16th Sunday in Ordinary Time A
“We do not know how to pray as we ought.” St. Paul’s simple conclusion in his letter to the Romans certainly applies to me and to some degree I imagine it applies to everyone here. I know I fail and I really try to pray as I ought. But I think this brilliant passage in Romans underlines my greatest weakness. I am fine when I can articulate to God what I need, or for whom I am praying or how I need to change my life. But I am less comfortable when articulation escapes me. When I have no words for the pain I do not understand or the destination I am unsure of. What I cannot articulate is left unprayed, probably to my secret relief.
Yet, that is the part of me that likely need the most healing. The most broken part, the most fearful part, the most sorrowing part of me needs the sweet mercy of God. I simply need to groan before God. St. Paul says, “The Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.” That is what we need. To let the Spirit carry to God what we cannot bring ourselves to pray. And yet that stirring need within me cannot be lifted to God, those inexpressible groans will not have been kissed by the rays of God’s healing love if I cloud the air always with my carefully planned word prayer. No to groan before the Lord, one must be silent, aware of the poverty of our Spirit and humbly allow God into that place which we most successfully hide.
And what does God do with those groanings? They are brought to “the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the holy ones.” Only God knows what to do when we know not. The most powerful prayer is the prayer we never utter. It is the one where we let God into the very core of our soul and surrender that which we have not dared to touch or maybe even acknowledge. It is only through this groaning that we can express the inexpressible; that God can heal that which was untouchable. It appears that even Jesus Christ prayed this way for we hear in the Letter to the Hebrews, “In the days when he was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.” Having known all of human experience, even Jesus could best express it in his own groanings of loud cries and tears. We need to pray as he did.
So what is inexpressible in you? What is that great fear, that yawning emptiness or that sense of doomed failure? That which you cannot even touch is ready to be handled by our God. Be still and hand it over.
I think I have mentioned before that one of my professors once asked his sister who was dying of cancer what she thought of as she brought up the gifts. She said, “I think of all my fears, my sickness and my pain, my anxiety for my family and I just plop it on the altar.” She put her groanings on the altar and trusted that the one who could take simple gifts of bread and wine and transform them into something divine could do the same for her. I believe that God is willing to transform each of us as he transforms every one of us into the body of Christ. Place your graonings on God’s altar. Give over that which we dare not even contemplate and let God who has searched our hearts intercede for us. Feel the touch of the divine in the most hidden parts of our soul. That way what is cold can be warmed, what is afraid can find courage and what is alone can find the accompaniment of the Spirit. Even our weeds may turn into wheat.