the abominable prayer
"When the ark of the Lord arrived in the camp, all Israel shouted so loudly that the earth resounded." —1 Samuel 4:5
"Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who slew about four thousand men on the battlefield" (1 Sm 4:2). "So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there the ark of the Lord of hosts" (1 Sm 4:4). After praying, the Israelites went into battle again. This time, they suffered a much more disastrous defeat in which thirty thousand of their soldiers were killed (1 Sm 4:10). Their prayers seemed not only ineffective, but even to have made matters worse.
The moral of this incident is not that prayer is sometimes bad; rather, that prayer without repentance can do more harm than good. For example, if we pray without forgiving others, we in effect curse ourselves. Even if we don't say it, the Lord will take our prayer to mean: "Forgive us the wrong we have done as we forgive those who wrong us" (Mt 6:12). Also, if we are unjust and unrepentant, the Lord promises: "When you spread out your hands, I close My eyes to you; though you pray the more, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood!" (Is 1:15)
When we don't repent, even our liturgical feasts and songs of worship are hated by the Lord (Am 5:21, 23). The writer of Proverbs puts it bluntly: "When one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination" (Prv 28:9). "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is His delight" (Prv 15:8). Repent, pray, and please the Lord.
Prayer: Father, may I not merely pay You lip-service (Mt 15:8). "A heart contrite and humbled, O God, You will not spurn" (Ps 51:19).
Promise: "Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out His hand, touched Him, and said: 'I do will it. Be cured.' The leprosy left him then and there, and he was cured." —Mk 1:41-42
Praise: When the Smiths repented and stopped using artificial contraception, their prayer life changed for the better.
Rescript: †Reverend Joseph R. Binzer, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, June 4, 2009
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