This Sunday’s readings are all about prayer. As we know, there are many kinds of prayer, such as formal prayer like Liturgy of the Hours and the Rosary, and more informal prayer like our spontaneous petitions for others in need or our personal expressions of the pressing desires of our hearts. In today’s Gospel from St. Luke, Jesus teaches us the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father.
Pope Francis in this week’s Spiritual Reflection tells us that the disciples of Jesus “are fascinated because they see that he does not pray like the other teachers of the time, but rather his prayer is an intimate bond with the Father, so much so that they wish to be a part of these moments of union with God, in order to completely savor its sweetness.” Jesus brings them into this intimacy with the Father by the very first word in the prayer he teaches them, “Father.” Pope Francis tells us that Jesus “allows us to enter into God’s paternity and he points the way to enter into a prayerful and direct dialogue with him, through the path of filial intimacy.” This is, indeed, extraordinary and beautiful. Jesus is always bringing us closer and closer to the Father. He knows the Father and desires that we come to know him as well.
How do we draw closer to the Father? Through love, expressed and strengthened by prayer. When we spend time in prayer, we begin to know God better and love him more. When we experience how he hears and answers our prayers, we grow in trust. This growth leads to prayers of praise and thanksgiving.
In the reading from Genesis, we see other types of prayer as well. First, a prayer that rises from hearts that suffer injustice in the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Lord refers to this as “the cry against them that comes to me.” God hears and responds to the cries of the innocent, the poor, and the helpless who call out to him.
The second kind of prayer displayed in the first reading is a prayer of intercession. Abraham asks the Lord, “Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty?” He prays for the innocent with a remarkable combination of boldness and humility. Abraham realizes that he is in no position to question the Lord or tell him what to do. “See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord, though I am but dust and ashes!” Yet he is not afraid to challenge the limits of God’s mercy as he gradually reduces the number of innocents that would be enough to save Sodom. Abraham stops at ten innocent people. While he does not discover any limit to divine mercy, he learns that even a tiny faithful remnant is somehow enough for God’s mercy to reign over his own justice.
The Psalm today is another beautiful prayer, a prayer of thanksgiving, praise, and worship. “I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with all my heart… I will sing your praise; I will worship at your holy temple…” As Catholic Christians, we recognize that the highest form of worship takes place at every Mass, but we also worship God in the temple of our own hearts.
The reading from Colossians tells us that faith is the gift that allows us to pray. Faith is a free gift from God, given to us in Baptism. It is also our free response to God; without faith we would not pray. In this reading also, the greatest prayer of intercession is revealed: offered by Jesus on the Cross. His intercession to the Father on our behalf brought us to new life. “And even when you were dead in transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he brought you to life along with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions.”
Prayer requires both patience and persistence, not because God does not hear us, but because we need space for spiritual growth. The time between our prayer and God’s answer is a time of growing in trust and love. Persevering in faith throughout the “waiting period” is itself a prayer of surrender and trust in God’s love and mercy. Even if we cannot perceive anything happening, the Holy Spirit is active in us when we pray, teaching us how to pray as we ought, and even making intercession for us, praying in us on our behalf. God, who wants an ever-deeper communion of love with us, fills us with his Spirit to bring it about. When we ask, seek, and knock in prayer, the Holy Spirit assures that we will find, receive, and have the door opened for us – the door to the heart of our loving Father.
How do I experience Jesus bringing me closer to the Father? How do patience and perseverance in prayer enable me to grow spiritually? In what ways have I experienced the fruits and graces of intercessory prayer?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 18, no. 6. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.