A tale is told about a small town that had always been “dry.” One day, however, a local businessman erected a tavern. A group of Christians from a local Church were concerned and they convened an all-night prayer meeting to ask God to intervene. It just so happened that shortly thereafter lightning struck the tavern burning it down to the ground. The owner of the bar sued the Church, claiming that the prayers of the congregation were responsible, but the Church hired a lawyer to argue in court that they were not responsible. The presiding judge, after his initial review of the case, stated, “No matter how this case comes out, one thing is clear: the tavern owner believes in prayer and the Christians do not.”
The main themes of today’s Scripture readings are the power of intercessory prayer, the Our Father as the ideal prayer, and the necessity for persistence and perseverance in prayer with trusting faith and boldness. In short, they teach us what to pray and how to pray.
The first reading, taken from the book of Genesis, gives us the model for intercessory prayer provided by Abraham in his dialogue with God. Abraham is not afraid to ask God for what he wants. He does not hold back or stand on ceremony. Far from being reserved or polite, he attacks the conversation with God with an aggressiveness that can only be compared to a customer bartering with a merchant in a Near-Eastern bazaar. His example shows us that we are not only called to pray, but called to pray with our whole heart and soul. We are called to pray as if our life and the life of others depended upon it. Therefore, the intensity and the self-interest with which Abraham prays poses to us a fundamental question.
I would simply ask, “Do you pray?” I am not asking whether you say prayers (we all do that) but do you pray? Do you entrust to God some of the needs of your life with anything approaching the intensity and the sincerity of Abraham?
In the Gospel passage, after teaching a model prayer, Jesus instructs his disciples to pray to God their Heavenly Father with the same boldness, daring, intimacy, conviction, persistence and perseverance Abraham displayed and the friend in need in the parable employed. He gives us the assurance that God will not be irritated by our requests or unwilling to meet them with generosity.
The need to pray, is not only for saints. It is for all of us. Even Jesus, who is God Himself and always in communion with the Father, He prayed. Mary, the Mother of God who is sinless, prayed. Our Muslim brothers and sisters also pray for five times in a day and so with Hindus. How much more for us who claim to be followers of Christ and are baptized Christians?
A person claiming to be a Christian wrote to the “Letters to the Editor section” of a newspaper. In his letter, he complained that it did not make sense for him anymore to go to the Church every Sunday. He explained: ‘I’ve gone to Church for thirty years now and heard something like 3,000 sermons. But throughout my life, I can’t remember any single one of them. So I think I’m wasting my time and the priests are wasting theirs too by giving one at all.’
It became a controversial issue that it went on for days and even weeks with many people reacting to agree or disagree with his opinion. But somebody wrote an enlightening. It said: ‘I have been married for thirty years now. In that time my wife cooked 32,000 meals. But throughout my life, I cannot recall what the menu was for a single one of those meals. But I do know this; they all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to do my work. If my wife had not given me those meals, I would be dead today.
May be we also have so many questions when we pray. Like for example, what I do I get from praying? Why do I continue praising God when sometimes He doesn’t seem to hear and give what I ask for from Him? Certainly, God has His positive reasons even if our requests have negative answers. There is no such thing as unanswered prayers. All our prayers are being answered. In today’s gospel, Jesus says: “Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you,” (v. 9). God never says lies and He is faithful to all His promises.
Now I know that many people here pray often and well. You ask me for prayers and you pray for me. Thank you. Dear friends! I want you to know: Prayer is never wasted. Every time we pray, we remember who we are, that we are beloved daughters and sons of God. And every time we pray, we grow more sensitive and attentive to the beauty and power of God’s action among us. Therefore never cancel your prayer time.