29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jesus told his disciples a parable about the need to pray continually and never lose heart. (Luke 18:1)
Don’t think for a moment that in this parable Jesus is telling us that God is like an unjust judge. No - of course not. He is not teaching us about God, but about prayer.
I remember, many many years ago, being taught that there are four kinds of prayer, which can be remembered by the word ACTS - A is for Adoration, which is Meditation or Worship, C is for Confession, T is for Thanksgiving or Praise, and S is for Supplication or Intercession. And I was also taught that they should be done in that order - worship, adoration must come first … and asking for stuff should only come after thanksgiving.
There are those who think the prayer of intercession is a lower, less worthy form of prayer. After all, isn’t it more than a bit selfish - always asking God for something?
And isn’t also a bit risky - putting God (and for that matter our own faith) to the test? If we ask Him for something, there is the danger we might be disappointed - better, surely to play safe and avoid asking. Isn’t it much better to praise God in prayer, to thank God in prayer, to meditate upon God, or the mysteries of the faith in prayer? These might seem more noble, more inspiring, and after all, less likely to prove disappointing.
But those who think, write and teach that way are making a big mistake, I dare to say. While we certainly should not be selfish in prayer, the prayer of asking, intercession, supplication is by no means a lower kind of prayer.
Prayer is about asking. The very word “prayer” means “asking”. The word “bead” of which the rosary (and other things) is made, comes from the word “bid” and refers to the work of asking God for something in prayer. And even those with only the slightest mustard seeded sized faith can be moved to prayer out of need. The knowledge of God, the stirring of faith, very often begins with the yearning of prayer.
No one should play safe in prayer, or to be afraid to ask of something in prayer. God knows what is in our hearts even before we say it, so prayer should be risky, bold, courageous, because life is risky, faith requires courage, and our hope is in things yet unseen.
In the confessional, people often admit to being distracted in prayer, of failing to meditate on the mysteries of the rosary, or losing track of the beads, or finding themselves at mass thinking of anything but the readings or prayers or - heaven forfend - the homily.
But often, these “distractions” should be prayers, because they are our lives, our concerns - small or great they matter to us - and if they matter to us, they matter to God.
Of course, the prayer of meditation is a good thing - if you can do it. And the prayer of thanksgiving should always emerge from our knowledge that our prayers are heard by God. And the prayer of praise, while it might not be the first reason to pray, always underlies our prayer, because the very asking of prayer comes from the idea of God’s goodness and greatness.
But the prayer of petition, of asking for our needs, is the heart and soul of prayer, because in bringing our needs before God we are inviting him into our lives, we are laying before him our needs, we are sharing with him our hopes. If we have worries, they must be carried to God in prayer, because worries are just prayers we have kept to ourselves and not shared with him. If we have fears, we should bring them into the light of God’s love, that he may lead us out of the darkness. If we have troubles, we must take them to Christ in prayer, that he may shoulder our burdens as we carry his cross.
In prayer, Christ joins us in our lives. He sits at our table as we eat, by our sides as we travel, in our homes as we rest. He holds our hands in our labours, hugs us in our joys, and dries our tears in our sadness.
All we need to do is pray. All we need to do is ask. And never give up on Him. For he never gives up on us.