SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY, YEAR C.
THE POWER TO ASK, SEARCH AND TO KNOCK
As God's children, we have been given the power to ask, search and to knock in God's presence. Whereas divine mercy is part of the message in the dialogue between Abraham and God in the first reading, the power of intercession stands out prominently. Abraham plays the role of foreign secretary for Sodom and Gomorrah (You know how Secretary Kerry negotiates on behalf of America). Abraham negotiates on Sodom and Gomorrah's behalf. He bargains hard for their forgiveness. He beats down the price of divine punishment. Scripture says, "Abraham remained standing before the Lord". Abraham demonstrates persistence in a very humble manner before God thus, "Are you really going to destroy the just man with the sinner?". This was the premise for requesting God to spare the city of Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of the very few just persons in the city- fifty, forty five, thirty, twenty and finally ten. God is patient with Abraham. He doesn't send him away. He shows he is real father ready to spare his people from punishment. Abraham reflects commitment to prayer in the life of God's followers.
Let us compare Sodom and Gomorrah with Nineveh in the bible. Sodom and Gomorrah committed grave sins against God and humanity. Nineveh also committed grave sins. God planned to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of their sins, so also Nineveh. God gave Sodom and Gomorrah time to repent even if he saw very few innocent men in the city. He listened to Abraham patiently on their behalf. God sent Jonah to announce the destruction of Nineveh after forty days. While Sodom and Gomorrah would not repent, Nineveh threw in their might and turned to God. While Abraham interceded for Sodom and Gomorrah, the people of Nineveh rose in prayer and fasting to ask for divine mercy and forgiveness. On hearing Jonah's prophecy of doom, the king of Nineveh declared, "All must put on sackcloth and call on God with all their might... Who knows? Perhaps God will change his mind and relent and renounce his burning wrath, so that we shall not perish" (Jonah 3:8-10). The people of Nineveh called on God with all "their might", and God spared them. That's the power of prayer.
In the gospel, Christ gives a compelling story on persistence in prayer. A friend visits his friend to ask for favor in the middle of the night. The other friend pretends to have slept and tells his friend not to bother him. Christ says persistence can make the friend get up to respond to his friend's request.
There are questions people usually ask from time to time about prayer namely:
How can my prayers be more powerful? Is there a secret formula? Does God really answer prayers?
In answering the question, how can my prayers be more powerful, we need to acknowledge the state of mind of the one praying. Prayer and holiness go together. Abraham is able to persist before God because he is upright. In the words of Saint James, "The heartfelt prayer of the upright works very powerfully" (Jas.5:16). The prophet Isaiah says, "The arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear, but your guilty deeds have made a gulf between you and your God. Your sins have made him hide his face from you, so as not to hear you" (Is.59:1-2). "Holiness", according to the Psalmist, "is fitting in God's house" (Ps.93:5). It is important to keep God's commandment in order to communicate with him.This makes repentance and reconciliation important in the life of the Christian. In a normal human relationship, if you love someone or are friends with someone, you try not to make the person feel bad, you do what she likes. When we sin, we offend God, we feel less worthy to come before him in prayer.
The next is to pray persistently (cf. Rom.12:13; Col.4:2; 1Thes.5:17). Christ challenges us, "Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you". Although God knows our needs, we still have to ask for what we need. Asking, searching and knocking are active actions that demonstrate commitment. They communicate relationship with God. Asking, searching and knocking are expressions of faith. Jesus teaches, "…I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you" (Matthew 17:20).
What is the secret formula for prayer? We have to recognize that prayer flows from innermost thoughts and feelings of the individual who prays. Hence no one can express your feelings better than you. That's one criticism that the Catholic Church faces because she is accused of setting guided prayer patterns for her faithful. Having a guide for prayers is not bad. The church helps to direct the mind and attention of the individual to God in prayer. Christ says today, "Say this when you pray, 'Father, may your name be held holy, your kingdom come; give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive each one who is in debt to us. And do not put us to the test". Christ set a guide for his disciples on prayer. Christ taught his disciples to pray. John taught his disciples how to pray. The church teaches her followers how to pray.
Let us recognize today the challenges to and the importance of prayer in our lives. Prayer can be a difficult action because it deals with God who is invisible. God is not seen, so sometimes the person who prays is uncertain whether he is communicating. Some times, the individual feels nothing, she is distracted. She can't concentrate because God seems abstract. It is easier to deal with electronic gadgets, easier to be on the computer, easier to browse, easier to play games, easier to engage in social media, easier to tweet, do Facebook, than to pray. It is easier to post pictures on Instagram, easier to snapchat than to pray. The reason is that these activities can be entertaining whereas prayer is not. But we have make our relationship with God real. If a relationship is alive and real, it becomes interesting. God is not just a concept, he is a reality. He is our Father. He sees us. He hears us. He directs us. He blesses us. He shepherds us. Christ says, "Pray like this: Our Father, who art in heaven". He invites us to ask of him what we need.
We must therefore, be persistent in prayer. Like Abraham, we must remain standing in God's presence. We must stand before him at all times- morning afternoon and night. We must stand before God in faith. We must present our intentions constantly. We can pray for various intentions: for ourselves and for others. Abraham prayed for Sodom and Gomorrah.The friend in the Gospel prayed for his own needs.
So we can come to God with different intentions at different times. The important issue is to be convinced that our Father listens to us and hears us. Kneel by your bedside and pray. When you feel distracted, bring your intentions to God. Sit on that distraction, tell God to deal with it. Don't deny that you feel distracted. Complain to your Father the way you feel. Pray as family. Join hands as family members and talk to God your father. Present your concerns before him. Name your family concerns. Tell them to him. He answers prayers according to his will.
May God give us the grace to ask, to search and to knock. May he listen to us as we ask. May he show his loving presence to us as we seek him. May he open his door of love, mercy and goodness as we knock. Amen.