“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; 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” (Lk 11:9).

There is a challenge to prayer and that is our pride and self-centered stance. We can be frustrated in prayer because when we do make the time to pray, we feel or think that nothing is happening or has happened. We may pray for a specific petition for our self, or for a particular intention for another and felt, or thought, that there was not an answer from God. One may pray a sincere, seemingly selfless prayer for a loved one, a child, a spouse, a friend, to be healed and the person still dies. They may be deeply hurt because they did what Jesus said; they asked, they pleaded and begged, but felt they did not receive the healing; that which they sought for, was not given and, instead what they found was nothing but pain and heartache from the loss; they knocked until their knuckles were raw and experienced no one on the other side.

Our attitude and orientation to prayer matters. When we sincerely turn our heart and mind to God in prayer, something happens between us and God, though it may be beyond our cognitive grasp to understand or our sensory awareness to experience. There may indeed be emotional high’s and consolations experienced in prayer, but if seeking those is the primary motivation for prayer we will find ourselves more frustrated than not. There may also be lows in prayer, dryness, even desolations, and even feeling God’s absence are also possible. Emotions are fleeting and not a good barometer when measuring the effectiveness for prayer.

Another big misconception is when we pray to God as if he were a gumball machine. It may seem a silly analogy, but how many of us really do pray and only pray that way, and when we do not receive the specific thing we asked for, at the specific time specified, when we wanted and as we wanted, we brood and think God doesn’t care or does not, in fact, even exist. We may even slip into the barter posture. God if you grant me this, I will do that. If we are only open to receive what we want on our terms, again we are setting ourselves up for frustration.

The primary orientation, the primary foundation of prayer is that of accepting an invitation to be in relationship with God. Our very desire to pray, of turning our hearts and minds to God, is an answer to him who reaches out to us. The answer to what or who we ask, seek, and knock is found at the end of the Gospel reading for today: “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (Lk 11:13)?

God knows what is best for us, he sees our potential, he wants us to experience joy and be fulfilled. How can we best live our lives in this world to attain that reality? We do so by receiving the Holy Spirit. Who is the Holy Spirit? The infinite, communal love expressed between God the Father and God the Son. Our goal in prayer is to enter into God’s reality of infinite Love. Through building a relationship with God, participating in his very life, we come to see the truth of empty promises, apparent goods, substitutes to fill our emptiness and faulty defense mechanisms that we have been utilizing as guideposts to merely survive and get through life.

In aligning ourselves with the Holy Spirit, we can then begin to conform our lives to that which is True, that which is Good, and that which is Beautiful. Our true barometer of whether something is happening in prayer or not, is if our life is changing. Are we beginning to bear the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control (cf. Galatians 5:22-23)?

Why may God not appear to answer a prayer for our healing or for a loved one with a chronic condition or one who had to be taken too soon? I do not know. But we need to resist running from the pain of loss and be willing to trust that God has not abandoned us but is with us as we spend time in prayer. Our tears can then become a healing salve, a doorway into the open arms and embrace of Jesus who awaits us in the depth of our grief and pain. Our loved ones who have died have not come to an end, but have experienced a new beginning with our loving God and Father, which we may get a foretaste of when we become still enough. There have been many who have been graced by after death encounters.

Ultimately, what we ask, what we seek, and what we knock for when we pray is to be loved, to belong, to be a part of something, someone greater than ourselves. We have been created as a living, craving hunger and desire to be one with God and one another. This is true for the atheist and the mystic alike. We have been created to be loved and to love.

The Holy Spirit, the love shared between the Father and the Son, is the gift of prayer that is open to us all. He is the answer to our prayer, though sometimes to be aware, takes perseverance. It may not be that God is not answering, but that we are not listening, or not hearing, or needing time to mature, to send our roots deeper into the depth of our soul. We may be needing time to heal or to build trust; to receive, and recognize his presence, his answer, his guidance. It may also be that sometimes God answers us with silence.


Photo credit from pixabay.com praying hands

Link for the Mass readings for Thursday, October 11, 2018:  http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/101118.cfm

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