Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help (16 January 2016)
We pray often, I’m very sure of it. But have we asked why? We ask for things, we praise God. We talk to God. Prayer, according to holy father, works miracles and prevents the hardening of the heart. We have the prayer of the faithful at mass because it gathers the prayers of all of us who ask for what we need. God doesn’t quite need convincing of what we need but we pray anyway. Prayer works miracles, not just physically in things around but deep within our hearts too.
Earlier this week, we heard of Hannah, mother of the prophet Samuel, who was barren but prayed fervently for child and then generously offered him back to God as soon as he was born. Her prayer was heard and answered, resulting in a miracle of birth. But more importantly, her heart was changed and enlarged with love of God. She was made more generous, so generous that she was able to offer her firstborn, Samuel to God as a priest in the temple. Prayer opened her to possibility of God working in her life and made her realise that Samuel was from God and this gave her generosity to offer him back to God.
Prayer also gives us opportunity for encounter with God. This weekend, we heard about the wedding at Cana. The prayer here is a little different but the results are similar. Prayer is about encounter, and here it’s the sensitive mother in encounter with her son. She was sensitive to needs of others as well as sensitive to ability of her son. She saw what happened at the party and knew, deep inside her, that her son would be able to help, so she asked him. Prayer here is represented by a direct request to the Lord. The similarity here with Hannah’s prayer is that they both came deep from their hearts, and the Lord knew this and responded.
We see that prayer is often about a request and a response. And what happens in the requesting and responding is a beautiful opening of hearts. Mary’s heart was already open to the possibility of her son’s divinity but she too would have been amazed at the miracle and I believe that this must have helped her to allay her own misgivings about her son’s impending public ministry. Seeing this must have allowed her to give her complete blessings to him as he left to minister to the people of Galilee and Judea.
Prayer opens and transforms our hearts. We’re made more generous and grateful as we encounter the Lord and see how God works in our lives. In so doing, we ourselves become more compassionate and more merciful. If we stop praying, our hearts harden as we stop seeing how God’s mercy and compassion can flow so easily through us. And that doesn’t look pretty at all. In this year of mercy, we should seek to allow ourselves the possibility of mercy, to pray more so that our hearts can be opened. We pray not necessarily for mercy itself but just pray so that the prayer itself strengthens us and helps us in our ability to feel God more and to be more open to God and others.
The prayer of St Peter Faber, one of the first Jesuits, is simple and so very apt: Lord I love thee! why do I love the? Because you are my Lord and God. Amen.