July 24, 2016
Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Luke 11: 1 - 13
This Gospel gives us three lessons on prayer; How to pray, persistence in praying, and God's reception of our prayers. The Apostles had observed Jesus praying and ask him to teach them to pray. This is a beautiful request in that it indicates that as they spent time with Jesus they desired to be more like him. Jesus gave them the words to pray that we have come to know as the Lord's Prayer. It is a prayer that is simple, to the point, and quite different than the way we might formulate a prayer. Usually when we pray we begin with our specific need for praying and move to expressing how it is God can help us. It is common to begin a prayer with a statements like one of these; "God, I have a problem, help," "Lord, heal me," "Father, where are you? I need you." "I" and "me" are often at the beginning of our prayers. With the Lord's Prayer we begin by acknowledging God and our hope of sharing in the kingdom, then we move into our needs. This prayer of Jesus provides us not only with the words to pray, but a model of how to formulate our own prayers' begin with God and then our needs.
Jesus teaches us to begin prayer by acknowledging and honoring God, and His sovereignty over Heaven and Earth. We then place our needs before God. What is the "daily bread" that I seek in this prayer? Whether it be help in a small or large problem, health for someone or some gift to better live our Christian lives, we place it before the Father. Always connected to our particular request is acknowledging our need for mercy, and our desire to be merciful. The prayer ends with a request for deliverance to help us in times of temptation and our personal spiritual battles. This formula Jesus gives us might be different than how our natural inclination would lead us, because it is a prayer that is God-centered and not self-centered.
The next lesson is that of persistence and patience in prayer. We need to avoid the temptation of looking at our prayers in the same way we approach a vending machine or drive-thru window. Prayer involves putting our timeline aside and trusting in God's time. God knows us intimately, and as Psalm 139 reminds us, it was God who knew us from the moment of conception. God knows what is best for us, and when it is needed. This challenges us not to give up when a prayer is not immediately answered, or even not answered after years of praying. It means not being so set on how we want God to answer that we miss his presence in ways we are not expecting.
The final lesson follows from the last one, don't try to box God in to answering a prayer exactly how we want it answered. The particular request might be like asking God for a knife or a serpent. That is what we think will help us, but could really do more harm than good. God's response is to give us what we really need, what will ultimately lead us closer to him. This takes trust and openness on our part, and this can be unsettling or even scary in not knowing how things will really turn out. St. Paul assures us that for those who trust God everything will work out for the good.
Pray by putting God first, with persistence and patience, with trust, and God will touch us in wonderful ways.
Fr. Killian Loch, O.S.B.