17th Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 24, 2022
Johnny had been misbehaving all day at home and so, his mother sent him to his room. After an hour or so, Johnny came downstairs and told his mother, “Mom, after having thought about all I’ve done today, I decided to say a prayer in my room for God’s help.”
Impressed, Johnny’s mother replied, “Well that’s wonderful, dear! If you ask God to help you not to misbehave, God certainly will help you.”
Johnny replied, “Oh, I didn’t ask God to help me not misbehave. I asked God to help you put up with me while I misbehave.”
Johnny’s prayer showed that he didn’t quite get the purpose of prayer in his life. In like manner, today’s gospel reminds us that prayer isn’t just a one step process, but involves asking, searching, knocking, and being ready for a response from God, whenever and wherever and how ever and through whomever it may come.
The first preparatory step in any prayer is picking a PLACE to pray! Maybe it’s at home where we can close a door and cut off any external distractions. Maybe it’s outdoors by a babbling brook or sitting on the green grass. Maybe it’s in our car as we’re headed to our destination. Maybe it’s while we’re at work on a break. Maybe it’s in a church where we can rest and be in the presence of the Lord. You’ll notice that I placed church at the end of the list. I did that purposely, because so often, we can get into the mindset of thinking that the church is the only place where we pray. God is everywhere and in everything, and so we don’t have to be limited to the hour we spend in church on Sundays for our conversations with the Lord. Prayer can and must be weaved into the beautiful tapestry which is our lives.
The second preparatory step to prayer is getting ourselves in a prayerful POSTURE. Maybe it’s sitting down on the floor, in our favourite chair, or on some pillows. Maybe it’s standing with eyes and hands raised up toward heaven.
Maybe it’s kneeling while facing a sacred object or a focal point that keeps our minds from wandering. Maybe it’s dancing to a beautiful piece of music. Different postures can reflect the sort of prayer we want to present. Prayers of forgiveness are typically prayed while kneeling, for example.
The third preparatory step is to have a PASSAGE of the Bible or some other spiritual book, on hand, that can help to guide us, in hearing what the Lord has to say. The summer is a great time to discover some of the gems that have been written by the saints in church history as well as an opportune time to reflect on the written works of current theologians. The Rosary, with its mysteries focussed on the life of Jesus and Mary, can also be used as a sacramental in discovering the Will of the Lord in our prayer, as can be various novenas to saints. When we ask the Lord for something, we must then be willing to seek what the Lord’s will is, and the best way to do that, is by turning to God’s Word and letting it speak directly to us, as if the passage we read or the inspiration we’ve been given, was meant directly for this particular moment in time.
When we’re seeking the Lord, it’s vital that we acknowledge God’s PRESENCE along with all the angels and saints there with us, and our dependency on God grace for literally everything we’ve been given and all that we hope for in the future. We recognize the Lord’s presence in the tabernacle when we come to church, but we should also recognize the Lord’s presence in the tabernacle of each person’s heart. Just as we reverence the presence of the Lord in the Eucharist, so we are called to reverence the presence of Christ in those gathered around us in prayer.
Preparation for prayer also involves a PROMISE that we make, not to rush our prayer, to give it enough time to be spoken and absorbed, to flow out of us freely and without force, to connect to our emotions and deepest desires, and to allow God’s answer to be revealed in God’s time, and not on our own. Have you ever been to Mass and lost track of time and couldn’t believe that the hour had ended so quickly? It’s at those moments when we were truly praying, because we were so wrapped up in our mystical encounter with the Divine in the Person of Jesus Christ, that time didn’t seem to exist.
Prayer also involves PERSISTENCE. All of us have probably had the experience of asking God many times for something, before God decided to grant whatever it is, we had sought. That’s because God isn’t our servant; we are God’s servants. We can’t boss God around, as if we were higher than God. No, when we pray, we must have the conviction that the Holy Sprit will be poured into our hearts throughout the entire process to aid us in faithfully discerning and then, being 100% generous in our response to God’s will.
God wants us to knock constantly, to boldly make our requests known before his throne of grace, believing in God’s goodness and mercy and his hatred of evil. God wants us to bare our souls every time we pray and to let our souls be open to receiving whatever grace the Lord chooses to impart. In reality, persistence in prayer does more to change our own hearts and minds than it does to change God’s, whose will is perfect and whose mind is all-knowing. Persistent prayer helps us to understand better and to plumb more fully, the depths of the intensity of our needs and to grasp, whether what we’re asking, is really in God’s design.
Every prayer we’ve ever made has had a response, whether we knew it or not. Sometimes, the response we’ve been given isn’t the one we wanted. It may have been a ‘no’ when we wanted a ‘yes.’ It may have been a ‘not now’ when we wanted something right away. It may have been a ‘maybe’ when what we really wanted was a definitive ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Sometimes, God’s answer brought with it further suffering or lament.
Sometimes, God’s answer wasn’t heard because we were so steeped in sin at the time, that God’s will was obfucscated. At other times, we just weren’t ready to hear any response from God and so, it seemed as if God were silent. The worst thing we could do is to give up on praying. The worst thing we could do is to think that God doesn’t care about our problems and that God plays favourites. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.
In his infinite wisdom, God will not grant us something that’s not a part of God’s divine plan for our lives, even if we want it to be. God won’t grant a prayer just to make our lives easy. God won’t appease our desire for more than what we truly need to live out our vocations, either. No, when we pray, we have to approach God with an open, truthful, and humble heart, ready to receive whatever response God gives, in whatever way God gives it, even if it may entail sacrifices or hardship on our part.
That’s where the Holy Spirit comes in. For when we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us to the answer that God gives, we will, in fact, be changed. We’ll be changed by our prayer, whether it was the answer we wanted, or not. We’ll be changed, because God will have given us greater insight into our perceived and actual needs and will have illuminated to us, if even in a mystical way, how God’s answer fits into the next step God has planned for our life’s journey.
So as we prepare for the great privilege of praying to God, let us strive to find the best place, posture and passage. Let us be ever aware of God’s presence among us from start to finish. Let us promise to allow the prayer to last as long as it needs to. Let us be persistent in our approach to God and open to the Holy Spirit who inspires us to respond to God’s will. In this way, our prayer lives will enable us to grow in holiness, day by day, and will help us to accomplish whatever vocations the Lord has entrusted to us.
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