17th Sunday in Ordinary Time C22
“Lord, teach us to pray ….” What follows that request is Luke’s version of the well-known prayer from Matthew’s Gospel (Mt.6:9-13), the Our Father. While it is somewhat different, it has similarities: the petition that God’s name be held hallowed (holy), that the kingdom come, a plea for bread, and the forgiveness of sins. You also should notice that the pronoun used in both is “us” rather than “me”. It is a family prayer for all.
Then Jesus tells a parable about persistence in prayer which he concludes by saying: “ask and you will receive; seek and you find; knock and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and the one knocks, the door will be opened.” (Lk. 11:9-11) Now, you and I have done a lot of asking and haven’t received; a lot of seeking but haven’t found; a lot of knocking and still the door has stayed shut tight. Why is that? I think the answer is found in the last verses of this passage. The fish we seek may be loaded with mercury, the egg with salmonella. And so God disappoints us to save us from greater disappointment or harm. That’s where trust in God comes into play. To quote the title of a long ago TV show (1954-1960), “Father Knows Best”.
But sometimes it happens that you or I are praying for a friend and God seems to ignore us. Are we praying wrong or not hard enough? I can’t and won’t believe that because that makes God rather capricious or downright mean. Perhaps an example will help us to understand a little bit better. My sister liked to do arts and crafts. She worked on a cross-stitch with a saying that is attributed to Francis of Assisi as a gift for me. When she finished, from the back, it was mess with threads hanging every which way and the words appeared to be gibberish. When she turned it over, it became neat and legible. The same for God: we are looking from one side and God from the other, and God has a different view of our needs and wants.
There’s a lot more to prayer than asking, seeking and knocking, however; and a lot of different ways to pray. All kinds of books have been written on the subject. I would recommend one that is in our library downstairs: “Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone”, by James Martin, S.J... He posits that everyone can (and does) pray. There are several copies available but please don’t underline or make notes in the one you borrow.
I will close with a mnemonic that was taught me in grade school by the good Felician Sisters: ACTS with the A standing for Adoration; C for Contrition; T for Thanksgiving; S for Supplication (petitioning). In conclusion, this time it is really it!), I will end with another quote, this one from advertising but on this occasion the “it” is about prayer: “JUST DO IT!” and don’t worry if you are doing it right. The Holy Spirit will come to your rescue “for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will. (Romans 8:26-27)