The Christian Way to Pray, First Thursday of Lent, February 18, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Thursday of the First Week of Lent
February 26, 2015
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 in the Gospel Jesus continues his lessons for us our prayer that he began on Ash Wednesday and built on two days ago. On Ash Wednesday he told us to pray differently from those who pray for show but to go to our inner room, the place symbolized by the locked location in the house where where we hold our treasures, and pray to our Father in secret, because prayer is supposed to bring us into a loving, filial Communion with the Father. Two days ago, Jesus built on that lesson when he taught us how to pray, giving us the words of the Our Father, and helping us to seek the hallowing of the Father’s name, the coming of his kingdom, the doing of his will, and the daily natural and supernatural nourishment, the mercy, the strengthening in temptation and the deliverance from evil we need to do so. Today he speaks to us about the filial confidence we should have in prayer and urges us to bring our needs and desires to God. Jesus wants us to seek God in our prayer, to knock on his door, to ask for what we need and desire. And he gives us a promise that no infomercial our used car salesman would ever be so bold as to make: “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.
  • Notice that 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 himself, because the greatest gift is the Giver. 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. We learn to pray as if our life and others’ lives depended on it, because it does. This leads us not just to ask once politely and if we don’t get the answer we hoped for to think God didn’t want to give it to us. No. Such prayer continues to ask, even to bug or bother God as Pope Francis likes to remind us, knowing that God always hears our prayers and responds by giving us himself, sometimes with what we’re asking for, sometimes without so that he can give us or others something more important.
  • These considerations lead us to examine, first, the quality of our prayer, something Jesus wants us to examine each Lent. Insofar as we are priests and religious, everyone expects us to be models and master-teachers of prayer and we give God thanks for the instruction we’ve received and the experience we’ve had in prayer both in our homes, in our formation, and in the consecrated or priestly life. But there’s still so much room for our growth in terms of the boldness and filial trust and confidence with which we make our prayers. During this Year of Mercy, we are called to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy like Esther prayed for the salvation of her people. We’re called to pray the Rosary like our Lady. We’re called to pray the Prayers of the Faithful of Mass knowing that God will hear each of those petitions.
  • The second thing we’re called to look at is what we’re asking for, seeking, and knocking to obtain. Are we persistently praying for what Jesus taught us to pray a couple of days ago and which we will pray later today during Mass? That his name be hallowed, his kingdom come and his will be done? That we be given today our super-substantial bread, the forgiveness that overflows toward others, the strength in temptation and the total separation from evil? Or are we asking for much lesser stuff? Our prayer manifests our desires and where they might need to be aligned to God’s will, but at the same time, as St. Therese used to teach, our prayers sometimes manifests the desires that God has implanted within us to ask for. This Lent during the Jubilee of Mercy we’re called to ask boldly for the most important things, for God’s forgiveness especially for those most hardened, our holiness, for salvation, for peace.
  • Today as we come forward to pray the Mass, we grasp that this is the prayer of the Church from the rising of the sun to its setting. This is what we pray for us as a family of God the Father’s beloved sons and daughters together with his only begotten Son. And in response to this prayer, God the Father not only seeks to respond to the various petitions we make throughout the Mass, but by giving us his Son and sending us the Holy Spirit. That’s why we’re moved to make our own the words of today’s Responsorial Psalm: “I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with all my heart, for you have heard the words of my mouth. … When I called, you answered me!”

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.”
esther-fasts-and-prays