Today is our annual Stewardship Commitment Sunday, when we consider all that God has given us and what return we plan to make to him this year. But what comes to your mind when you hear the word “stewardship?” I’m fairly certain the word “money” comes to your mind when you hear the word “stewardship.” True enough: the fundamental act of Christian stewardship is giving, but not money. It is giving time to God in prayer, adoration, praise, and thanksgiving to the Giver of All Gifts. The first debt of every creature is to its Creator, and so the most fundamental human act is to acknowledge God as Lord and Master. We are given time not just to make and spend money, still less to do sinful things. We are given 168 precious hours every week to glorify God.
In the first reading Moses, the great priest and commander of Israel, is leading the people across the desert when they catch sight of their perennial enemy, the Amalekites. Moses puts his nation’s troops under Joshua’s command and then climbs a hill to pray. Moses’ prayer on that small mountain exemplifies the two essential marks of real prayer. First, perseverance: he prays all day, keeping hands and arms lifted up to God, even when this becomes impossible for him to do without help (Aaron and Hur prop him up). Second, confidence: from that hill, for all his troops to see, he proclaimes that God is their only hope and He will deliver them.
In the Gospel we move into the New Testament, where the enemy is not an army of muscle and steel but the “powers of the air, the spirits of this present darkness” as St. Paul calls them in Ephesians 2. “Pray always, without losing heart,” Jesus commands us. Serious prayer is the only kind of prayer God takes seriously. We must pray every day, from the heart, as if our lives and the lives of those we love depended on it, which they do. For priests this means a daily holy hour, daily Mass, daily rosary, daily spiritual reading, confession twice a month, a retreat once a year. For laypeople this means daily rosary or at least decade of the rosary, weekly holy hour, weekly or biweekly Mass, confession once a month, and some spiritual reading. Do I always measure up? Not always, but we need a standard to measure our prayer lives against. Do we wash our hair every day, and drink 8 cups of liquid a day, and eat four servings of fruit and vegetables each day? Not always, but we strive each day to meet the standard practices for bodily health. If we know what keeps our bodies healthy, how much more should we know what keeps our souls healthy? And meeting these standards is often a battle. In fact, the Catechism’s fourth section, on prayer, is entitled “The Battle for Prayer.” Even after we develop good prayer habits, prayer is often quite difficult. Dedicated prayer brings great peace, but often enough only after a pitched battle to hold the line against the powers of the air.
Much to Pray for
Prayer is essentially silence: listening to God in the stillness of an early morning or a quiet afternoon breeze or the flickering of a sanctuary lamp. But as baptized Christians we also must speak to God at times: we must intercede for the needs of the world. I want all of you to pray more, of course. I want you to come before the Blessed Sacrament more than just on Sundays, and I ask your particular intercession for three needs in particular. First, you may know that this month a Synod or meeting of bishops is taking place in Rome called the Amazon Synod (concerning the Amazon region of South America). By all accounts it is not going well. Many of the bishops at this synod are relativizing faith in Christ. In the opening ceremony they bowed before pagan idols, effectively saying that Christ is just one god among many gods. These bishops are seeking to abolish priestly celibacy, which is the basis of our spiritual fatherhood. Some demons are only cast out by prayer and fasting, so let us get serious about praying for the Church during this Synod. A second intention I ask you to pray for is priestly vocations. Scandalously, only eleven men are currently preparing for the priesthood from the 500,000 Catholics in our archdiocese. That is an all time low, and certainly cannot sustain our 93 parishes, 16 high schools, and 36 elementary schools. Three of these eleven seminarians come form one of these 93 parishes, and that is this one. Why? Because we have perpetual prayer before the Blessed Sacrament here. The other night I couldn’t sleep and went down to the chapel at 4:30am. Five people were in the chapel at four in the morning! Their prayers are being heard. So we must pray God’s mercy on the scandalous goings on in Rome; we must pray for the scandalous lack of priestly vocations; and we must pray for the scandal of death. The fundamental crisis in our lives is that we will someday die, and we must pray for those who died before us, that God have mercy on their sins and bring them to eternal happiness. November is the month of prayer for the dead, and we do well to say frequent prayers for our beloved faithful departed, and especially for those who die unknown and unloved. May they rest in peace, dear God!
Faith comes through Prayer
The Gospel ends with these arresting words: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?” How many people in San Francisco today will kneel in dedicated prayer to God? We spend the vast majority of our time and money on food, entertainment, sex, and travel, but very little, if at all, on the things of God. We regain our balance, our faith in something greater than these superficialities, only through persevering and confident prayer. The crisis in our Church—the scandal of criminal priests, the scandal of non-practicing laity, the scandal of Catholic high schools and universities mocking their own faith—the crisis of faith can only be resolved when we get on our knees and listen to God’s word, thanking and adoring Him. May God grant us the grace to do so.