17th Sun [C] 2004

Fr. Charles Irvin

Genesis 18:20-32; Colossians 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13


In the first reading we just heard, didn’t it sound like Abraham was bartering, even haggling, with God? It sounded that way to me. But upon reflection — especially reflection on what prayer is really all about — I took a second look. I’d like to share some thoughts with you about that, and about all prayer.


Is prayer really concerned with our attempting to change God’s mind? Sometimes (all too often I’m afraid) that’s the hidden assumption we carry into prayer. But do we really want to change God’s mind? I don’t think so! Why should we? He’s already for us – He already loves us with a love beyond anything we could possibly imagine. Why would we want to change His mind?


Abraham wasn’t trying to bring God around to Abraham’s way of thinking. Nor was he attempting to find out how far God would go in being merciful.  Nor was Abraham trying to remind God of how good God is. He already knew that. No, Abraham was, at a deeper level, claiming what he knew God really wanted to do. He was bringing down to our human level what is infinitely present, and always present, in the heart of God.


So how do we pray? What should be our attitude in praying? Are we praying in order to get God to follow along in our agenda, or are we praying so that we can tune in and conform ourselves to God’s agenda? If we try to get God’s thinking to come around to our thinking we will fail. All such prayers are to no avail. What is helpful is to put ourselves at God’s disposal.


So when we think God has not answered our prayers, perhaps we should examine our attitudes. If prayer is all about what we want and we don’t get what we want from God, we will likely stop praying. After all, why pray when prayer is unproductive?


Is productivity the criteria for successful prayer? Do we judge prayer by our perceived results from prayer?


Maybe we ought to see things in a new light — in God’s Light. When we pray, God should become more real for us, more present to us, in our own awareness. If we feel that God is remote then we need to draw nearer to God, not the other way around. It is we who are fickle, short sighted, and demanding. God is constant – He is always waiting for us, calling us into a closer relationship with Him. Like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, He sees us from afar and is waiting for us to come back home. Prayer is our coming back home to God.


Another thing prayer does: it brings us to a consciousness of what’s deep within us, what’s hidden down deep inside us. In prayer we discover wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and strength in ways we’ve perhaps not seen before. God becomes more effectively present within us, for our own sake, and for the sake of others.


Did you ever notice that the only thing Jesus’ disciples asked of Him was that He teach them how to pray? They didn’t ask Him how to work miracles. They didn’t ask Him how to teach, or how to construct parables. They didn’t even ask Him what to teach. So, then, for what were they asking? Certainly, observant and good Jews that they were, they were already praying many prayers, and praying often throughout their days.


They were asking for the sort of prayers that drew them closer to God and that drew God more fully into their lives. They weren’t asking for magical words, incantations, or word formulas to use whenever they prayed. They weren’t asking for mantras, or prayers with magical powers in them. No, they wanted what Jesus had – closeness to God.


By calling on God, prayer calls us out of our selves; it draws us away from relying on our own powers, abilities, insights, and the delusion that tells us we can accomplish anything to which we set our minds. Praying in the name of Jesus, praying as our Lord prayed, has but one dominant idea – “not my will, but thine be done, O Lord.”  If you pay any attention at all to the way Jesus prayed, you will see and understand that. We are asking that God’s will and our will be the same.


The way Jesus prayed is contained in the Lord’s Prayer. It begins with recognizing His care for us, honoring God for who He is, seeking His holiness, and asking for His kingdom come, asking that His will be done here among us, now, on earth as it is in heaven. The Lord’s Prayer then shifts to requests, requests that acknowledge our submission to Him and that acknowledge our dependence upon Him.


The Lord’s Prayer shifts the focus away from what we want to what God wants. Not only that but it moves us away from seeing God as vengeful, wrathful and wanting to punish us. It calls us to see God as our Father, a loving, compassionate, forgiving, providing and caring Father. We don’t pray in order to appease God’s vengeful wrath. No. We pray to take hold of His profound and infinite desire to love us and to fill us with His presence, power and love.


God is faithful and true. He is our Father and will always be. He is not a ruler, a tyrant, an impersonal Force, or a distant deity. He cares for each one of us personally, as a father cares for his beloved child. He wants to teach us, guide us, help us, provide for us, and above all to help us mold our character and personality. He wants to teach us to give and to forgive, to focus on what’s really important in life, namely our relationships with other people. For if God is our Father, the Father of all human beings, then all around us are our brothers and sisters – and we should act accordingly. We should care for them and relate to them as Jesus does.


So why pray? Well – to change our selves, not God, to change our own attitudes and behavior, not God’s. For it is God’s presence, power and love that will save us, not ours. Abraham knew and understood that… and Jesus prayed that way. So should we.

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”