17th Sunday of the Year Genesis 18:20–32; Colossians 2:12–14; Luke 11:1–13
Prayer: A share in God’s power Prayer gives us a share in God’s power.
Jim Johnson was given the job of saving a failing hotel. Other managers had tried, but unsuccessfully. The hotel was in a now-or-never situation. Jim decided to try something different.
Each night he drove to the top of a hill overlooking the hotel and the city. He parked his car and sat there for the next 20 minutes praying.
Jim prayed for the hotel guests, relaxing behind the lighted windows. He prayed for the hotel employees and for their families. He prayed for the people who did business with the hotel. Finally, he prayed for the city and its people.
Night after night, Jim drove to the top of the hill. And night after night, he parked his car and prayed the same prayer.
Soon the situation at the hotel started to improve. A new confidence radiated from its employees. A new warmth welcomed and greeted each new guest. A new spirit permeated its operation. The hotel experienced a remarkable rebirth.
Norman Vincent Peale, who tells the story, credits the hotel’s rebirth to the nightly prayer of Jim Johnson. He ends his story with a fascinating thought: If the prayer of one man could transform a hotel, think how the prayer of one nation could transform the world.
That true story captures the spirit of today’s Scripture readings. It also raises several questions:
What place does prayer have in our own lives? What does the Gospel say about prayer? What does Jesus say about prayer?
We find four different types of prayer described in the Gospel. People sometimes refer to them by the words ACTS, which is formed by taking the first letter of each type of prayer: A, adoration; C, contrition; T, thanksgiving; and S, supplication.
In the prayer of adoration, we acknowledge God as God. For example, in the Gospel of John we find Thomas falling on his knees and saying to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” John 20:28
In the prayer of contrition, we acknowledge ourselves for what we are: sinners in need of God’s mercy.
In the prayer of thanksgiving, we acknowledge God’s many gifts to us. Thus we find Jesus himself praying, “Father, Lord of heaven and earth! I thank you. . . .” Luke 10:21 (TEV)
Finally, in the prayer of supplication, we acknowledge our need for God’s help. Thus we find Jesus teaching his disciples, “Ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.” Luke 11:9
It is significant that when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, Jesus taught them the Lord’s Prayer.
This prayer blends together all four prayer types. We adore God, saying, “Our Father in heaven: May your holy name be honored. . . .”
We express contrition, saying, “Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us.”
Oddly enough, the Our Father does not contain an explicit reference to thanking God. Scholars explain this by pointing out that Jews regarded the prayer of adoration as a prayer of thanksgiving, also.
They reasoned that when we adore God, we acknowledge him for what he is and for what he has done for us. Implicit in this acknowledgment is our gratitude to him for being what he is and for giving us what he has.
Finally, supplication is asking God for the things we need. Thus we say in the Our Father, “Give us today the food we need.”
Sometimes people ask, “Does asking God for things, or asking him to do things, imply that we persuade God to change his mind about doing certain things?’’
The answer to this question is obviously no. God doesn’t need human wisdom to guide him. Nor does he need human persuasion to get him to do what is good and right.
Why, then, do we pray for things?
Blaise Pascal, the famous 17th-century French mathematician, answered that question this way: “Prayer is one of the ways that God chose to share his infinite power with us.’’
Just as God’s gift of intelligence gives each one of us power, so his gift of prayer gives us power.
In other words, God set up the universe in such a way that we can influence it not only by the exercise of human intelligence but also by the exercise of human prayer.
Not every person can influence human affairs by the power of his or her intelligence. But every person even one with a low I.Q. can influence human affairs by the power of prayer that God shares with us.
God has made us more than spectators to his creative power. He has given us a share in it. This is part of what it means to be made in the “image and likeness’’ of God.
Alexis Carrel, the Nobel prize winning surgeon, summed up the power and role of prayer this way:
“Prayer is a mature activity indispensable to the fullest development of personality. Only in prayer do we achieve that complete and harmonious assembly of body, mind, and spirit which gives the frail human reed unshakeable strength.’’ Let’s close with a prayer of supplication to Jesus:
Voice of Jesus, call us when we stray.Eyes of Jesus,look upon us when we need encouragement.Face of Jesus,smile upon us when we need assurance.
Hands of Jesus,anoint us when we grow weary.Arms of Jesus, lift us up when we stumble.Blood of Jesus,wash us clean when we grow soiled.
