Prayer is a dangerous habit. Some might add that it is superstitious or magical, or risky but worth it. Prayer is intimacy with God. Any moment where you find yourself intimately holding the will of our Father in your body and soul, you are praying. You may petition, give thanks and praise, intercede for someone. You may adore God. And, if you are so inclined, you may contemplate the divine in a life of study in order to share the fruits of your contemplation with others. Regardless of your technique or goal, Paul makes it absolutely clear to Timothy that God expects us to pray. I repeat: prayer is dangerous…not only because you sometimes get you pray for, but because the first fruits of all prayer accrue to the Pray-er, the one praying. Prayer is dangerous because it is divinely designed to change substantially those who take it up as a habit.
So, you’ve decided to live a life of prayer. What can you expect as an eager Pray-er? In no particular order, you can expect most of the following: an overarching sense of peace and joy; a lot of turmoil and struggle day-to-day; a slow growth toward obedience and charity; an occasional tumble with angels and devils alike; long periods of spiritual productivity and emotional health; longer, darker periods of spiritual aridity and roller-coaster passions; the overwhelming presence of the Triune God; and His apparent absence. In other words, as a creature who chooses to obey God and to pray habitually, you will find yourself becoming more intensely a creature, more fully human as you work out your perfection in His grace. And it is vital that you understand that in prayer your goal is to become fully human, perfectly human as Christ is perfectly human. You will fail if you think your goal is to become an angel. Prayer does many wonderful things for us. It will not, however, help you switch species. Therefore, let God worry about making you divine in His own time.
Our centurion this morning is the perfect pray-er. What does he do? First, he is praying, petitioning for someone else, an act of charity. Second, he involves the entire community in his prayer. He asks the Jewish elders to petition Jesus for help. Next, the Jewish elders acknowledge the centurion’s largesse to their nation and persuade Jesus to do as the soldier asks. Jesus agrees. However, the centurion meets them half-way and then humbly confesses that as a pagan he is not worthy of having Jesus in his house. And then he confesses, again with humility, that he knows that Jesus has the authority to heal his slave with a word. Jesus is amazed. The slave is healed. And prayer is once again shown to be a very dangerous practice.
When the centurion confesses his absolute trust in Jesus’ power, Jesus turns to the crowd and says, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” How is this dangerous? Jesus has just publicly admitted that a pagan, a man with no filial connection to the God of Israel is a man of faith. And it is through trusting prayer – not nationality, racial heritage, family affiliation, nor religious creed – but through faith that the centurion’s prayer succeeds. It is through trust in Christ and trust in Christ alone. In Gaudium et spes, we read that Christians will die and rise again with Christ and that his promise carries us in hope. For non-Christians, they continue: “All this holds true not only for Christians, but for all men of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way. For, since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery”(n 22). Thus, the possibility of becoming Christ through Christ in prayer. Given his end, is there anything more dangerous than that?