Our Scriptures today (http://www.usccb.org/nab/today.shtml) ask us to take a look at the way we pray. We recognize that too often we engage in what I like to call the Santa Claus Prayer. This is the way of praying that is not all that different from the way a child prepares for Christmas by asking Santa for what they want. The approach him, ask him, and set a deadline - Christmas morning. The success of the request is quickly judged by whether or not the requested item has appeared under the Christmas tree.
And, don't we pray the same way? "Lord, please bring my son/daughter back into the Church by Easter." We make the specific request, we set a deadline, and if the prayer hasn't been answered to our satisfaction at the deadline, we decree that this "prayer thing" didn't work. But, God's Word today gives us a different model of prayer.
First in our first reading from from Esther we see that Queen Esther is praying for her people. "She lay prostrate upon the ground, together with her handmaids, from morning until evening." Esther is for us a model of persistent prayer. She doesn't give up until God answers her prayer.
And Jesus gives us a model of confident trust in prayer. Notice He says, "Ask and you shall receive." Jesus doesn't say, "Ask and it is about 20% possible that you might receive." He gives encouragement to ask boldly, to seek confidently, to knock forcefully. And to the one who asks, seeks and knocks, they will find what they are looking for. But, it will be in God's way and in God's time.
I think of my recent experience with my Dad. Most of you know that I baptized my Dad back in November. Now, Dad is 69 years old, and there has been a lot of prayer behind this. Every day at Eucharist, I always made the same prayer, "Lord, I offer you the grace of this Eucharist and ask that you place within my Dad's heart a desire for baptism." And there were many other friends and family (the greatest being my Mother), who also prayed for this regularly. Now, God took 69 years to answer this prayer. But, Amen! He answer it. It was also possible along time ago to simply say, "I guess this prayer thing doesn't work" and give up. I thank the Lord that He kept all of us persistent in our prayer for my Dad.
I've now switched that prayer to my brother and sister and their spouses that God will lead them back to the Eucharistic table. My hope is that God won't take 69 years on this one, but I am going to again trust and persevere in that prayer.
We pray today that God might root out any weakness or doubt that exists in our prayer lives and that He might renew us in strength, endurance and conviction to be people of confident and trustworthy prayers.
I'll end with a wonderful quote from St. John Chrysostom (5th Century Church father and renowned preacher) that I came across recently. St. John speaks magnificently of the power of prayer:
“Prayer is an all-efficient panoply,
a treasure undiminished,
a mine never exhausted,
a sky unobstructed by clouds,
a haven unruffled by storm.
It is the root, the fountain,
and the mother of a thousand blessings.
It exceeds a monarch’s power.
I speak not of the prayer which is cold and feeble and devoid of zeal.
I speak of that which proceeds from a mind outstretched,
the child of a contrite spirit,
the offspring of a soul converted
– this is the prayer which mounts to heaven.
The power of prayer has subdued the strength of fire,
bridled the rage of lions, silenced anarchy, extinguished wars,
appeased the elements, expelled demons, burst the chains of death,
enlarged the gates of heaven, relieved diseases, averted frauds,
rescued cities from destruction, stayed the sun in its course,
and arrested the progress of the thunderbolt.
In sum prayer has power
to destroy whatever is at enmity with the good.”
Pray, pray, pray!