August 13, 2014
Today’s gospel: Matthew 18:15-20
What Jesus says about prayer today is often misunderstood or misused. He says, “Again, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (v.19-20).
This is not a magic formula for getting the Lord to grant what we ask. This is not even just about Christians praying together, with one ending his prayer with “in Jesus’ name we pray” and everyone saying “Amen.”
First, Jesus is with us, even as we pray individually. Indeed, our most basic time of prayer should be our individual time with Jesus.
Second, we may gather together to pray, we may invoke Jesus’ name in prayer, but will not necessarily be together “in the name of Jesus.” We in fact carry the name of Christ as a Christian, but do we live as a true Christian? If we do not, then our being called Christian is just a nominal appellation. We are Christian in name but not in deed.
So when we come together and invoke the name of Jesus, but we are in serious sin, or we have unforgiveness in our heart, or our intent in prayer is less than noble, then, while Jesus can be present in that gathering, we cannot expect that what we pray for will be automatically granted by God. In fact, we could be dishonoring, denigrating and desecrating the holy name of Jesus when we invoke it. We would be using his name in vain. On the other hand, if we are truly God’s people, if we can confidently and justly proclaim that we are gathered in the name of Jesus, then God is predisposed to hear us and favorably grant our request.
So when Jesus says that he is in the midst of those who pray together, he does not mean ordinary presence (in the way he is present in the world and with any of us), but rather that he is with his people, as truly his body on earth, with those who honor him as Lord, with those who are obedient to him and desirous of doing his will. To such a people he will listen.
Third, on the matter of two agreeing on what to pray for, again this is not just about one saying an Amen to another’s prayer. It means that the two are of one mind and heart with the Lord. It means they only desire the Lord’s will be done and for him to be glorified.
It could also mean that there is a crucial matter to pray about, and there has been some serious discussion, discernment and individual prayer to really seek the will of God. God speaks to them individually, and now they come together to collectively ask God for something.
Fourth, when people pray thus, then Jesus assures that the Father will grant what they pray for. But why is it that so many good Christians pray for what might obviously be for the good and in accordance with God’s will, but their prayers do not seem to be answered? For example, the end of abortion. Or the end of the suffering of the people of Iraq and elsewhere. Or for the peace of Christ to be upon the world.
Well, God’s ways are different from ours. God will always desire the good, for He is goodness itself, and He will always hear the prayers of people of good will, but His answers or solutions could be drastically different from what we think best. For example, as the cross is something we are to embrace, and it is the way of purification and following in the footsteps of Jesus, then oftentimes God allows crosses to remain. This was the way it was with Paul’s thorn in the flesh. This was the way it was with Jesus, who asked that the cup pass from him, but surrendered to the will of the Father, who willed that he suffer and die on the cross, as the only way for our salvation.
But we can be assured that if we gather worthily in Jesus’ name and we agree on what we are to pray for, God hears and answers. God’s intent is joined with ours, even as His action on specific relief may be greatly different from ours.
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Pope Francis has called for a Day of Prayer for Peace in Iraq on August 18. Let Christians throughout the world agree on earth for relief for all those suffering in Iraq. Let all Catholics pray, say an extra rosary, go to Mass, fast for this intention, and thus become worthy to pray in the name of Jesus.
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God bless you.
“For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.” (Phil 1:21)
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