Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 28)

A description of mining in 20th century Norway depicts two phases of creating a mine shaft. The first involved drilling deep holes into the rock with great effort. The creation of deep holes took incredible patience, skill and steadiness. After the holes were completed a “shot” was placed down the holes with a long fuse attached. Once everything was ready the fuse was lit. The sound of crackling was soon followed by cracking; then the explosion with pieces of rock flying in the air in all directions. The process was completed with a shaft being prepared for building the mine.

As the author describes the process, he notes that both the drilling and placing of the shots are necessary. It takes a lot of work and persistence in getting the job done. While simply placing a shot might be the easier part and brings the desired final outcome, if the holes originally drilled were not precisely placed or drilled deep enough the blast would not yield the desired results.

The story is used occasionally as an analogy for the prayer of petition. Sometimes we expect our prayer to be like the setting the shot and lighting the fuse without doing the drilling. We recognize a need for something in our lives or for our families or communities, we make the prayer and look for immediate results.

The problem faced by this method involves our understanding of God and his way. God knows what we need before we even ask for it. He also knows what is best for us and will help us on this path. Part of our work in the prayer of petition is to seek his way and to rely on him for help. Patience, persistence and effort are healthy elements in prayer.

The readings for Sunday’s liturgy help us understand these aspects of the prayer of petition. First Jesus teaches us how to pray when he gives us the “Our Father.” This prayer is probably the most used of all Christian prayers.

The words we speak when sincerely prayed speak of our understanding of God as a loving father who cares for his children. We place our lives in his hand, praising his way and his vision for us and our lives, a vision that leads to life. We ask him for the things we truly need for life — “our daily bread” — and his mercy. Finally, we ask that we have the ability to share the mercy that he bestows on us with others.

After this, Jesus elaborates on the graciousness of our heavenly Father. He gives good things to his children. In this description Jesus urges us to “ask” for those good things saying: “Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Jesus encourages us to be persistent in our prayer.

Persistence is well described in Abraham’s pleading recounted in the first reading for Sunday’s liturgy. The inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah have committed great crimes. The victims cry out to the Lord for justice. The Lord says he will look into these cries to see if they are justified.

Abraham, aware of the Lord’s work, asks him: “Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty?” He continues: “Suppose there were fifty innocent people in the city, would you wipe out the place, rather than spare it?” The Lord replies no. Abraham continues with his prayer changing fifty to forty-five, then forty-five to thirty, then thirty to twenty, then twenty to ten. Finally, the Lord says: “For the sake of those ten, I will not destroy it.” Abraham is persistent in his petition and God listens.

The celebration of the Eucharist involves plenty of prayers of petition but is ultimately a prayer of thanksgiving. We recognize the life, love and mercy that has been poured out on us through the passion, death and resurrection of God’s only Son. We thank the Father for the gift of Jesus and His love for us. This is the love that leads to life as the Letter to the Colossians attests in the second reading.

Thus, thanksgiving is an important element of our prayer of petition. We not only “ask” but we recognize that we have “received.” As we recognize what we have received we give thanks. This leads us into the responsorial psalm for the liturgy. The psalmist writes: “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with all my heart, for you have heard the words of my mouth; in the presence of the angels I will sing your praise; I will worship at your holy temple and give thanks to your name.” And so we sing: “Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.”

The analogy of the mine helps us understand that our prayer of petition requires persistence, patience and effort. Jesus reminds us that God is a loving Father who cares for his children. He teaches us to pray, giving praise to the Father, to seek his way and to rely on his goodness and care for us. Finally, we give thanks for his goodness and ever-present love and mercy.

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.