Sunday, 25 July 2010
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Shaftesbury
We just heard Jesus speak of the importance of asking in prayer and of the heavenly Father's wish to grant our prayers. I'd like to tell you about a prayer of mine that was answered recently.
When we think about God answering prayer we often wonder why He grants some requests and not others. And, we all know the trial of an unanswered prayers, or, more precisely, we all know the trial of when the answer to our prayers is “no”. While we don't know in this life why He grants one request and not another, we do know that we will somehow understand in Heaven. But, for many of our prayers part of the reason that some are granted and some are not is whether we are praying that something that is TRULY for our good: God does not grant a request that will ultimately be to our supernatural disadvantage. St James indicates this when he says, “you ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly”(Jam 4:3), and Jesus indicates something of the same when He says that the type of prayer that we can be SURE will be answered is to pray for the Holy Spirit (Lk 11:13).
But on to my prayer, and perhaps I first need to tell you where I'd been –these past few weeks: The first Sunday I was away I was on holiday, and then the next two Sundays I was helping to lead a youth pilgrimage around a great number of shrines in France.
And at the end of this, on my way home, exhausted but inspired by all that I had seen, I prayed after the example of the saints who shrines I have seen. In particular, inspired by the example of the patron saint of parish priests, the holy Cure D’Ars, I prayed that Jesus would help me bear suffering and difficulty the way that the saints did; I prayed that Jesus would give me a greater share in the cross.
I made this prayer for a greater share in the cross while at the entrance to the airport on my way home, and Jesus pomptly granted my request by cancelling my flight. I then had a 3 hour wait on a line to discover that all of other ways home were booked and that I was stuck there for the next 2 days. It wasn’t exactly how I had wanted Him to answer my request! And wiser men than myself and taught the inadvisability of praying for an increase in the cross.
However, as a consequence of my delay I was able to use those days to visit some more shrines, in Paris. I visited the shrine of Our Lady of Victories which bears great testimony to answered prayers. Many of you will know the life of St Therese of Lisieux, whose relics toured England last year, and you’ll know that as a child she lay sick and dying in a prolonged and incurable illness –her father had prayers offered to this shrine of Our Lady of Victories; Our Lady then appeared to St Therese, and she was cured. And her cure is just one of many there. The walls of this large church are lined with THOUSANDS of plaques of thanksgiving from people who have had prayers answered there. And this reminded me very powerfully that God DOES answer prayer. Earlier on the pilgrimage I had seen other churches with large walls lined with similar plaques of thanksgiving –in Ars and Lourdes.
All these plaques were a reminder to me of a very particular point: the importance of ASKING for things in our prayer. And this I had further reminder of in another additional shrine I went to: the Rue du Bac, in Paris, the shrine of the Miraculous Medal. It was there, in 1830, that Our Lady appeared to St Catherine Laboure, and in the vision Our Lady appeared with rings on her fingers; some of these rings shed light and some did not, and when St Catherine asked why Our Lady told her that this symbolised the many graces that people failed to gain because they did not ask for them.
And this is not just a point from a private revelation but is part of our Catholic teaching, as articulated by the likes of St Thomas Aquinas as part of the doctrine of merit, that there are many graces that we fail to get because we do not ask. So we SHOULD ask.
And this is the key point is today’s readings. Abraham prayed for Sodom and Gomorrah, and God granted his prayer. The parables of Jesus taught us the importance of asking in prayer. And the history and experience of the Church, down through the centuries and in the lives of many of us here, shows us that God DOES answer prayer and so we should ask, and do so with the confidence of a child who knows that his Father loves him. “Ask and you will receive”(Lk 11:9).