Body of Jesus,feed us when we grow hungry.Heart of Jesus, help us love one another as you have loved us. Series II 17th Sunday of the Year Genesis 18:20–32; Colossians 2:12–14; Luke 11:1–13
The dying man Prayer involves perseverance in asking God for help, and trust that God wants to help us.
In 1909 Father Francis Keller took a long trip to Gillette,Wyoming. He had sent a letter to the Catholic settlers there telling them that he would celebrate Sunday Mass with them. Many settlers hadn’t seen a priest in years.
After Mass, a man said to Father Keller, “Padre, your train doesn’t leave until very late tonight. After you’ve made your rounds, why don’t you come with me for a horseback ride into the hills. They’re beautiful this time of the year.’’
Later that afternoon the two men went for a ride into the hills. After about an hour, they saw a woman waving in the distance. As they approached and the woman saw Father Keller’s collar, a remarkable expression came across her face. She said, “Father, my brother is dying.’’
Her brother was inside a tent, lying on a cot. He was about 35 years old and extremely thin. Next to the cot was a small table with two burning candles on it.
Father Keller heard the man’s confession and anointed him. In those days every priest in the West carried a tiny capsule of holy oil for just such an emergency.
As soon as the priest had administered the two sacraments, the young man closed his eyes in deep peace. He was dead. Afterward the woman said to Father Keller: “Nobody told me that you were saying Mass in Gillette today. But all his life my brother has prayed that a priest would be present at his death to give him the sacraments. This morning, we both prayed one last time for this special grace.’’
Few stories illustrate more dramatically the point that Jesus makes in today’s gospel, when he says:
“Ask, and you will receive;seek, and you will find;knock, and the door will be opened to you. . . .As bad as you are, you know how to give good things to your children. How much more, then, will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
When it comes to asking God for help, we need to keep two things in mind. The first is perseverance in asking. The second is trust that God wants to help us and will help us.
Let’s consider perseverance first.
The issue here isn’t that God needs to be persuaded to help us. God knows what we need even before we ask.
Rather, perseverance is a sign of trust that God can and will help us, and a sign of how seriously we want God’s help.
Nowhere is this point better illustrated than in the story of the 35-year-old dying man. He had prayed trustingly all his life that at the time of his death he would receive the sacraments at the hands of a priest. This brings us to the second point. Besides persevering in prayer, we must really trust that God wants to help us.
In a sense this is the most important ingredient in prayer.
For without it we are not likely to persevere in prayer.
Monsignor Arthur Tonne tells a beautiful story to illustrate the kind of trust we must have that God wants to help us.
A wealthy man had a 12-year-old son. The boy had everything he could want except for one thing: a brother.
More than anything else, the boy wanted a brother to be with, to talk with, to share his father’s gifts with. He often talked with his father about this. But his father simply listened, making no promises at all.
Then one day, without telling his son, the father contacted an adoption agency and adopted a poor, 11-year-old boy.
From the start the two boys got along as if they were blood brothers. Both were happy beyond their fondest dreams: the son by birth, because he now had a brother, and the adopted son, because he now had a family.
One day the two boys were outside tossing a football. After a while the adopted boy said to his new brother: “Gee, I wish my old friend Kenny had a football like this. He really likes football, but his father can’t afford to get him one.’’ He then told his brother about Kenny and what a wonderful friend he had been.
After a while, his brother said, “Why don’t you ask Dad to get him one?’’
The adopted boy said, “But I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t impose on your father like that.
He’s given me so much already. I couldn’t ask him for still more.’’
Then his brother said, “Don’t forget! My dad is now your dad, too! He gives me whatever I need. He wants me to communicate with him and to let him know how I feel and what I think I need.
“If he thinks that something isn’t good for me, he tells me. And sometimes he gives me even more than I ask for.
“Dad wants you to do the same thing. He wants you to communicate with him. You’re his son now, just as I am. He wants you to let him know how you feel and what you think you need.’’
Jesus tells us the same thing. He says:
“My Father is now your Father!” “Ask, and you will receive; . . . knock, and the door will be opened to you.” Based on Luke 11:1–13
My brothers and sisters, the incredible reality is that you and I are the adopted brothers and sisters of Jesus. God is our Father, as much as God is the Father of Jesus.
This is the good news of today’s gospel. This is what we celebrate together in this liturgy.
We celebrate the incredible fact that our Father wants to give us all kinds of gifts. God asks of us just two things: to persevere in asking for God’s help, and to trust that God wants to help us.
Series III 17th Sunday of the Year Genesis 18:20–32, Colossians 2:12–14, Luke 11:1–13
Prayer of petition Don’t be afraid to ask.
