Fr. Enrico Parry, Diocese of Oudsthoorn, South Africa
Let us pray
If Jesus were in his element, He could have responded to the disciples’ teach-us-to-pray request, “You mean to say I have been praying all this time and you didn’t learn from me?” But in the patience that prayer brings, He taught them the Lord’s Prayer. And in the way of teachers then told them a story about prayer.
Ours is to learn with them, since we are also disciples, remember? At baptism we were anointed with the oil of catechumens which was our ‘registration’ as learners or if you want to use biblical language, disciples. It was the beginning of our training as Christians. And today, dear learners, we learn how to pray.
That prayer with which Jesus starts off his lesson must have been something He prayed every day, for it comes off his tongue so readily. When you pray, call God Father, He says. It’s that kind of relationship, it’s close to the bone. Flesh of my flesh, bone of my bones. God helps us pray like this, St. Paul writes somewhere. For He pours his own Spirit into us that makes us cry out, “Daddy, Father!” That’s as powerful a beginning to prayer as you can get. It puts us on a firm footing.
And then that story on persistence. Be at it all the time. As we say in Afrikaans, “hou dik.” Keep on doing it, never stop. Like the bubble gum that never loses its flavour. More seriously, I think of St. Monica who prayed her poor knees through for that stubborn boy of hers who later, a lot later in life, couldn’t resist the Spirit any longer and became Catholic. And how! That poor lady did not budge, she just kept on praying. A bishop told her once that a child for whom so many tears are shed can never be lost always. Her prayer simply never ceased. And it doesn’t. Did not St. Therese of Lisieux say she will spend her heaven doing good on earth? On and on they pray for us, the saints in heaven.
Prayer is like asking, searching and knocking, Jesus’s lesson goes on. How many stupid questions one gets to ask when you are learning. My niece looking aghast when I ask a simple thing about WiFi or Bluetooth or some similar intricate thing. How could you even ask me such a thing, says the look she gives me every time I do. If prayer is like asking, poor God must put up with all my stupid questions. And it’s fine, Jesus says. Ask away.
Like searching. Do you remember having lost something, like the keys you just had in your hand, or your pen which you were just writing with? And in a flash it’s vanished. And you search frantically, retrace your steps. Turn your head this side and that, even upside down to see if a changed perspective would turn up something. Or again, for something more serious, like meaning in a life that seems to have lost all traces of it. If praying is like searching, I know about searching, I do it all the time. So, I can pray!
Like knocking. Getting the attention of the people inside. One knocks gently, mostly. To get the friendly response to come inside. Or more insistently at other times, when your worried knock says, are you there? Or sometimes you just go right ahead and bang on the door. But for now I remember the words of Jesus, “Look, I stand at the door and knock. If someone opens I will come in and sit down at table with him.” So, there’s a meal at the end of prayer. And that’s good to know. Forget about fish and eggs, the Father gives the Spirit.
So, let’s eat! Or more seriously, let us pray.