Gen 18:20-32; Col 2:12-24; Luke 11:1-13
“Lord, teach us how to pray!”
The readings today are about prayer and intercessory prayer in particular. The first reading is about Abraham and how he pleaded with God to spare Sodom if there were a number of righteous people left in the city. Abraham shamelessly bargains with God starting from fifty innocent people then reducing step by step to forty, thirty, twenty and then only ten people. By this we are meant to understand that we should talk to God directly and even try to bargain with him in our prayer. We are encouraged to be persistent and even demanding of God as we pray to him and tell him of our needs. This theme is reflected in the gospel of today, particularly in the parable that follows the Lord’s Prayer ‘So I say to you: Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the doors will be opened’ (Lk 11:9-10).
- OUR BURNING INTENTION TO PRAY
Many good intentioned Christians testify that they really want to pray, but they easily get bored, and give up. What is really wrong? Let us use the opportunity of the readings of today to inform ourselves about the theme of PRAYER, as seen in the Catholic Church.
Prayer is communication with God and an awareness of his powerful, loving presence.
Prayer can be SILENT or VERBAL, FORMAL or INFORMAL, PRIVATE or COMMUNAL. The four gospels report that Jesus prayed to the Father frequently and that he went off to quiet, deserted places to pray before crucial happenings in his life (Cf. today’s Gospel). In today’s Gospel, we are presented the passage in which at the request of his disciples, Jesus teaches them how to pray. The methodology he uses is one that shows that God is not forced effectively by long prayers. For it is easy to confuse a sincere prayer with verbosity (the use of big and complicated words).
- SOME BASIC TYPES OF PRAYER
In classic spiritual theology, there are five basic types of prayer:
- a) Prayer of blessing and adoration: It is man’s response to God’s gifts: because God blesses, the human heart can in return bless the One who is the source of every blessing. Adoration is the first attitude of someone who acknowledges that he/she is a creature before his creator. It exalts the greatness of the Lord who made us and the almighty power of the Saviour who sets us free from evil.
- b) Prayer of petition: In the N.T. this type of prayer takes the form of: ASK, BESEECH, PLEAD, INVOKE, ENTREAT, CRY OUT, even “STRUGGLE IN PRAYER.” (Rom. 15:30; Col 4:12). By this form of prayer, we acknowledge that we are not our own beginning, not the master of adversity, not our own last end. We are sinners who, as Christians, know that we have turned away from our Father. Our petition is already a turning back to Him. Asking for forgiveness is the prerequisite for both the Eucharistic liturgy and any worthy personal prayer.
- c) Prayer of intercession: It is a prayer which leads us to pray as Jesus did. He is the one intercessor, the go-between, with the Father on behalf of all men, especially sinners.
- d) Prayer of thanksgiving: Every event and need in our lives can become an offering of thanksgiving. The letters of St. Paul often begin and end with thanksgiving, and the Lord Jesus is always present in it: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you”; (I Thess 5:18)
- e) Prayer of praise: It is the form of prayer which recognizes most immediately that God is God. It lauds (acclaims) God for his own sake and gives him glory, quite beyond what He does, but simply because HE IS.
- THE VARIOUS “TYPES OF PRAYER” AS FOUND IN LORD’S PRAYER
The Lord’s Prayer, as found in Matthew’s and Luke’ Gospel, contains six petitions which bring the whole of life in to the presence of the Father. The first three have to do with God and his glory (Our Father! who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come – Here, we have the aspects of BLESSING, ADORATION & PRAISE). Then come requests for our human needs: for provision, for pardon and for protection – these are clear indications of the prayer of PETITION & INTERCESSION. The petition for forgiveness is further developed to bring home to us that God’s mercy and our own mercy towards one another are interlinked and interdependent.
Let us take the example of the Holy Mass, as the Church’s highest form of prayer. At practically every stage of the Holy Mass, we are called to express our unworthiness, and need for God’s Mercy:
- The “Lord, have mercy”
- The “I confess”
- The “Our Father”
- The “Lamb of God”
- The “Lord, I am not worthy…”, said immediately before receiving communion.
These are all petitions for forgiveness the part of every participating and fervent Christian.
- OUR CONSTANT NEED FOR DIVINE ASSISTANCE (GRACE) IN PRAYER
In reality, we do not know how to pray. We need divine help to do that. In today’s gospel, Jesus teaches us how to pray: we do not have to babble i.e. unnecessarily using many words. We should encounter God and acknowledge him as our Father, asking for our needs, which he knows already, and forgiving those who offended us so that we too will be forgiven. Therefore, whatever is our predominant motive for praying at a particular time: petition, adoration, praise, etc, Jesus invites us to enter into this prayer as loving children.
What is being encouraged is that we should be completely open with God and absolutely straightforward as we intercede with him on behalf of those we are praying for, as well as for ourselves. In the Gospel Jesus invites us to be completely familiar with the Father using the very intimate term Abba, which we know translates into modern day English as daddy. By using it we realize that God is not distant but is in fact extremely close to us.
Jesus begins his prayer with the word “Father’ to teach us that the first characteristic of prayer is the simplicity of a child speaking to its Father about itself. In prayer we present to God our joys, sorrows, successes and failures, our noble ambitions, daily worries, and even our weaknesses. In prayer we get to know God better and we get to know ourselves too. Prayer bonds us with God and with one another. Do not forget that the family that prays together stays together. Be regular with your family prayer! During family prayer never minimize the contribution of any member. Every member of the family, community, congregation can contribute to common prayer, by calling on God in his/her own words or voice.
You see, there is much more in prayer, than just BEGGING GOD to grant us something. Yet many an ordinary Christian tends to equate prayer with PETITION and nothing else. Now, because we tend to see prayer always as begging for something, the urge to pray begins to diminish especially when we live in an affluent world where we have almost everything. In short, why BEG from God what you can afford by your own strength? Increasingly, modern society wants to make us believe that prayer is some pious act meant for the poor, destitute and the feeble-minded only. Strong and wealthy people seemingly do not need God, at least not on daily basis.
No! We all need to pray. If you are not asking, you can be praising. If you are not asking, we can be blessing; If you are not asking, we can be adoring. Again if you are not asking we can be thanking. These are the various forms of true prayer
Today, let us pray in the words of the disciples of Jesus as found in the Gospel we proclaimed this morning: ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ We make this prayer through the same Jesus Christ who is Lord forever and ever… AMEN!