In preparing for this reflection, I thought of an experience I have every time I go to the marketplace to buy things. In my part of the world, merchants often don’t put a fixed price on their items because they expect you to haggle for prices. It is a way of establishing connections. Once the relationship is established, there is an expectation that next time you need to buy anything, you will return to him/her.
Let me connect this experience with some insights our readings for today give us. The readings for this Sunday give us practical lessons about PRAYER. These are the points I wish to highlight: first, prayer as relationship; second, prayer as openness; and third, prayer as persistent appeal to God.
First Point: PRAYER AS RELATIONSHIP
The word “relationship” has many shades of meaning depending on its usage. It is clear when we say that prayer is a relationship, that the immediate partner in this relationship is God. This relationship does not develop automatically. It involves first of all establishing a connection with the other. In time that connection will grow into familiarity. The marketplace paradigm I shared might not lead into a more intimate relationship that I wish to establish with God in prayer, but making a connection is always a good beginning.
As in prayer, it involves an encounter with the other. God, being God knows us through and through, but often we do not know ourselves enough to enter into an intimate kind of relationship. Relationship goes beyond knowing only about the other. It means I allow myself to be known by the other. In our first reading, how does Abraham know God at this point in his story? While God has made specific, and seemingly absurd, promises to Abraham about land and descendants, God has also promised to work blessing for all the families of the earth through him (12:3). For Abraham, no intimacy has developed yet, but a relationship has already built up based on Abraham’s trust in God’s word.
In the Gospel, Jesus is teaching us that prayer is first and foremost a relationship between God and us, a relationship built on love and trust, not on fear. Unless we believe in the goodness of God, we cannot pray the Lord’s prayer from our hearts. In faith, we ask God to provide for our daily needs as we learn to live our life one day at a time trusting in God’s care and protection.
The Second Point: PRAYER AS OPENNESS
In our readings, Abraham stands before God’s presence with openness about his questions in an effort to understand what God’s response will be to human sinfulness as symbolized by the evil cities of Sodom and Gomorrah; while Luke’s gospel presents us with Jesus teaching his disciples the essential rudiments of prayer which begins with an open attitude before God, addressing God as Father. Here we see two attitudes of openness—openness with God and openness to God.
Openness with God means I am free in sharing, conversing, complaining, or even bargaining with God. I am free to be who I am, to be openly honest about how I feel and think, just like being witha friend. In this developing friendship, I become more at home with God and with myself. I become more open toGod about everything in my whole life—my memory, my will, my entire being as I come to know myself. Being open to God involves my willingness to wait and to listen to God, to allow God’s will to be done and to allow God to transform me more into his image and likeness.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus gives his disciples a model for prayer that reflects these two attitudes of openness. The first part is focused on who God is. Jesus teaches that to be in relationship with God, we must respect who God is and be open to the fulfillment of God’s will. The second part is focused on openly sharing with God our material needs and relationships, as well as our temptations and struggles with evil.
Third point: PRAYER AS PERSISTENT APPEAL TO GOD
Our psalm response expresses this attitude in prayer: “Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me” (Ps. 138).
When a more intimate relationship is established, we are not only open to and with the other, we also feel the freedom of appealing to the other in order to gain favors or answers to our questions. For instance, Abraham appeals to God and bargains with him for the sake of the righteous immersed in an evil atmosphere. In this exchange between God and Abraham, it is clear that Abraham keeps arguing from the perspective of justice yet God in his response keeps demonstrating his mercy. God surely knows the truth about Sodom and Gomorrah; and reassures Abraham that God will not act hastily but will instead act justly and mercifully. Here, prayer is presented to us AS PERSISTENT APPEAL to God. Persistent prayer may not get an immediate response from God, but it reveals something about the divine nature, which is that of MERCY and FORGIVENESS. God’s nature is also highlighted in our second reading, from the Letter to the Colossians. It emphasizes that God has already brought us to life along with Christ and that we have already been forgiven from all our transgressions.
Jesus, after teaching his disciples how to pray, told them to be persistent, to ask in order to receive. Like Abraham, we are to continue standing before God, to ask God persistently for what we need. By begging persistently, we put ourselves in an open stance to receive. Through the Lord's Prayer, Jesus is showing us that a short prayer addressed to the Father with great sincerity, openness and persistence can be as powerful as a long one. Jesus demonstrates this by giving us concrete examples—a friend who knocks at our door at midnight to beg for bread to feed someone who just arrived from a long journey; and a father, even if evil, who would not give anything harmful to his child who is simply asking for something to eat. God’s nature is not only merciful and forgiving, God provides us with what we need.
Joseph, N. B. (2003, Dec 04). Bargaining with God. Canadian Jewish News Retrieved from https://ezproxy.usj.edu.mo:2132/docview/351392775?accountid=143153
Lawson, D. (2004, Jul 09). Prayer persistence: Final edition]. Alaska Highway News. Retrieved from https://ezproxy.usj.edu.mo:2132/docview/356406563?accountid=143153
Mueller, J. L. (1992). The lucan prayer of forgiveness and selected pastoral theologies of forgiveness: A critical dialogue (Order No. 9222346). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (303979470). Retrieved from --https://ezproxy.usj.edu.mo:2132/docview/303979470?accountid=143153
Rowlett, Martha G. A Process Theology of Prayer, ProQuest Dissertations and Theses; 1981; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global, pp.65-75.
Judette Gallares, R.C.
Sr. Judette Gallares, R.C., from the Philippines, is a member of the Religious of the Cenacle, Asia Region. She is currently missioned at the Cenacle in Macau, China S.A.R. She is involved in the ministry of retreats/spiritual direction and religious formation. She went to Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Fordham University in New York, Graduate Theological Foundation, and Oxford University in England for her graduate and post-graduate studies. At present she is professor of the Theology of Consecrated Life at the Institute for Consecrated Life in Asia in the Philippines, and a visiting professor of Theology at the University of St. Joseph in Macau, where she teaches Theological Anthropology and Aesthetic Theology. She is a member of the Ecclesia of Women in Asia, a forum of Asian Catholic women theologians and women doing theology in Asia. She is in the editorial board of the quarterly journal, Religious Life Asia and a contributing editor of the annual journal of USJ-Macau’s Faculty of Religious Studies, Orientis Aura. She is an author of several books and articles on theology, biblical spirituality, religious formation, and consecrated life. Among her books are Images of Faith, Images of Courage, Fire Within, and Journeys of the Heart.
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