31 July, 2016

Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) - Prayer

Luke 11:1-13
‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.’
Last Sunday I finished my address saying that if we spent as much time with Jesus as we ought to, we would lead many people to the Lord through our prayers. And today we find prayer as the central theme of our readings. In the gospel, particularly, Jesus teaches us and the disciples to pray, not only by giving them the words of the Lord’s Prayer, but also by inviting them to follow three simple instructions; ask, search, and knock.

‘Ask, and it will be given to you.’ By asking, Jesus invites us to pray to the Father in every circumstance simply by presenting our requests to him. The example the Lord gives of children asking for food from their parents illustrates this very well; like children trustfully approaching a good parent, through prayer we learn rely on the goodness of the Father in everything, both for ourselves and for the world around us. In this way, asking also means entering in a close relationship with the Father; to the point that our prayers are allowed to become a sort of “holy haggling” with God for the salvation of others, like we see Abraham doing in our first reading.
‘Search, and you will find.’ By searching, Jesus invites us to accompany our “asking” with good works, with all those activities that would befit what we are praying for. So, for example, if someone asked God to strengthen their faith, then “searching” would mean engaging with spiritual readings, practicing humility, and become involved in the life of the church. And certainly the Scriptures bear witness in many places that searching for God can be expressed by doing things in his service. Then, if we prayed for an increase of faith in those around us, we should accompany this request by fostering a positive approach to religion; by being good ambassadors for the Church. But supposed we asked for peace, as more and more people increasingly do; what would ‘Search, and you will find’ mean in this context? I guess it would mean actively pursuing all those things that, within our powers, make for peace – in our families, within our local communities, and in our hearts.
‘Knock, and the door will be opened to you.’ By knocking, Jesus encourages us to be very persistent in our asking and in our searching. In fact, by this, the Lord tells us that praying for something cannot be a throwaway activity, something that we do half-heartedly once we have explored every other possible route; rather prayer should accompany all our doings from the outset and cease only once an answer has been granted. As a testimony to this invitation from the Lord, two of the most venerable patterns of prayer that developed in the western tradition of the Church are saying the psalms in the Daily Office and the Holy Rosary. Both of these patterns aim at building a rhythm of prayer, allowing us to present our requests to God with persistent regularity, whilst fostering in us the virtue of patience as we learn to wait on God. 

Ask, search, and knock. These are Jesus’ very practical instruction about prayer. I encourage you to put them into practice in the next weeks and to pray for the people of our parish, for your families and for your friends. Each one of us knows at least one person who has closed their hearts to God, who never wanted to have anything to do with religion, or maybe has lapsed from church practice. Let us ask God to make them feel his lasting love for them, and to increase the gift of faith in them. By asking Jesus invites us confident in our requests; by searching he calls us to be the loving presence of the church to these people; and by knocking he tells us to be persistent in our prayer.

‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.’

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