Learning from Pope Francis How to Seek, Knock and Ask in Prayer, First Thursday of Lent, March 13, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Thursday of the First Week of Lent
Votive Mass for Pope Francis on the Anniversary of his Election
March 13, 2014
Esther 14:12.14-16.23-25, Ps 138, Mt 7:7-12

To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below: 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today, on the first anniversary of Pope Francis’ election, we give God thanks for him and for all the good he’s been able to do through him during the last 365 days. I’ll never be able to forget being in St. Peter’s Square when he came out on the balcony to greet the world for the first time. After wishing us all “Good Evening,” he led us in prayer, the simple prayers every knows, for Pope-emeritus Benedict. We prayed an Our Father turning to the Father and seeking his will, kingdom and glory. We prayed a Hail Mary, asking our Lady to pray for us sinners now and always. We prayed a Glory Be, pondering the fact that all glory is God’s, not ours. One of the Pope’s most fundamental duties is to unite us all in prayer and right from the beginning of the Pontificate that’s what he did. Then he did something perhaps even more significant. He told us, “And now I would like to give the blessing, but first – first I ask a favor of you: before the Bishop blesses his people, I ask you to pray to the Lord that he will bless me: the prayer of the people asking the blessing for their Bishop.  Let us make, in silence, this prayer:  your prayer over me.” Then he bent down. And the whole packed square went totally silent. No one was taking photos. Everyone was praying. He’s been asking us to pray for him ever since. And that’s what we do in a special way today. In the famous interview aboard “Shepherd One” returning to Rome from Brazil last July, he answered a reporter’s question about why he’s always asking us to pray for him. “I have always asked this,” he said. “When I was a priest, I asked it, but less frequently.  I began to ask with greater frequency while I was working as a bishop, because I sense that if the Lord does not help in this work of assisting the People of God to go forward, it can’t be done.  I am truly conscious of my many limitations, with so many problems, and I a sinner – as you know! – and I have to ask for this.  But it comes from within!  I ask Our Lady too to pray to the Lord for me.  It is a habit, but a habit that comes from my heart and also a real need in terms of my work.  I feel I have to ask.”
  • If the Pope needs prayers to accomplish what the Lord is asking of him, we all need prayers to do what the Lord is asking of us. Today’s readings focus on prayer. In the Gospel, Jesus tells us that he wants us to pray with insistence. He wants us to seek God in our prayer, to knock on his door, to ask for what we need and desire. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” That’s an almost incredible guarantee, that our prayers will always be heard. He doesn’t tell us “Ask and you’ll get whatever you ask for.” He instructs us to seek but he doesn’t tell us exactly what we’ll find. He tells us to knock but he doesn’t say what will be waiting for us on the other side of the opened door. But he promises us that our prayers will be heard and God will respond. The reason why God will respond is precisely because, as we’ve been pondering throughout Lent, God is a loving Father. Jesus says, “Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asked for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asked for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.” He will always give us what is good for us. In St. Luke’s version of an almost identical scene, Jesus promises that the Father will always respond to our prayers by giving us the Holy Spirit. God responds to our petitions first and foremost by giving of himself. Jesus says all of this so that we will have no fear at all in praying. But he wants us to ask!
  • We see this prayer of fearless petition exemplified for us in the first reading. Queen Esther, a Jew living in Babylon, risks her life to try to save the Jewish people from one of King Ahasuerus’ assistants who was seeking to have all the Jews executed by decree of a misled King. But before she would risk her life going into the King’s presence unbidden, she and all the Jews prayed and fasted for three days. Today we have the bold prayer she makes in the presence of God the Father as she lay prostrate with all her attendants from morning to evening: “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob, blessed are you.  Help me, who am alone and have no help but you, for I am taking my life in my hand. As a child I used to hear from the books of my forefathers that you, O Lord, always free those who are pleasing to you. Now help me, who am alone and have no one but you, O Lord, my God. … And now, come to help me, an orphan. …  Save us from the hand of our enemies; turn our mourning into gladness and our sorrows into wholeness.” How could a Father give her a stone in response to that request for bread? We know from the Book of Esther that her prayer was answered, that she and the Jews were saved, and that the one who had plotted against them ended up suffering the fate he had intended to do to them.
  • We need to learn from her example how to pray boldly. Pope Francis throughout his first year, especially in his daily Mass homilies, has been trying to teach us all to pray as Christians should. I have several hour-long conferences on Pope Francis and Prayer on the catholicpreaching.com website, but I’d like to ponder a couple of the things he said that are most relevant to today’s readings.
  • Last May, he told us that we all need to learn to pray, like Esther, as if our life depended on it. A prayer that calls for an extraordinary action”, said the Pope, “must be a prayer that involves all of us, as though our very life depends on it. In prayer, you have to put yourself to the test. Miracles happen. But they need prayer! A courageous prayer, that struggles for that miracle. Not like those prayers of courtesy: Ah, I will pray for you! Followed by one Our Father, a Hail Mary and then I forget. No! It takes a brave prayer like that of Abraham who was struggling with the Lord to save the city, like that of Moses who prayed, his hands held high when he grew weary… Prayer works miracles,” Pope Francis ended, “but we must believe it. I think that we can say a beautiful prayer, not a polite prayer, but a prayer from the heart.”
  • In October, he suggested that we ponder whether we really pray courageously. “How do we pray? Do we pray piously and calmly out of habit or do we place ourselves courageously before the Lord to ask for grace, to ask for what we are praying for?” Our attitude is so important, he explained, for “prayer that is not courageous is not real prayer.” When we pray, we need “the courage to trust that the Lord is listening to us, we need the courage to knock at the door… The Lord himself says: ‘everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.’” Pope Francis asked: “Do we get involved in prayer? Do we know how to knock at the door of God’s heart?”
  • He said in December we must seek, ask and knock in such a way that we border on “bothering” God. The Pope said that when Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, he told them to pray like the bothersome friend who went at midnight to ask for bread and a little pasta for his guests. He taught us to pray “by being bothersome. I don’t know, perhaps this sounds rather bad, but praying is a little like bothering God so that he listens to us.” “This is how Jesus teaches us to pray,” he explained. We generally bring our requests to the Lord “one, two or three times, but without great strength, and then I tire of asking and I forget to ask.” Jesus, on the other hand, tells us, “‘Ask!’ and he also says: ‘Knock at the door!’ and whoever knocks at the door makes noise, he disturbs, he bothers.” “These are the words Jesus uses to tell us how we should pray.”
  • Today we come to “bother” God by our persistent prayers. We ask first for his name to be hallowed, his kingdom to come and will to be done. But we pray for our needs and especially for the Pope. Today the Pope is on the fourth day of his retreat with all the leaders of the Roman Curia, and he doubtless is praying this way. We pray for him, because as he has admitted, without the support of prayers his work “can’t be done.” Without our prayers, he won’t be able to bless us as much as he wants God to be able to bless us through him. And for him we now make the most important prayer of all, the one that knocks on the door of heaven from the rising of the sun to its setting.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
EST 14:12, 14-16, 23-25

