A woman named Jan wrote about a time when she and her family, and some friends of theirs, celebrated Father’s Day by going fishing along the Missouri River. The oldest boy in the other family, named Jonathan, was eager to try out his brand new fishing pole, which he had securely placed in a pole holder pushed down into the sand after making a cast. However, he afterwards discovered to his alarm the pole was missing, and no one could find it. In the midst of everyone’s agitation, Jan’s oldest daughter, nine-year-old Lisa, said to her, “Mom, you always tell us to pray when we lose something. Let’s all ask Jesus to help us find the pole now.” In describing what happened next, Jan wrote, “She was confident that God would help. At that point, I was torn. Yes, it was true I always had the kids pray when we lost something at home, but this was the Missouri River! I did not want her to be disappointed and look foolish. I also thought I was defending God and did not want to put Him to the test. Regardless, there was no stopping Lisa’s sure faith. She led the group prayer asking God to please help Jonathan find his fishing pole. Immediately after we all prayed, Jonathan’s father, Mark, cast his line into the river. It caught on something. Mark quickly reeled it in as everyone watched. His hook had caught on another fishing line. To everyone’s surprise, he pulled in Jonathan’s new pole which also had a very large carp on the end of the line. ‘I’m sorry, Lord,’ I laughed and then humbly resolved: ‘I won’t second-guess You again or try to protect You. I realize now You can take care of Yourself’” (Amazing Grace for the Catholic Heart, p. 16).
Sometimes we may think that God doesn’t want to be bothered by our needs and concerns, or we might fear that He’ll consider them trivial and unimportant. However, one of the reasons Jesus came to earth was to teach us that this attitude is mistaken. As a loving Father, God is happy to answer our sincere prayers, and we pay Him a great compliment when we trust Him enough to ask for whatever we need.
Many times we might be so busy guarding against the temptation of pride that we fall prey to a very different temptation: thinking ourselves unworthy of God’s attention, unworthy to play an important role in His plan of salvation, and unworthy to serve Him in any significant way. The readings for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time tell us, however, that everyone who truly seeks to know and serve the Lord is acceptable to Him. This message is stated very clearly in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (56:1, 6-7) and developed in St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans (11:13-15, 29-32); while the Jews are God’s chosen people, everyone else is also invited to accept His gift of salvation and eternal life. It’s in Matthew’s Gospel (15:21-28) that one of the practical implications of this truth is demonstrated. A foreign woman begged Jesus for a miracle. He pretended to ignore her so as to test her, and she passed the test in a glorious way, demonstrating both faith in His divine power and perseverance in her request. Her faith was rewarded, and her example is one the Lord wants us to imitate.
A Christian evangelist named John Rice wrote, “I once imagined I was in Heaven. Walking along with the Angel Gabriel, I asked, ‘Gabe, what is that big building there?’ ‘You’ll be disappointed,’ he answered. ‘I don’t think you want to see it.’ But I insisted, and he [took me inside and] showed me floor after floor of beautiful gifts, all wrapped and ready to be sent [down to people on earth]. ‘Gabriel, what are all these?’ I inquired. He said, I thought rather sadly, ‘We wrapped all these things, but people never called for them’” (Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, & Quotes, p. 630). God is not honored when we practice false humility, or act as if we’re unworthy of His help, or seem to be afraid to present our needs to Him in prayer—yet that often happens. When the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. Catherine Labouré in 1830, the saint noticed Our Lady was wearing a beautiful ring encrusted with many gems. From some of these diamonds and rubies and precious stones, beautiful rays of many different colors were streaming forth, but other gems appeared gray and lifeless. When St. Catherine asked the meaning of this, Our Lady explained that the colored rays of light represented various graces being sent to people in response to their prayers; the gray stones, however, stood for blessings Jesus wanted to bestow on His people through her, but which were unasked for by anyone, and thus wasted.
We should never be afraid to ask for help from Heaven, whether in big things or little ones, in spiritual matters or everyday concerns, for ourselves and for others. God is a loving Father, so it’s only right that we should ask Him to help us become holier and more loving persons. Because Jesus Himself experienced many of the same things we do, it’s quite natural and proper that we ask Him to help us bear our crosses each day. Since Our Lord promised that the Holy Spirit would help us in this regard, we should ask the Spirit to give us the right words to say whenever we’re in a tense, challenging, or confusing situation. Moreover, the Virgin Mary loves each of us with a mother’s love, and we please and honor Jesus when we ask for her intercession and help. Our guardian angels are assigned to protect us, and so we should ask them—and other members of the angelic court—to guide us and guard us in dangerous situations, or whenever we feel something isn’t quite right. The saints are our heavenly friends, and will gladly pray for us and help us when we ask; in particular, we should pray to our patron saints, our favorite saints, and the saint whose feast day the Church is celebrating on any given day.
Obviously, seeking assistance and favors mustn’t be the only reason we pray; you wouldn’t like it if a so-called friend only spoke to you when he or she needed something, and otherwise ignored you. We should also pray in order to praise and adore God, to thank Him for His blessings, and to express our sorrow and ask forgiveness for our sins. As long as we’re doing all this, however, we needn’t hesitate to ask for whatever we need in a spirit of loving trust, and in that same spirit of perseverance demonstrated by the Canaanite woman. Our prayers will be answered—not necessarily in the way we want or expect, but always in the way that’s truly best for us. God is love, and He delights in expressing His love by giving good things to His children in answer to their prayers. This truth is part of the Good News of salvation. It’s up to us to let this truth also be part of our lives.