There are circumstances in which, in our prayer of petition, we can be as confident and as daring as Abraham was (bordering on impudence) as he haggled with God on behalf of people dear to him. (cf. Genesis 18:20-32) But, in his Letter to the Colossians (2:12-14), St. Paul reminds us of the privileged status we enjoy through the cross of Christ Jesus.
We are God’s family! Our old ways, sins, maladies, fears, worries, all those things that embarrass us, and which formed an ugly screen that kept us away from full and free access to “Daddy,” have been nailed to the cross of our brother Jesus. The transformation which Jesus brought about through his cross and resurrection is such an awesome reality that it must be savored by each one of us also through prayer.
From the Gospel narratives we can imagine the ugly screen of miseries that was keeping Jesus’ first disciples from approaching Daddy as they wanted. But we can also picture the incredibly uplifting sight of Jesus absorbed in prayer to Daddy, his and our Heavenly Father. His radiant features, his lit-up countenance must have been so enviable and so desirable that his disciples begged him to teach them how to pray, how to undergo the same transformation, which was so visible in him.
We join them in pleading him to teach us, too, how to pray, because we want to live in the supernatural reality brought about for us by his cross and resurrection.
In this shortened version of the “our Father” (Luke 11:1-13), Jesus starts by teaching us that Daddy must be approached with the same confidence and trust of little kids who have no doubts about their dad’s wisdom, generosity, might and love; and, that there is absolutely nothing that he doesn’t know about them. Yet, before we get to our pressing concerns, we must share Daddy’s much larger concerns and plans: Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. We shall pray first that God will display his holiness and love for all to see and to enjoy.
While we see our immediate, pressing needs, the Father alone has before his eyes the picture of the whole world with many more serious and urgent needs. Hence, patiently, we place our requests within the much larger context of the whole Kingdom, and we dedicate ourselves to its service so that the name of “our Daddy” may be revered by all.
In Daddy’s universal family all of us, his children, need our daily sustenance and are expected to live in a familial, harmonious atmosphere in which forgiveness from him is subject to our willingness to forgive each other. In the Heavenly Family we shall not be ashamed to acknowledge our frailty; hence, we ask Daddy to spare us any trial which might prove too much for us to endure.
The second half of Jesus’ lesson deals with persistence based on logic. In the natural order of things, even poor and bad fathers try to give good things to their kids. As we begin to live consciously the new reality as members of God’s Family brought about by the blood of Christ, we can expect that and much, much more from Daddy.
He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him? Romans 8:32
The short parable about the importune friend knocking at his friend’s door in the middle of the night displays the right attitude suggested by Jesus whenever we ask Daddy for a favor. Even so, impudence is a lesson we are still hesitant to try. It flows from knowing Daddy’s heart very well!
That is why Blessed Solanus Casey with whom we are so familiar in the Archdiocese of Detroit, after asking with audacity, would thank God and proceed as if he had already received the requested favor.
St. Joseph Cottolengo, a contemporary of St. John Bosco, who ran a soup kitchen, and an orphanage, time and time again would tell his cooks how many pots of water they had to start boiling for the next meal even when the pantry was completely empty. Each time, without fail, some benefactor would show up with the needed staples in the nick of time to feed everyone.
However, to be successful, prayers of petition need guidance from above.
Notice how Luke points out that Daddy will give us the Holy Spirit, no matter what we ask for. Interesting. Why is it so? Because we do not know how to pray as we ought. (cf. Romans 8:26).
Looking at the “our Father” we can identify different reasons why we should let the Holy Spirit pray in us or, at least, assist us in prayer. We might forget that we are members of Daddy’s universal Family and that we are called to serve in it. We might not remember that, as human beings with many limitations, we have “tunnel vision” of what we truly need. We might still appear as Daddy’s impatient children. Worse yet, we might be ruled by pride and, thus, allow resentment to keep us from extending, viscerally, forgiveness to our brothers and sisters who wrong us. We might show only halfhearted appreciation for the privilege of being Daddy’s children and for the favors he has already given us; or we might feel we deserve his favors. Finally, perhaps we do not know the extent of Daddy’s love and, thus, our requests are voiced with hesitation and lukewarmness.
As you can easily imagine I realize that, at best, even though I have been a priest for over 50 years, I am still dabbling in prayer with mixed success. I should, absolutely, let the Holy Spirit do much more of my praying!
My guess is that, as a portion of Daddy’s universal Family, we should all work with the Holy Spirit to get to know him as much and as well as it is humanly possible so that our prayers of petition may display the trust, the certainty, and the audacity which Abraham, St. Joseph Cottolengo, Blessed Solanus and countless other Saints had whenever they asked Daddy for favors.
We resolve today to let the Holy Spirit pray in us. If we are docile, patient, humble, and guided by him, our life will never be the same.