Queen Esther, seized with mortal anguish,
had recourse to the LORD.
She lay prostrate upon the ground, together with her handmaids,
from morning until evening, and said:
“God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob, blessed are you.
Help me, who am alone and have no help but you,
for I am taking my life in my hand.
As a child I used to hear from the books of my forefathers
that you, O LORD, always free those who are pleasing to you.
Now help me, who am alone and have no one but you,
O LORD, my God.“And now, come to help me, an orphan.
Put in my mouth persuasive words in the presence of the lion
and turn his heart to hatred for our enemy,
so that he and those who are in league with him may perish.
Save us from the hand of our enemies;
turn our mourning into gladness
and our sorrows into wholeness.”

Responsorial Psalm
PS 138:1-2AB, 2CDE-3, 7C8

R. (3a) Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.
I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with all my heart,
for you have heard the words of my mouth;
in the presence of the angels I will sing your praise;
I will worship at your holy temple
and give thanks to your name.
R. Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.
Because of your kindness and your truth;
for you have made great above all things
your name and your promise.
When I called, you answered me;
you built up strength within me.
R. Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.
Your right hand saves me.
The LORD will complete what he has done for me;
your kindness, O LORD, endures forever;
forsake not the work of your hands.
R. Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.

Gospel
MT 7:7-12

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Ask and it will be given to you;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Which one of you would hand his son a stone
when he asked for a loaf of bread,
or a snake when he asked for a fish?
If you then, who are wicked,
know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your heavenly Father give good things
to those who ask him.“Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.
This is the law and the prophets.”