Malachi 3:13-20b; Luke 11:5-13
Think of the hobby or pastime you love most. Imagine that the world’s leading expert in that area comes to visit you. Honored, you ask him how to improve and he freely offers his advice. Would you take it? Wouldn’t it be foolish not to?
Today God himself visits us in his Word and advises us how to approach him in prayer. If we are wise we will listen to him.
In the first reading he teaches us two foundations of effective prayer: humility and fear of the Lord. Humility helps us realize that we come before God in total dependence. Without him, we have nothing; with him, we have everything. Fear of the Lord is that gift of the Spirit by which we do whatever we can to avoid separating ourselves from him. Through Malachi, God makes clear that those who fear the Lord receive all that they need – his infinite mercy and compassion.
In yesterday’s gospel, Jesus built on that foundation by teaching his disciples the Our Father. In this beautiful prayer he shows us that praying to God is not simply a matter of approaching God but in giving ourselves over to his will and committing ourselves to cooperate in his Divine plan for the world (Catechism of the Catholic Church, §2611).
Today, our Lord continues his catechesis on prayer using both parable and exhortation. In the parable he places prayer in the context of urgency and persistence. First, notice that the man in the parable didn’t wait until a more convenient time to ask for bread; he went out immediately to find what was needed. We know in our own lives how sad we would be to discover that our friend had an urgent need yet refused to ask us for help. So it is with our heavenly Father; he doesn’t want us to bear our burdens alone but to seize the moment, come to him, and tell him our needs. Second, Jesus emphasizes the power of persistence. Unwilling to take no for an answer, the man in the parable showed that he cared enough for his guest to overcome any obstacle to get what he needed. Persistence in prayer helps us to grow in fortitude, the virtue that enables us to conquer our fear and boldly pursue what we need.
Finally, Jesus exhorts us to pray with the assurance that our prayers will be answered. Those who are bold enough to ask will receive; to seek, will find; to knock, the door will be opened. But most importantly, note that he doesn’t say we will get what we want. Rather, we will receive the Holy Spirit.
We asked for other things; why should we be happy to receive the Holy Spirit instead? Consider everything he brings: Wisdom, the ability to see what is most important; understanding, to get to the heart of the matter; counsel, to submit to the providence of God; fortitude, the strength to pursue the good; knowledge, the ability to judge rightly; piety, reverence for God; and fear of the Lord, a love of God so deep that we would do nothing to hurt him. Poured lavishly upon us, these gifts bring us closer and closer to the mind and heart of Christ, who prayed as he lived – perfectly – that the Father’s will be done, who lived his prayer to the death, and who showed us that death is not the end but the pathway to resurrection and perfect unity with the Father.
Open our hearts O Lord, that we may listen and heed your advice. May we approach you humbly, pray persistently, and rest secure in the knowledge that every prayer is answered by the gift of the Spirit, who goes far beyond everything we want to give us everything we need.