It is easy to take our Baptism for granted. It’s something Catholics do. But it is good to step back and reflect on what an amazing thing happens to us. Through Baptism, a human person becomes a member of the Body of Christ.
And that ties into our readings today about prayer. God is the creator of this vast universe. He is infinite, so exceedingly great. Why would he bother to listen to us when we pray? We are so small, so insignificant.
God the Father listens to us because we are members of the Body of Christ. We pray with Christ and through Christ to the Father. And the Father always hears the prayers of the Son.
But sometimes it seems God doesn’t hear our prayers. Maybe that’s because we get in the way. Yes, sometimes we get in the way of our own prayers
What gets in the way? Unforgiveness, ingratitude, lack of hospitality, pride, and praying for the wrong thing. That means, in place of unforgiveness, we need forgiveness; in place of ingratitude, we need gratitude; in place of inhospitality, we need hospitality; in place of pride, we need humility. And in place of praying for the wrong thing, we need to pray for the right thing.
1) Forgiveness. Jesus tells us, "If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift." (Matthew 5:23-24)
Throughout his ministry Jesus forgave sins. Hanging on the cross he even forgave those who crucified him. We are the followers of Jesus, members of his body. To be like Jesus, we need a forgiving spirit to permeate our entire being all life long.
When we pray the Our Father, we say very daring words. We say, "Father, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." Once we forgive, we can then look to our heavenly Father to hear our prayers.
2) Gratitude. If someone gives us a gift and we fail to thank them, chances are they will not give us a gift again. We have received so many gifts from God. The gift of life and all the gifts of creation, our family and friends, faith and forgiveness…. All is gift. So, of course, we want to thank him.
But how can we little creatures possibly give adequate thanks to Almighty God? We can do so with Christ and through Christ here at Mass. The Father always hears the prayer of the Son.
When God sees how deeply grateful we are for what we have received, he will be very attentive to our prayers
3) Hospitality. In the book of Genesis, we read about Abraham and Sarah. They prayed and prayed for a child. But no child came. They were getting old and running out of hope. Then one day three travelers came by. There were no hotels in those days, so Abraham and Sarah offered them hospitality. Indeed, they rolled out the red carpet for these visitors, washing their feet, baking bread, roasting a choice steer, etc. As a result of their abundant hospitality, Abraham and Sarah's prayer was answered. A child was born to them. (Cf. Genesis 18:1-10)
If our prayers are not being answered, we need to examine how well we do in welcoming people into our hearts. Our spirit of friendliness and concern mirrors the image and likeness of God who "anoints my head with oil," and "spreads the table before me." (Cf. Psalm 23)
(God will not be outdone in generosity. If we are generous with our time, talent and treasure, God will be very attentive to our prayers.)
4) Humility. In the Epistle of St. James we read, "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." (James 4:6)
It is helpful to go outside and gaze at the stars at night and reflect on how many there are and how far away they are. All we see at night are the stars in our own galaxy. Scientists tell us that there are billions and billions of galaxies, and these are billions of years old. We humans are so small in size and so brief in age.
A rabbi was once asked why God was so present and evident to people in ages past but now seems so absent. He responded, "Nowadays there is no one who can bow low enough." Realizing our littleness next to the greatness of our infinite Creator gives us the right disposition for prayer.
5) God’s Kingdom. Sometimes I think we spend too much time telling God what God already knows - all our personal needs. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus reminds us to "Seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides." (Matthew 6:33)
What is the Kingdom of God? It is a kingdom where forgiveness is lavished, justice is served, truth is spoken, and peace reigns. We are not there yet, are we? So we have work to do.
Zeal for the Father's Kingdom must be at the center of our praying.
In summary, to have our prayers answered, we need to:
1) Be forgiving. Forgive everybody, everything, every day.
2) Be grateful. Give thanks, especially at Mass.
3) Show hospitality. Give the gift of attention with affection.
4) Be humble. Bow low enough.
5) Seek first God’s Kingdom. Work for truth, justice
When we pray with Christ and through Christ, then we can confidently hold open our hands and receive. He who is mighty will do great things for us. Holy is his name.