Reflection on the Audacity of Prayer: the Prayer that Casts Out Fear
19th Sunday, 9th August 2020, Homily by Archbishop I. A. Kaigama, at St. Matthew’s Church Karmo, Abuja
Readings: 1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:22-33
Today’s Gospel story about Jesus going up alone into the hills to pray inspired me to focus my reflection on the audacity of prayer, the prayer that casts out fear.
The Gospel is also about Peter’s adventure of walking on water in imitation of our Lord and Master. While Peter trusted Jesus, he could walk on the water. But the moment he gave in to fear, he began to sink. Fear is the opposite of faith, but prayer strengthens faith, increases trust in God and casts out fear. The more we pray, the less we fear. When Peter was sinking, he put his trust in Jesus and cried out to Him in prayer and Jesus saved him.
If we trust Jesus we will be able to do those things we feel we cannot do alone. When we are sinking into frustration, depression, despair or hopelessness, Jesus pulls us out. Jesus comes to us in the word of God and the Eucharist. He can come dramatically as walking on the sea or in a subtle way as in the tiny whispering sound heard by Elijah.
The Lord has promised that He will always be with us. We are reminded in Isaiah 49:15 that even if a mother forgets a child at her breasts and has no compassion for the child she has borne, the Lord will never forget us. The Lord is not like a man that He should lie (cf. Num 23:19). He keeps watch over us at all times and assures us that we have no need to fear if we trust in His love and have a resilient faith even in difficult times.
Elijah was sent by God to preach and call the people back to God. His message culminated in the encounter with the 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. By killing the prophets of Baal, he incurred the wrath of Queen Jezebel who vowed to take Elijah’s life in vengeance. Elijah ran for safety and embarked on a forty-day journey to Mount Horeb, where he encountered God in a special way. Elijah to his surprise discovered that the Lord was not in the wind, neither was He in the earthquake, nor in the fire, but the Lord was found in the gentle breeze. One can say that it was at the point when Elijah had calmed down and overcame his internal fear, that he was able to discern God’s presence and purpose. Often times, we seek God with a restless disposition, and in an environment so full of distraction and so hearing the voice of God becomes very difficult. Whereas when we remain silent and fully recollected, we can hear Him speak to us.
When life becomes hostile, we must run to Jesus for refuge and strength, divine consolation, reassurance, comfort and protection (not to babalawo or fake prophets and pastors). The honest prayer of Peter shows his total trust and dependence on Jesus who came to his rescue. What is admirable in Peter is that every time he failed, he did not fail to cling to Jesus. His failures brought him closer to Christ. He declared in John 21:17, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you”.
In the storms of life, whether of stormy marriage, persecution, failing business, unemployment, sickness or poverty, Jesus comes with hands outstretched to save, saying, “Take heart and have no fear”. Jesus must therefore be our first choice; in fact, He must remain our only choice.
One striking lesson from the story of the sinking Peter is that he rode to safety on the wings of prayer. Peter prayed, “Save me Lord, or I perish” (Mt 14:30). Prophet Isaiah in 43:2 quotes the Lord as saying: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and the rivers, will not overwhelm you. When you walk through fire, you will not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you”.
In the second reading, Paul expresses concern about his fellow Jews who rejected Christ who offered them the wonderful gift of salvation. He urges us to hold on firmly to Jesus who is ready to lead us gently amidst the raging storms of life. Jesus is our peace. In Him we live, and move and have our being (cf. Acts 17: 28). Jesus does not offer us a smooth sailing but He assures us of a soft landing. Let us keep our gaze always on Jesus.
My beloved people of Karmo, you must always make time to be alone with the Father in prayer as this is the only way we are able to surmount the rough waves of this life. Fervently pray your rosary; say your private prayers and do not begin or conclude your day without prayer. Prayer is the oxygen for spiritual growth. Do not as you pray worry about how to express yourself eloquently or to see visions or have Jesus or His Blessed Mother speak physically to you. In prayer, simply aim at uniting your heart with God, loving Him more than anyone else and translating that love to loving your neighbours dearly.
I enjoin you to continue to fix your gaze on Jesus as you journey through life and always remember to cry out like Peter, “Lord, save me”. Scripture assures us that when we call on the Lord, He will answer. In time of trouble He will be with us and deliver us, because according to Proverbs 18:10, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower and all who run to it shall be saved”. Let us therefore fix our gaze on Jesus the Lord while calling Him alone to save us.