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29th Sunday

One of the most encouraging images to come out of television in a long time was the successful rescue of the Chilean miners buried under the ground for 70 days, history’s longest surviving victims of a mining disaster. The media, their president and families and friends cheered the men on as they emerged in the daylight they have not seen for a long time.

What was the key to their survival? Under ground, the miners were united, even rationing the scant food available and encouraging one another. Above ground, the families and friends of these men camped out and kept vigil until help finally came from the government and from abroad.

Most importantly, the trapped men kept their faith in God, praying ardently, invoking St. Lawrence, the patron of miners and even building an altar in their bunk to inspire them. Their relatives too, built shrines and asked for Masses to be celebrated for the safety of the men. Chile reported an increase in Mass attendance as people turned to God for help. In the end, God has answered their petitions causing spontaneous celebration around the world.

This scenario relates much to the theme of this Sunday’s scriptural message on prayer. We need prayer. As human beings prayer is our hope. Some people may not see the importance of prayer in their lives when the going is smooth, but when sudden adversities come, people need to feel that “God is holding” our hands, as one of the miners put it.

But what makes prayer truly effective? Is there a mystical number to follow, like in novenas or 1000 Hail Marys? Are there exact words that bring us God’s immediate response, like an effective prayer book? Are there people to mediate for us, as we do many times turn to priests and nuns?

The readings tell us that there is no magical number, formula or intermediary that assures the effectiveness of prayer. There is only one element needed: faith. Moses, after climbing the hilltop, lifted up his arms in trust and surrender to the God who will grant victory to His people. In faith, Jesus will also ascend a mountain, to extend his arms of blessing on a sinful world. And the gospel gives us Jesus’ words: will he find faith on the earth?

Faith alone makes prayer truly effective. For in praying, as we offer to God the desires of our hearts, faith tells us that we must be ready to accept God’s will in the end. The miners’ saga could have ended up in another way. Many things we pray for simply do not happen as we expect. Our relationship with God is not a business transaction – we perform and he reciprocates. God is free to respond to us in the way He sees best.

In faith we realize that God has a plan for us, more extensive than we can ever imagine. As we bring to the Lord our needs, we also open our lives to his will. We pray because we surrender. And in this we become stronger and happier, that our will and God’s will are finally one.