5 March 2009 Thursday of the 1st Week of Lent
Esther C, 12-25; Psalm 138; Matthew 7, 7-12
The readings today are all about prayer. Prayer brings us to our very depths; to the innermost and central core of our life. There we meet God. Thus, prayer is about our relationship with God. Prayer then transforms and changes us. When our depth is transformed, everything that radiates outwards is affected. If we want to better, we have to pray.
To pray is to transform and to change. It is the way God converts, reshapes, alters, and rework us. It is the way God continually creates us. If we do not want to change, we discover that prayer does not anymore become central in our lives. This is what I like about prayer. I like prayer because it is a better make-over.
Often there is a desire to be like the great pray-ers in history. We look at the great mystics and the saints who were very adept at praying. Sometimes we suffer from a low self-esteem in the business of praying: we look at our sinfulness and find ourselves unworthy to pray. We look up at the greatest pray-ers both in Scripture and in history like Moses, David, Queen Esther in the first reading, Paul and the saints, and think that we cannot pray like them. We easily become discouraged in front of these great masters.
But the apostles who have been praying all their lives, still asked Jesus, “Lord teach us to pray” (Luke 11, 1). That means praying is learned. And like all learning, we begin from the simplest way and later on move on to different ways in praying like meditation and contemplation. Or find other types of prayer: often we are accustomed to praying for our needs or the pious and traditional prayers. And we are not too familiar with adorations, surrendering prayer, prayer for rest, and many others.
The Gospels tells us that the first thing that Jesus taught his disciples was the “Our Father”. We are to pray simply, as a child to his parents. We remember that God will not fault us for our being beginners. We are not even to condemn ourselves — despite our age — that our pray is still juvenile. God always meets us where we are, and slowly brings us to our deepest depths. We know this in life: we prepare and train ourselves first before we embark on a bigger scale. In music, we have to begin with a simple piano exercise before we can play a Bach or a Mozart. Jesus said, begin by “asking”; start “seeking”; commence with a “knock” on God’s door. And every time you ask, seek and knock, you’ll get an answer. The psalmist affirms that on the day they he called for help, God answered him (Psalm 138).
We pray, however, because we want to change. And yes, we want to move God so that He too will change His will. Strange, but true. Many people believe and emphasize submission and resignation to the way things are as “God’s will”. God’s will is for us to be good, loving and just; God’s will is for a peaceful world. The way things are may not be God’s will. When a parent abuses his child — that is not God’s will. The unfortunate situation is an effect of the maligned will of another person. Moses prayed hoping that his prayers will be able to change God’s will. And God changed His will in view of His unchanging and infinite love for us (Exodus 32,14). God’s will changed when the people of Nineveh repented. We are to change the way things are in the world, by praying. And by praying we cooperate and participate with God in His initiative to make this world better for us. Think of a mother or a father: she changes her decision out of her love for her child. But all in the name of love.
When do we pray? We pray for a family or a friend who is sick. We want God to reverse the course of his or her sickness. We pray for political change. We pray for our personal lives to turn for the better.
And thus, we pray more fervently with fasting and abstinence during Lent. Because we want to change. And we would like God to effect that change on us. But first, we begin simply.