my parents, and sisters and their families I am humbled by their love and support and I stop and say, thank you God, for my family. What are you thankful for? Family? Friends? A job? A home? A sense of purpose in life? A future?
I want to invite us all this week to live the life of a saint and not only make prayer the heart of our faith but spend some time focusing on the HRT of prayer. We need to humble ourselves, ask God to meet our needs and the needs we see in others and give thanks. If prayer is something you struggle with and you just don’t know what to say when you pray, we have provided two prayers for you to use this week. The first is a prayer written by a saint, Saint Gertrude and it captures well the true heart of prayer. The second prayer comes from Meals on Wheels ministry of St. Vincent De Paul and can be used as a table grace before thanksgiving dinner. Both remind us to not only give thanks but to be humble and lift up the needs of others. Prayer really is the heart of our faith and the heart of being a saint. So… Let us pray…
Living the Life of a Saint – Prayer
Saints are men and women of prayer who make prayer the heart of their faith and focus on the heart (HRT) of prayer.
H – Humility: Humble yourself before God
• Pray Psalm 131
R- Requests: What request do you have for:
• Yourself, family and friends
• Our community and world
T- Thanksgiving: This is a good week to give thanks
• Identify the things you are thankful for
• Ask others on Thanksgiving what they are thankful for
A Prayer for Thanksgiving Day from St. Gertrude.
May my soul bless you, O Lord God my Creator. From the very core or my being may all your merciful gifts sing your praise. Your generous care has been rich in mercy, indeed it has been immeasurable and as far as I am able I give you thanks. As an act of thanksgiving, I praise and worship you, Father, in deepest humility for your most loving kindness and mercy. Your thoughts of me were thoughts of peace and not affliction, and you lifted me up with so many great favors and to these you added the inestimable gift of your intimate friendship. May my soul bless you. AMEN
A Prayer for Thanksgiving Dinner from St. Vincent De Paul ~ Meals on Wheels
Dear Lord, Today we give thanks for our many blessings as we pray for those in need. We give thanks for our family and friends as we pray for those who are lonely. We give thanks for our freedoms as we pray for those who are oppressed. We give thanks for our good health as we pray for those who are ill. We give thanks for our comfort and prosperity as we share our blessings with others. On this day of Thanksgiving, may the love of God enfold us, the peace of God dwell within us and the joy of God uplift us. Amen.