From time to time we are blessed with experiences of extreme beauty that leave us breathless. Think, if you will, of certain sunsets or of a mountain ridge emerging from the hazy fog below, lit up by the morning sun. We realize, then, that we are before something/Someone beyond the immediate beauty that makes our spirit soar.
This is what comes to mind as I reflect on this verse from the Gospel of Luke (11:1): Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him: “Lord teach us to pray…” Imagine how uplifting and contagious the sight of Jesus absorbed in prayer must have been!
I believe that, today, the Church would like us to experience something unusual that should become as natural to us as breathing: to pray in Christ Jesus. The prayerful attitude of Jesus that the disciples envy and admire would bring us relief, harmony, order, serenity and spiritual refreshment.
We must never forget that genuine prayer can’t ever be considered or felt as a burden. If prayer becomes heavy; if we measure it with a dropper; if we skip it without a second thought, we would betray an attitude that is light years away from what the Lord loves to teach us, now and always. However, even if we are ready to learn this vital and refreshing lesson on prayer, there would still be a serious obstacle barring our path. Likely, that would be a too favorable impression that we might have of ourselves.
Deep down we are convinced of being decent and goodpeople. However, what we get (Luke 11:13) is the coldest shower in a long, long time. “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”
Wow! We wicked? Yes! We, who spend so much energy to improve our appearance, we are wicked in the eyes of God. We, who cover physical blemishes and more so our personality and behavioral defects, we are totally exposed before God who tells us, point blank, that we are wicked.
By the way, how is it that the epithet wicked burns, yet the epithet sinner doesn’t? It could be that, while in the eyes of God the two epithets are synonymous, very seldom are we horrified thinking about our sins; hence we resent the former and we barely mind the latter!
Perhaps a simple test might lead us to agree with God by compelling evidence. Let us assume that an angel were to reveal to everyone how we really feel about them, and what we truly think of each one of them. Would we still object to God’s harsh verdict? What if the angel were to expose our feelings of jealousy, of arrogance, of contempt, of condemnation, of lust, of hatred, or even of vindictiveness, wouldn’t we be covered with shame? Wouldn’t we rather disappear into a bottomless pit? My dear friends in Christ, we cannot fool God, hence we should always be horrified by our sins.
But, why is the Lord calling us wicked? Is He out to embarrass us? No. It is simply the inescapable conclusion that we reach ourselves when we are truly praying.
Prayer puts us in contact with God who is most perfect, most holy, totally sin-free, absolute Truth, boundless transparency, blinding light without shadow. The closer prayer takes us to God the more we would agree with His assessment of our condition as wicked people.
There is also another reason for His harsh verdict. It is so that, admitting our unworthiness, we may feel the need for a mediator, an intercessor to be granted forgiveness and a favorable hearing by God. In the Old Testament, Abraham interceded for the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. Yet his intercession could not nullify, could not erase the sinfulness of the two cities.
What about us? Once we admit our wickedness, do we run the risk of being wiped out like those people? Again, we hear a resounding NO. This is the good news shared by St. Paul in his Letter to the Colossians (2:12-14). We ought to read it in light that the Father will give us the Holy Spirit as His best Gift granted through the Blood of His Son on the cross. No matter what we might ask for, such as health, a decent job, true love, financial support, protection, freedom, the Father will, simply, give us the Holy Spirit.
But, why do we get this apparent arbitrary outcome of our prayers? Why should God insist on giving us the Holy Spirit when we ask for something else and are so specific in our requests?
Because, as St. Paul points out, the Spirit is the bond of love uniting the Father to the Son and the Son to the Father. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit unites us, such as we are, with all our sins and miseries and wickedness, to Jesus, the Son. Consequently, it can be said that, whenever we are praying in Christ Jesus, the Father would not be “upset” by our wickedness but always pleased by the sight of His most obedient Son in whom we are praying. This is possible because we have been buried with Jesus and raised to a new life in Him. The old bonds tying us to our miseries and human frailty have been taken up by Christ and nailed to his cross. For this reason, in Jesus, we have the most powerful intercessor for as long as we pray in him, united by the bond of the Holy Spirit. Holy Communion, too, will strengthen our bond with Jesus in the Spirit, resulting in a more intense desire to be absorbed in prayer every moment of our life.
Thus, prayer becomes awareness that our life is unfolding constantly in the loving embrace of the Father. This awareness will fill us with gratitude, sustain us in difficult times and refresh us from within. Soon we, too, will be offering to people the enviable, beautiful sight of being praying in and with Christ Jesus.