17th Sunday of Ordinary Time
29 JULY 2001
Scriptual Reference: Genesis 18:20-32, Colossians 2:12-14, Luke 11:1-13

Ways of Prayer

       Prayer is clearly the theme of the readings this weekend. I heard a story once about two young boys who were spending the night at their Grandma's. She was getting them ready for bed, and reminded them to say their prayers. Grandma left the boys alone and went into the next room before coming back to tuck them in. The older of the two said his prayers, thanking God and asking him to bless his friends and family. Then, it was his younger brother's turn. He offered the same prayer as his big brother, but at the end of the prayer, he shouted in a very loud voice, "And God, please send me a new scooter and a CD player." His older brother turned and said, "You don't have to shout. God isn't deaf." "I know," the younger one replied. "But Grandma is."

       The readings this weekend provide a good opportunity for us to consider our lives of prayer. Prayer, according to St. Therese the Little Flower is "a surge of the heart, a simple look turned toward heaven." St. John Damascene defined it this way, "the raising of oneís mind and heart to God." Prayer, basically, is talking to God; it is communication with him that comes right from our heart and is directed towards heaven. Today, I would like to discuss the three Pís of prayer that I see arising from Lukeís account of the Our Father: Praise, Petition, and Persistence.

       First, praise. All of us have praised God at some point in our lives. Surely, we praised God when our child was born, and praised him again when that child moved out of the house and on to college. When the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray, he first offers two lines of praise. "Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come." To hallow the name of God the Father is to recognize that it is holy. To hallow his name is to acknowledge that God is in charge. "Your kingdom come" urges God to extend his all-powerful kingdom through the world, and praises him for the goodness in the world that results from the coming of his kingdom. Each day, in our prayer, we need to acknowledge that God is in charge. He is the creator of all things and it is he who made each one of us. Likewise, we need to praise him for all that he has given to us: shelter, food, health, family and friends. To praise God is to develop and nature our own "Attitude of Gratitude." To praise God is to be aware of all that we have, not simply aware of what we lack.

       The second P is petition. The first reading today describes an ancient account of a human being offering a petition to God. Abraham asks God to save Sodom and Gomorrah and in with a great Middle Eastern flair, bargains with him as if they were in the marketplace. This important passage shows us that God gives us the ability to ask for anything, and shows us that he listens. But, he also demonstrates that he is still in charge. God will not be manipulated by our prayers. Prayer is not magic. Further in Genesis, we read that God does indeed destroy Sodom, but he does save Lot and his daughters because of Abrahamís prayer. In Lukeís version of the Our Father, there are three basic human needs that Jesus expresses as petitions. Having first praised God, Jesus instructs the community to ask him for daily sustenance, the forgiveness of sins, and preservation from temptation that leads us away from Godís goodness.

       It is important to be aware of these three basic needs that Jesus articulates in our own lives. But we have many other needs as well. We become aware of these needs particularly when we experience great difficulty in our life, such as divorce, financial insecurity, sickness and death. There was a rabbi who wrote the book, "When bad things happen to good people." He tells the story about his own son, diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder called Ďprogeria,í a disorder that would spell death for his son before his teen age years. This rabbi tries to make some sense of how God interacts with us when we face difficult and painful issues. Many of us, like this Rabbi, have faced the disappointment of praying for a loved one to recover, only to see them die. We have asked God for a particular request, and he seems to deny that request. Lukeís community must have felt this way as well, for Jesus asserts that God is a loving Father who gives only good things. Sometimes, though, it is difficult to remember that God does hear each one of our prayers, and he does answer each one. We must remember that even when our prayers seem to go unanswered, God, in his own good time, will answer each one in his own way. In response to each one of our prayers, Jesus asserts that God gives the ultimate and the greatest gift: the gift of the Holy Spirit.

       The third P is persistence. I learned a lot about persistence when I was a small child. My grandmother, unlike the grandmother in my opening story, had perfect hearing. She also had the amazing ability to block out every noise in the house when she was knitting. I could stand right next to her chair and say, "Memaw, memaw, memaw," and she wouldnít flinch. Finally, I would have to touch her arm to get her attention. In the little story that Jesus tells, a friend asks another friend for help in hosting his unexpected visitors. This individual relents because of his friendís persistence. We, likewise, are to be persistent in our prayer. I take that to mean that we need to pray every single day. We should find the time and the space to open up our dialogue with God, in the car, in the shower, or in a quiet corner at home. Unlike my Memaw, who blocked us out when she was diverted, God never blocks us out. He is always there, ready to listen, even when we are needy, tired, grouchy, angry or bitter. And our persistence in prayer allows God to shape and transform us. When we pray for peace, we become people of peace. When we pray for healing, we are given hearts of compassion. The emptiness of seemingly unanswered prayers is filled by the gift of Godís Spirit in our hearts.

       A final story to sum things up: a priest that I know once had a parishioner ask him how to pray. Following the model of Jesus in the gospel, he gave her this advice: "Spend one minute praising God for all you have. Spend one minute asking him for what you need. Spend one minute listening in silence. Do this every day." Praise, petition and persistence, an easy recipe for a relationship with God. If you need some more ideas about jump-starting or developing your own life of prayer, I have produced little booklets* on the ways of prayer are available in the bulletin racks by each of the exits today. We will not be disappointed in our efforts to pray, after all, Jesus promises, "Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you." +

*If you wish to read Fr. Russ' booklet on prayer, please click HERE to be directed to the online version, located in the Essay section of The Chaplain's Corner on this website.

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