The Book of Genesis 18:20-32

St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians 2:12-14

The holy Gospel according to Luke 11:1-13


He asked me if I prayed.  What an odd question, I thought; I’m a seminarian, aren’t I, preparing to be a priest?  My response was, “Of course I pray.”  But my confessor persisted and asked, “How?”

I have never forgotten that evening of Spiritual Direction.  The how question stunned me.  I stammered and finally came up with the rosary and some other prayers that I had memorized, prayers I used frequently then.  It became clear that my answer was not satisfactory.

“That would make your prayer experience something akin to sitting down with a friend and having the only conversation be a reading from someone else’s text.

“Would you do that?”

I realized then that I didn’t know the first thing about prayer as he thought of it.  I had always been content to pray using someone else’s words.  That was true even of the “Hail Mary,” or “The Lord’s Prayer.” 

“Try something new.  Try speaking from your heart!”

It is many years later as I write to you now.  And over those years I have struggled with the art of praying, if you will, and have come to the conclusion that praying is much more about being silent than it is about saying words.  Isn’t it true that when you are in the presence of someone you love, someone who has been a part of your life for some time, a test of the solidity of the relationship is whether or not the two of you are comfortable in the silence?  Does one of you have to be talking all the time?  Or, can you both just be in each other’s presence knowing that you are with someone you love and someone who loves you in return?

Do you pray?  If the answer is, “Yes,” then my next question is the same one that was asked of me: ”How do you pray?”  The answer is for you only.  So think about that for a few moments before you continue reading this.  Then, think about that as you listen to this Sunday’s First Reading and the Gospel.

Could you imagine yourself in a conversation with God similar to the one Abraham has with God in the First Reading?  Don’t miss the gravity contained in the first sentence.  Something terrible has been going on in Sodom.  The sin cries to God in outrage.  Sodom’s sin is serious.  We would use the term mortal sin to classify what was going on there.  God is moved by the cries and comes down from heaven to review the situation.  Don’t lose sight of that as you read or hear what follows.

Obviously Abraham is comfortable talking with God when he asks if it is God’s intention to annihilate Sodom and all its inhabitants, guilty and innocent alike.  He dares to wonder if God did that, wouldn’t people change their opinion about God and see God as vengeful and forbidding?

Abraham puts it before God that surely God would spare the city for the sake of fifty innocent people.  God agrees that the city would be spared for the sake of the fifty, if there were fifty innocent ones.  Abraham lowers the number, time after time, and each time God agrees that the city would be spared for that number, too.  Finally, Abraham asks if God would spare the city if there were only ten innocent people there.  And once again, God says that the city would be spared even for the sake of the ten.

Abraham has persisted in prayer.  That’s what the conversation with God was, after all, intercessory prayer.  God responded favorably to Abraham’s pleas for Sodom. 

Jesus is a man of prayer.  Especially in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus goes off by himself to spend long periods of time in prayer.  On occasion he spends the whole night in prayer.  You will notice that prayer precedes major turning points in Jesus’ public ministry.  Remember, he spent forty days and forty nights in the desert, fasting and praying in preparation for the work the Father had sent him to do.  There must have been something fascinating about the sight of Jesus caught up in the prayer moment because, after watching him, the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray.

Jesus responds by teaching them the themes that should be parts of their prayer, what they should have in mind whenever they pray.  What we hear in Luke’s Gospel emerges as a modified Lord’s Prayer.  In reality, Jesus is telling the disciples what should be part of every prayer they pray.  It is clear that Jesus wants the disciples to remember to whom it is that they are praying.  “When you pray, say: Father.”  Jesus wants the disciples to remember that they have that relationship with God.  Father speaks volumes about God’s attitude toward the one who prays.

I’ll share another moment of Amazing Grace.  A stranger and I happened to be standing near the Baptismal Font.  For a moment, as the evening light came through the stained glass windows above us, we were transfixed by the sound of the water cascading into the pool.  Neither of us wanted to break the spell.  After a few minutes had passed, he said to me, “Beautiful, isn’t it?  Imagine the centuries the font has been a symbol of hope and new beginning for our church; it is both a tomb and a womb. 

“Do you know what I believe?  When the newly baptized emerge from the font where they have died to sin and have entered a new life in Christ, God loves them with the same love God has for Christ.  In fact, I wonder if God can see them in any other light but in their likeness to Christ.”