Jesus said,] “And so I say to you: Ask, and you will receive.” Luke 11:9
Joan Wester Anderson wrote a book entitled Where Angels Walk. It’s a collection of amazing true stories that was on the New York Times best-seller list for a number of weeks.
One of the stories is about Anderson’s own son, Tim. He and two college friends decided to drive home for Christmas, from Connecticut to Chicago.
Weather reports warned against going outside into the record subzero weather even for a few minutes.
When the boys reached Fort Wayne, Indiana, they stopped to drop off one friend. Tim and the other friend then headed for the Indiana tollway by a rural route.
Suddenly, in the midst of nowhere, their car sputtered and died. They tried to restart it but couldn’t. Looking around, they saw no sign of light in any direction. Within minutes, the temperature inside the car dropped below freezing.
The boys grew frightened and began to pray: “Well, God, it’s up to you. We need your help badly.” Then, out of nowhere, there appeared a pair of headlights at the rear of the car. Neither boy saw the headlights approach, even though the landscape was flat and the night was pitch black.
A few seconds later, a man bundled up in heavy clothes tapped on the car window, calling out, “Need a tow?”
The boys couldn’t believe their ears. The man was a tow-truck operator. They shouted back, “We sure do! Could you tow us back to Fort Wayne?”
Arriving back at their friend’s house, the boys ran inside to borrow money to pay the tow-truck operator.
When they came outside again, they stopped dead in their tracks. There was no sign of the tow truck. And the only tire tracks in the freshly fallen snow were those of their own car.
That amazing story defies explanation. Just as amazing is what was unfolding in the Anderson home in Illinois at the time of the episode.
Joan was anticipating a phone call from the boys. When no call came, she did what every mother does. She started worrying. She wrote later:
I pictured them on a desolate road. What if they were having car problems or lost their way? And if they had been delayed, why hadn’t Tim phoned? Restlessly I paced and prayed. . . . “God, send someone to help them.”
J oan’s prayer brings us to today’s Gospel and Jesus’ parable of a man who keeps knocking at the door of his friend’s house to get him to open the door and give him some loaves of bread.
The point of the parable is that we should persevere in asking God for help, just as the man in the parable persevered in knocking at the door of his friend’s house.
Jesus concludes his parable, saying, “And so I say to you: Ask, and you will receive.”
That raises a question. Can we persuade God to change his mind, depending on whether or not we asked him to do so?
C. S. Lewis answers that question in an essay entitled “Efficacy of Prayer.” He says that God does not need our human wisdom to guide him or our human persuasion to make him do what is good. Nor does he need our human power to get things done.
For example, God could heal our bodies without having doctors to operate on us. And God could feed our bodies without having farmers grow food to nourish us.
The fact is, however, that God chose not to set up the universe in that way. He chose not to make us spectators of his wisdom and power. Rather, he chose to share with us his power to heal people and feed people by both our prayers and our actions.
This is part of what Scripture means when it says God created us in his image and likeness. God’s “gift of prayer” to us is a “conferral of power” upon us, just as God’s “gift of intelligence”to doctors is a “conferral of power” on them.
For example, when a surgeon uses God’s “gift of intelligence” to save my life, this does not mean that the doctor forced God to alter his plan regarding the length of my life.
It simply means that the doctor used his “gift of intelligence” for the purpose for which it was given: to participate in the work of re-creating our world.
It is the same way with prayer. When we ask our heavenly Father for help, we are not trying to persuade him to do something he had not planned to do.
It simply means that we make use of the “gift of prayer” for the purpose for which it was given to us: to participate in the work of re-creating our world.
God has things set up in such a way as to empower us through the “gift of intelligence” and the “gift of prayer” to participate in the work of salvation. Just as a doctor for whatever reason fails in healing someone, so our prayers for whatever reason seem to fail at times.
That raises the question of so-called unanswered prayers. I say “so-called” because some people say God answers all our prayers, but often the answer is “No.”
I don’t believe that at all. James writes in his letter to the Christians of his time:
[W]hen you pray, you must believe and not doubt . . . that you will receive. 1:6–8
James implies that God answers every prayer in a positive way. In other words, he answers it, but not necessarily in the way we had asked or anticipated. An unknown poet put it this way:
God has given us his holy word that all our prayers are truly heard. We know not if the blessing sought will be granted as we thought. We leave that up to God alone whose wisdom far exceeds our own. But this we know.God always gives us what we request or substitutes a gift far more blest.
J esus said,] “I say to you: Ask, and you will receive.”