11th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday

In today’s Gospel Our Lord puts us on guard against turning our prayer into babble. Babble is a stream of words without any apparent meaning, but when we hear a child babble or a mentally handicapped person babbling we know that we may not understand what they are trying to communicate, but they are trying to communicate. Prayer can become babble because we recite the prayers that were handed along to us, but the words to us lose their meaning and we just recite them out of habit or obligation. Our Lord understands what we’re trying to say as long as we’re trying to communicate: words coming out of our mouths while our lips are on autopilot are borderline babble.

We can console ourselves at least by knowing that when we do pray Our Lord understands what we’re saying, even if we don’t, but that’s not enough. We have to make those words our words, and, if we can’t, we need to pray in our own words as well. Both types of prayer are important: the prayers we’ve received are the prayers of the Church, and we form her voice throughout the centuries. Those words didn’t form in a vacuum: every day in Mass the Church prays the Lord’s Prayer that we remember in today’s Gospel that the prayer Jesus himself taught us. Yet even as he was teaching it he felt the need to explain the last petition. It shouldn’t surprise us that we need the help of others to teach us the meaning of the prayers we say, just as the words of the Gospel would be meaningless to us if no one had translated them for us from their original Greek to a language we could understand.

We also need to be those “translators” into everyday life: by keeping the meaning of our prayers in our hearts, as part of our prayers, not just something somebody gave us to say out loud, we transmit their meaning to others as well. Let’s ask Our Lord today to help us reconnect to the meaning of the words we pray in order to “translate” them into something that others hungering for God can understand.

Readings: 2 Corinthians 11:1–11; Psalm 111:1b–4, 7–8; Matthew 6:7–15.