Every time I am near a font, each time I pause to bless myself with the water, I remember what that man said.  Being one of the baptized, I want to remember what he said.  And that’s what Jesus meant when he said, “When you pray, say, Father.”  We should go before God with the confidence that a child has in his father. 

Our conversation at the Font that long-ago evening concluded with these words.  “Can you really believe that God loves you that much?  And if you can, why are you afraid?”  When I am afraid, I still wonder why.

Jesus came as the full revelation of God and so bring God’s love and mercy to all.  His desire is that all people hear him and believe, and, in hearing and believing, accept their relationship with God.  We ought to stand in awe before god.  God is a god of majesty, wonder, and power, the creator of the universe, God who created human kind in God’s image and likeness.  Jesus wants all who hear him to accept the reign of God in their lives.  That’s what we mean when we pray, “Your kingdom come.”  May all people come to know God, God’s love and desire to forgive, and live as God’s people.  That is God’s Kingdom, God’s reign begun here on Earth.

“Give us each day our daily bread.”  That means that each day we are supposed to pray for what we need to survive.  There is nothing here about excess.  There is nothing here about praying to win the Lotto, or a football game, for that matter.  God is the one from whom all blessings flow.  When we sit to table and prepare to break bread, as we gaze at the bounty before us, we should see evidence of God’s bountiful love for us.  It’s not a bad idea to pray before the meal begins and to give thanks, not only for the meal, but also for the grace that brought you together with those with whom you are eating, making them family and friends. 

All is blessing.  Our prayer ought to include all those who live in poverty and lack even the essentials.  Pray that our awareness of God’s bountiful love will inspire those with plenty to share with those with those without.  (This has been Pope Francis’s constant theme.)  There is no reason why anyone should die of famine.  The sad thing is, it is the lust for profit that gets in the way.

“Forgive us our sins for we forgive everyone in debt to us.”  It amazes me that people do not struggle with this theme of prayer.  There are times when I hope that God will be more generous in forgiving me than I am in coming to forgiveness.  I think of people who have exhibited extraordinary grace in forgiving.  Parents forgive those who have killed their children.  People forgive those who defrauded them of their savings.  Survivors forgive those who held them in captivity in prison camps and killed their families and friends in the gas chambers.  I ask myself, “Could I do that?”  Then how can it be a struggle for me to forgive those who have offended or betrayed me?  Then I struggle to find the way to forgive and pray that the Lord sees my struggle and grants me the grace to do it – someday.  I also believe that some things God expects of us can only happen with the help of grace.  That’s why Jesus bathed us in the Spirit.

“And do not subject us to the final test.”  In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus, during the final moments of his agony on the cross becomes our supreme example of the application of this theme of prayer.  Hanging on that gibbet, his life’s blood draining from him, and threatened by the darkness enveloping him, Jesus cries out, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”  Jesus leaps into the chasm that is that darkness confident that the Father will rescue him and raise him up.  He triumphs in the final test.  Each one of us will have a final moment.  We will be suspended between time and eternity.  If only our final breath can be like Jesus’ and, confidant that we are God’s beloveds, in our dying moment, may we take that final leap of faith.

The little parable that Jesus tells following his outline of prayer doesn’t need much comment.  It is pretty obvious that Jesus wants us to understand that if a friend can beseech a friend for a favor at an inconvenient hour and, persevering, have that favor granted for friendship’s sake, how much more will God, who loves us as God loves Christ, out-do even our best friends in generosity if we persevere in prayer. 

But wait a minute.  Again, it is clear that this generosity is not about things.  “How much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask God?”  This is about praying for the gift of faith; the grace to believe what our prayer should be about.  Jesus is telling us that whether we are experiencing times of powerful temptation to go against God’s will for us, or whether we are in that final moment we spoke of above, God’s love will embrace us, strengthen us, and, because of the gift of the Holy Spirit’s influence. We will be strengthened to be faithful.  We will trust in God’s mercy to the very end – if we pray for it.

A final note: We could come to the wrong conclusion on the basis of the final paragraph of this pericope.  Jesus says that everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks, finds.  The same is true for those who knock.  This is true when we are praying for those things that should be constant themes of our prayer.  Our challenge is to trust that God, who knows our needs better than we do, will provide what is necessary for our salvation.  And God knows that even before we ask for it.

Maybe that is why silence becomes such an important part of prayer.



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