Today I have a simple message for you all: don't be afraid of prayer. Despite its difficulties, it is rewarding.
When Jesus tells Peter to “cast out into the deep for a catch,” I think this is a beautiful image for what prayer is. Prayer is dark, scary, demanding, challenging. It requires our hard work, yes, but ultimately depends on more than that to be fruitful: we can't force God, just as Peter can't force fish into his net. But if we are faithful to prayer, we will in the end see great results. If we go “cast out into the depths” of our soul in prayer, it is there we will find the wellsprings of eternal life in the Holy Spirit, and we will never be dissappointed, we will never be let down.
Today's readings show us that prayer is the source of Christian mission. Only in prayer do we get a sense of who God is, who we are, and what that relationship demands that we do on this earth – both for God and for our fellow man.
Saint Peter today receives his vocation, to be a fisher of men, through a profound encounter with the Lord Jesus. Saint Paul, who says today how he was made an apostle by Jesus appearing to him on the way to Damascus, also receives his mission, and his strength for perseverance, from that experience. And in our first reading, the prophet Isaiah, deep in prayer, had a similar mystical experience where he encountered in a vision both God and his angels, and hears the Lord calling out to him to fulfill a specific mission. Prayer is the source of vocation. Prayer is the source of mission.
Even Jesus himself underwent this process, one example being at the beginning of His public ministry: deep in prayer at His Baptism, the Father's voice is heard, and the Holy Spirit drives Jesus into the desert for 40 days to be deeply devoted to prayer as he begins his mission to proclaim the Gospel of repentance. This is what we are about to do as a universal Church in the 40 days of Lent which begin this Ash Wednesday, preparing for the holiest days of our Church Year – the Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday.
If prayer is the source of mission, the source of what God is calling us to do, then it is also the source of Grace, with which God also equips us to carry out what He asks of us. This is why prayer is so critical: without it, we fail. The less we pray, the more we will struggle as disciples. On the other hand, the more we advance in prayer, the more perfect we become, the closer we are to being the saints God calls us to be, and the more our weaknesses and defects are overcome, since we are united to God Himself more perfectly and His love draws us into His fulness. (A dedicated Christian should pray 15 minutes a day, minimum) (silent prayer is necessary!)
So, it is very fitting that at this time, we as a parish, as Christian Disciples, as stewards of the gifts of our life and our time, rededicate ourselves today to the stewardship of Prayer, affirming that we cannot fulfill our Baptismal calling without a regimen of prayer. I now invite our joint-speakers, Matt and Jack, to share their own experience of prayer in their lives to guide our commitment for this year.