A nine-year-old girl—we’ll call her Molly—had just learned about prayer in catechism class, and that very night she had a dream, in which she entered a church and saw three people kneeling while praying. As the girl drew nearer, she saw that beside each person was a dove, and somehow understood that the dove represented that person’s prayer. The first dove was very beautiful, but when Molly tried to pet it, the dove crumbled into dust beneath her touch—and the girl suddenly knew the symbolic meaning: the first person’s prayer, though beautiful on the outside, had no substance to it, and was thus worthless. Then the girl observed the dove beside the second person begin to fly; it gracefully ascended toward the ceiling of the church and was about to fly out an open window and soar to Heaven, but it suddenly lost its strength and fell down to the floor, and Molly understood this represented those prayers that began well, only to fall flat when the mind of the one praying wandered on to other things, with no effort to become re-focused. Finally the girl noticed the third dove. It was not as beautiful as the first one, nor did it begin to ascend as gracefully as the second; in its humility and steadfastness, however, it—unlike the others—continued rising, flew out of the church, and went directly to the throne of God. When Molly awakened, she realized she had been given an important lesson on how to pray (Phil Barnhart, Seasonings for Sermons, p. 133). Both in life, and in prayer, success comes through perseverance—and Our Lord promises that those who refuse to give up, and who proceed with humble confidence, will be rewarded.
Imagine a runner in a race, leading everyone else and having victory in his grasp, who stops running short of the finish line, mistakenly believing he’s already crossed it. As he slows down in a spirit of misplaced confidence, some of the other runners pass him and cross the finish line ahead of him. In such a case, all that runner’s efforts would be wasted, and a great triumph would be thrown away. That will be our fate—if we fail to follow through on our baptismal commitment, or allow our faith to grow weak or flat, or let ourselves drift into a state of lukewarmness or tepidity and merely go through the motions in fulfilling our spiritual and religious responsibilities. St. Paul tells us that we were buried with Christ in baptism, and then raised up with Him—but this does us no good unless we persevere in living the new life Jesus gives us. Contrary to what some Christians believe, salvation is never a once-and-for-all experience, but an ongoing process that requires a continuing commitment on our part. Abraham was one of the greatest religious heroes in history, but it’s possible that even he could have demonstrated a more trusting and persevering faith; if he had gone just a little farther in bargaining with God, perhaps the city of Sodom—despite its wickedness—might have been saved. God would not have been offended by one more request on Abraham’s part, for in the Gospel Jesus speaks of God as a loving Father Who is most receptive to His children’s sincere prayers. Indeed, Our Lord emphasizes the importance and necessity of persevering in prayer—for as He says, “Everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
One year on December 26 a young boy took his new ice skates to a nearby park, sat on a bench, removed his boots, and eagerly put on his Christmas gift, lacing them up tightly. Pushing off against the bench, he maneuvered himself over to a frozen pond and tried to stand upright and then skate, but he kept falling down. An elderly woman out for a walk stopped to watch him. Finally she said to him, “Young man, maybe you should just take off your skates and go on home.” The boy answered her, “Ma’am, I didn’t get these skates to give up with; I got them to learn with” (Tonne, Stories for Sermons, Vol. 9, #323). That boy’s commendable attitude offers us an important reminder: in many areas of life, when we have a goal that’s personally important to us, we’re willing to persevere and practice and try again and again until we achieve success. This should also be true in regard to the things of God—specifically, coming closer to Him, growing spiritually, and learning how to persevere in prayer. Those who give up are guaranteed to fail; those who keep on trying are, with the help of God’s grace, certain to succeed.
In addition to His parable on persistence involving someone needing to borrow bread at midnight, Jesus also gives us the most perfect prayer of all: the Our Father (though we’re more familiar with the version given in St. Matthew’s Gospel, instead of the version from the Gospel of St. Luke). The Our Father, or the Lord’s Prayer, as it’s also called, is short, direct, and straight to the point. However, while Jesus can teach us the right words to pray, it’s up to us to supply the proper spirit. In all things, we must seek God’s glory; at all times, we must remain humble in His sight, while trusting in His loving care for us; at every moment, we must be willing to forgive in His Name, so that we in turn may receive His forgiveness. Only in this way can we be sure our prayer will rise to up our Father’s throne in Heaven and be pleasing to Him.
Whether our favorite or easiest or most comfortable style of prayer is the Rosary or the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, or the recitation of prayers printed in a book, whether at home or in church, or meditating on a passage of Scripture, or participating in Eucharistic Adoration, or praying alone or with others, or using our imagination to place ourselves in one of the scenes from the Gospels, or simply telling the Lord whatever happens to be in our hearts at any given moment, our efforts to pray will truly be blessed and successful, as long as we proceed in a spirit of humility, trust, and persistence. It is impossible for God not to respond to an honest and sincere prayer—not necessarily in the way we’re hoping for or expecting, but always in the way that’s truly best for us. We need never try to impress Him with our prayer (and we certainly shouldn’t try to impress other people), and if we discover our mind is wandering, we should gently get it back on track, or even incorporate the distraction into our prayer itself. Praying isn’t always easy, but it is always worthwhile—and the more we please our Heavenly Father by addressing Him with childlike confidence, the more His blessing will be upon us.