Many people compare their everyday lives to running on a treadmill. They are always busy, always on the go, but never getting anywhere. Such people find themselves getting up in the morning, going to work, coming home to take their children to whatever after-school activities they may have, grabbing supper on the road, and then going to bed only to start the cycle over again the next morning. Others have unfulfilling jobs that leave them drained at the end of the day. The only thing they have to look forward to is the weekend or their next vacation. After years of living on this "treadmill", people begin to question the meaning of their lives and wonder if all the activity is worth it.
In today's first reading, Job expresses some of the same sentiments. As he puts it, "Life on earth is a drudgery." Remember that Job, in a series of tragedies, lost his wife, his children and all his possessions. In his grief, he couldn't find the strength to pick himself up from the ground. In a near state of shock, he compares his life to that of a slave or hireling who has no share in the profits of his work. These are sentiments we can very easily share, especially during these dark and cold February days.
While Job poses the problem, Jesus provides the solution. In today's gospel, Jesus has had a very long day. The people of Capernaum, hearing that he had the power to heal and cast out demons, were bringing the sick to him while he stayed at the house of Peter's mother-in-law. When everyone had finally left, Jesus slips away by himself to a deserted place to pray. He needed time away from the crowds and the demands of the people to spend time alone with his father.
For Jesus, prayer was a source of strength. All the power to preach the good news, to heal and to cast out demons came from the time he spent praising and adoring his Father in secret. Like all of us, Jesus needed to step aside from his busy, demanding life to take stock of his Father's presence and love.
There was once a woman who found herself in much the same situation we have been describing. She had fallen into a rut. Life seemed to lose its wonder and joy. A friend told her about the power that prayer has to transform our lives and strengthen us. So she began waking up an hour earlier every morning to give it a try.
At first, she would just sit on her couch with a blanket around her not knowing how to begin. Sometimes she would just look out the window at the street light. But with time she began finding that she felt less stressed and less anxious during the day. She began noticing the needs of others around her and would bring their intentions into her daily prayer. Though at first she worried that getting up earlier would leave her with less energy during the day, she actually found that because prayer was revealing to her a deeper sense of purpose, she felt more motivated than ever. And, because she was less stressed, her marriage also improved because she was less irritable around the house and picked fewer fights with her husband.
If we are going to live lives marked by peace and joy, prayer is vitally important to us. It will bring clarity to our minds when we are confused and calm to our spirits when we are anxious. Prayer is like an incubator cultivating faith, hope and love within our spirit.
The reason most people give for not praying is that they do not have enough time. With such hectic lives, the last thing they want is to add another activity to their day. But what those who make the effort to carve out some time for prayer in their day immediately discover is that, instead of ending up with less time, they have more! It could be that they feel more energized because of a new sense of purpose. Sometimes prayer gives people a new perspective on life so that they cut out of their schedule activities that are less important. Whatever the reason may be, it demonstrates an important rule of the spiritual life: God cannot be outdone in generosity. If I give God twenty minutes of my time, he is going to give me forty minutes back. Whatever we give to God - whether it be time, money or talent - we get back in return many times over.
Another reason that people are often afraid of prayer is that they think that they don't know how to pray. They don't know what to do during those twenty minutes. Saint Paul knew very well himself how difficult prayer was. In fact, he taught that none of us knows how to pray as we ought. But through our baptism and confirmation, we have each received the gift of the Holy Spirit. That Holy Spirit prays within us and guides us in our prayer. This demonstrates another important rule of the spiritual life: Prayer is not something we do, but something that God does in us. The same God who plants in our hearts a desire to pray will teach us how to pray if we put time into it daily.
We are here today giving God an hour out of our week because we believe something important happens here. We believe that Jesus is speaking to us through the Scriptures we proclaim and giving his very life to us through the gift of his Body and Blood in the Eucharist. We are here today because we believe that our lives are about much more than what we do day in and day out. Our lives are rather about who we are - children of God made in his image and likeness. By making daily prayer along with Sunday Mass the foundation of our lives, we will see ourselves being renewed and transformed daily by God's presence and power. Our lives will be marked, not with monotony or drudgery, but with the joy and peace which come from the Holy Spirit.