(Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Park Ridge: Sunday 8am; Saint Catherine’s Church, Jimboomba: Sunday 5:30pm)
20 October 2013
(Readings: Ex 17:8-13; Ps 120; 2 Tim 3:14-4:2; Lk 18:1-8)
Our readings today speak to us about our prayers of petition. In the first reading, Moses asks God to give victory to his people over the enemy, Amalek; in the Gospel, the widow asks the judge for justice. Asking God for things is probably a form of prayer we are most used to. It sits alongside other forms of praying: namely, thanksgiving, adoration and praise, contemplation. What’s going on when we make petitionary prayer?
One aspect of asking God for things is that it manifests to God our desires. We pray for what we want; what we think we need; what we desire. From this point of view, the prayer of petition, then, is a form of honesty before God. We are manifesting to God what is in our heart, what our desires are.
We all have all sorts of desires: some noble, some less so. In manifesting them to God we allow them come under God’s gaze. And in that light, they can be purified. As we bring to God our desires and wishes in our prayers of petition, we can allow God to help us see which of those are unimportant, and even which of them are distorted. With God’s help, those that are truly important can come to the fore.
Some people might “object that petitionary prayer makes God into a behind-the-scenes wonder-worker, always at hand … to pull us out of the mess we make of things. In point of fact, according to the Gospels, God is always at hand to pull us out of such messes. He is our Saviour. As the Psalmist says, ‘He brings us up out of the pit, from the miry clay; he sets our feet upon a rock and makes our footsteps firm.’” (1) If we didn’t ask God for his help in these situations, we would be suggesting that we don’t need a Saviour – in fact, we might be suggesting that we save ourselves. Prayer of petition reminds us that it is God who is our saviour, and that God (not us) is the Lord of human life.
Many times over the years, I have seen that an answer to prayer comes after we’ve been praying for something for a long time, but eventually we reach a point of surrender. We might have been clinging to something, or attached to something in an unhelpful way … but eventually we truly let go and place whatever it is in God’s hands. When we are truly humble (or humbled) to do that, then the answer to the prayer is obviously God’s doing, because we have let go, and God is able to be God.
Petitionary prayer also teaches us patience and perseverance. We might petition God for something for years. This teaches us that God’s plan is perfect: that in God there is a time for everything. Again, it teaches us that we are not our own Master.
Another thing that petitionary prayer does is that it conforms us more closely with Christ himself. When Moses arms are raised in prayer, they foreshadow other arms that will be raised between heaven and earth: those of Christ on the cross. It was with outstretched arms on the Cross that Jesus won the battle against the ancient enemy. It was on the Cross, with arms stretched wide, that Jesus petitioned God to forgive those who had done this to him. “His fight, his arms raised to the Father and wide open for the world, ask for other arms, other hearts that continue to offer themselves with his same love until the end of the world.” (Benedict XVI)
As we petition God, especially as we pray for others and take their needs and intentions to God, we assume the position of Christ whose arms were raised to the Father and were wide open for the world, and our hearts beat with his love for his people.
So let us persevere in prayer, and pray unceasingly for ourselves and for others. As we do this, may our hearts be enlarged with the love of Christ, so that this love will flow in us more easily, and through us may touch the world for whom he lived and died.
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(1) Aidan Nichols OP, Year of the Lord’s Favour: A Homiliary for the Roman Liturgy, Volume 3: The Temporal Cycle, Sundays through the Year, Balwyn, VIC., Freedom, 2012