Lord, Teach Us to Pray – Weyms Sanchez, SJ

Luke 11:1-13, 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

We all have had our share of struggles with prayer. Perhaps for many among us, we have often wondered if God really listens to us, if He actually responds to our prayers, or if anything really happens in prayer beyond the silence. Many who have attempted to take prayer seriously have asked questions like: How do I know if it is really God speaking or just myself? I have persevered in prayer but why is it that many of my prayers have remained unanswered? Does God really listen to my prayers? What is the proper way of praying?

Perhaps, the disciples of Jesus have also had their own share of doubts and frustrations with prayer. In today’s Gospel, they plead to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray …” In response, the Lord teaches them a prayer—the Lord’s Prayer as we know it today. Sure, Jesus instructed his disciples with these words: “When you pray, say …” But was Jesus really telling them what to pray? What if his intention was to teach them how to pray instead? What then can we learn from Jesus’ “instructions” to his disciples on prayer?

Perhaps, rather than the actual words of the prayer, Jesus wanted to teach his disciples the importance of intimacy with the Father and placing our trust and confidence in Him. They say that prayer is an expression of our heart’s desires. In the Lord’s Prayer, it finds expression in the words “Thy Kingdom come ….” If we search the depths of our hearts, we will find out that it is union with the Father in his Kingdom, it is eternal life with our Creator, that our hearts truly desire. And this can only happen through a profound intimacy with the Father and by entrusting ourselves to him.

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus dares to address God as “Father” because he enjoyed a close familiarity with the Father. “The Father and I are one,” he says (John 10, 30). And it is this closeness to the Father that has allowed him to firmly believe that he can rely on his Father to provide everything good that he dares to say “Thy will be done … .” So intimate was the relationship of Jesus with His Father that even as he was about to embark on his passion, almost overcome by fear, he had the freedom to submit himself wholly at the disposal of the Father: “Not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22, 42)

The French poet Paul Claudel once wrote that, “Prayer is the sovereign unfolding of our liberty.” It is through authentic prayer then that we attain spiritual freedom. Perhaps it is this interplay of intimacy with God that demands a response of love through total surrender to the will of the Father that brings forth our freedom. St. Ignatius knew this so well.

In his Suscipe prayer, Ignatius surrenders “everything I have and call my own.” So great was Ignatius’ trust and confidence in God, that he was willing to return everything that the Lord has given him save for one thing—”give me only your love and your grace, that is enough for me.” In this prayer, we see that it is Ignatius’ profound and intimate encounter with Jesus that has led him to freely entrust in confidence everything that he has in the service of God.

So, does God really listen to our prayers? Does God truly grant our every need? Perhaps, yes he does, but not always in the way we want them. He may not say yes to every desire of our hearts but he will always say yes to what will further his Kingdom in our lives, to what will deepen his life in us, to what will allow the life he has promised to us to flourish. For after all, Jesus teaches us, “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.” In other words, the Father promises to answer our prayers with the gift of the Holy Spirit, with what will prosper the gift of life that he has always desired us to have.

And so, despite all the difficulties and frustrations we have had with prayer, we ask for the grace to know and love our Lord intimately, to have the confidence in his great love for us that desires every good thing for us, that we may have the spiritual freedom to place our lives wholly at his disposal.

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