but first you must ask

The Lord’s Prayer is both a hymn of praise to our heavenly Father and a sincere supplication for his providential grace. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus responds to his disciples request to teach them how to pray.

Deep in Prayer

Deep in Prayer

Luke writes a much abbreviated version from that of Matthew, which is nearest in form to that which we are most familiar. While there should be little doubt that the beatitudes are prayer, the Lord’s Prayer is quite unique in its form and substance as a true and perfect offering of prayer to God our Father. While Jesus often went away to be alone and pray we know little or nothing of what he prayed. The Lord’s Prayer is the only prayer that Jesus gave us and it is indeed a perfect one.

Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote that “The Lord’s Prayer is the most perfect of prayers… In it we ask, not only for all the things we can rightly desire, but also in the sequence that they should be desired. This prayer not only teaches us to ask for things, but also in what order we should desire them.”1

The Lord’s Prayer is perhaps the most recited prayer for all Christians. As Catholics we pray it within every Mass, multiple times when we pray the Rosary, and on many other occasions. We know it so thoroughly that through countless repetition we mindlessly repeat its words with little or no thought to what we are saying. And when we finish we seldom give a moment’s consideration to what we have just prayed.

The Lord’s Prayer is the perfect communal prayer. It is not and never has been a private or a personal prayer but rather a prayer professed together in communion with our brothers and sisters. Say or read the prayer and you will discover that there are no singular pronouns to be found. No “I”, no “me”, no “my”, no “mine”, only “our”, “us”, and “we”. When we pray “Our Father…” we are praying in unity with our brothers and sisters, all created by God in His image and likeness. We do not pray alone but united as one body, one creation of God, for God, to God.

Saint John Chrystostom tells us that “[The Lord] teaches us to make prayer in common for all our brethren. For he did not say ‘My’ Father who are in heaven, but ‘Our’ Father, offering petitions for the common body.”2

While the Lord’s Prayer begins by acknowledging God with humble praise, much more concerns our needs, wants, and desires for which we ask him to provide: our daily bread, forgiveness, and deliverance from evil. I read somewhere that having desires and needs and presenting them to God are required by the Lord’s Prayer but that doesn’t set well for many of us. For some it is difficult to admit the need for help from anyone, especially from God. For others—and here I must include myself—the reluctance to ask comes from a feeling of selfishness; who am I to continually ask for things; there are so many others more deserving and needing than I.

Yet the truth is that we misunderstand what we are praying. We forget that we are praying to “our” Father, asking him for “our” daily bread, asking him to forgive “us” as “we” forgive “others”, and to lead “us” and deliver “us” from evil. We are not asking for ourselves but for all of us.

Jesus taught us that the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, with all our mind, and with all our soul and that we must love one another as our self. The measure with which we love one another and the extent which we can forgive one another are perfect indicators of the measure and extent to which we love God. We can only ask God to forgive us to the extent that we forgive others. Without forgiveness toward others we cannot ask God to forgive us. After all it is what we say when we pray to our Father isn’t it?

While Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer that is not all that he taught us. It is important that we reflect upon what followed. We must remember what he said after teaching us how to pray, “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.”3

Like many of us I have heard these words many times but I must admit I have seldom listened, really listened to them. A few years ago, during a period of quiet reflection my mind was suddenly filled with these words.

As I reflected on their meaning I suddenly saw something new in the passage, something that I had never discerned before. While it was quite honestly rather trite and embarrassingly unimportant I realized that the first letter of the first word of each phrase spelled the word A-S-K. While I am perfectly aware that this discovery is of no real or practical importance it did cause me to more deeply reflect on these words of our Lord and Savior.

Upon reflection I concluded that each phrase calls us to act; we must actively and purposefully engage in some action: Ask, Seek, and Knock. Without action there can be no reaction, no consequent response. In addition, each act requires that we condition ourselves and prepare ourselves in some manner for the response from God.

When you ask, you must listen. As I learned once during a retreat, to pray you must “sit down and shut up” although I personally prefer “Be still, and know that I Am God.” All of your senses must be tuned to hear God’s voice. Remember that God speaks to us in many ways; not necessarily as you might expect and often not with words.

Although God will always answer our prayers, we shouldn’t expect to necessarily receive precisely what we desire. Jesus never said we would receive the very thing for which we pray; he said that if we ask we will receive, but he never mentioned what it was that we would receive.

Think about it for a moment and you will begin to understand. Anyone who suffers sickness may and will pray for healing and an end to their suffering but few can or will be healed by their own actions. By seeking the help of a doctor whose training and skills are dedicated to healing and to the relief of suffering those who are in need of a cure and relief from suffering will receive.

When you seek, you must open your eyes, your mind, and your soul. You must shine the light of Christ within in order to discover the unseen and the hidden. You cannot find what you seek in the darkness. Equally important is the necessity to empty yourself of any vestiges of sin. For sin hides the light and darkens the soul.

When you knock, you must enter and embrace the unknown and the unknowable. You must put aside your fears of what lies beyond, knock down the walls of separation, distrust, hatred, and fear. You must accept and embrace what is now unknown to you because it is and it will be of God.

The Lord’s Prayer requires us to place our trust, our lives in God’s hands. We must trust him to know what we really need, not necessarily what we think we need. We may not receive what we want but as long as we continue to ask, Jesus has promised that we will receive what God knows that we truly need.

Every moment of our lives are unknown before we live them. The moments yet to come lie there like a closed door, a shuttered eye, a blocked ear. We cannot hope to live them, enjoy them, and embrace them unless we choose to act. To truly live we must ask, seek, and knock. God will always respond. All we have to do is ASK.


Homily # 079
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time — Cycle C
Genesis 18:20-32
Colossians 2:12-14
Luke 11:1-13

1 Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II, II, 83.
2 Saint John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of St. Matthew.
3 Lk 11:9-10

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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