February 23, 2018

Christ the Cornerstone

Lenten season is a time to intensify our prayer

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“The prayer of faith comes not only in saying ‘Lord, Lord,’ but in disposing the heart to do the will of the Father. Jesus calls his disciples to bring into their prayer this concern for cooperating with the divine plan”
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2611).

A woman comes into her parish church to pray. Her young son is in the hospital diagnosed with terminal cancer.

“God, please don’t take my son from me,” she prays. “The doctors say there is no hope, but I know you can save him. Please don’t let him die.”

The mother’s prayer is heartfelt. The underlying emotions are powerful and overwhelming. In her desperation, she turns to God as her only source of hope.

Does God hear this mother’s prayer? Will he answer her? Will the little boy make it through this ordeal and join the growing number of people who are cancer survivors?

The answer to the first two questions is “Yes!” God hears our prayers, and he always responds.

But the answer to the third question is more difficult. We don’t know what will happen to the little boy or why.

Our Lord taught us to place our most serious problems in our Father’s hands—trusting that he will hear and answer us. That’s not the hard part, of course. What’s really difficult is accepting the fact that God’s answer may not be what we want it to be. And it may not come when, or how, we expect it.

Many of the Lord’s own prayers, as they are recorded in the Gospels, receive what may seem to us like unsatisfactory answers. Jesus prays for unity among his disciples, and the answer is “not yet.” He prays for peace, and the answer is “not now.” He prays to have the painful death that awaits him pass from him, and the Father’s response is “no.”

By his words and example, the Lord teaches us how to pray. Sometimes his prayer is public—in a synagogue, or while teaching or healing, surrounded by a large crowd. Other times, his prayer is intensely personal—taking place in a remote location. The Lord’s style of prayer differs according to the occasion. Sometimes he is grateful; sometimes he praises God for his greatness and mercy; sometimes he offers urgent petitions for physical or spiritual healing; and sometimes he even appears angry (as when he cleansed the temple of those who made it a place of commerce instead of a house of prayer).

One thing is consistent in all this wonderful diversity: Jesus prays, and the Father hears and answers him. Sometimes the Father’s answer is painful or disappointing, but because Jesus always adds, “your will, not mine, be done,” he is fundamentally at peace with whatever the Father decides.

This is the secret to praying well: Ask for whatever you need or want, but always add “your will, not mine, be done.” This is not easy to do. If it were, we would do it naturally. In fact, turning our will over to God is probably the most difficult thing we will ever be asked to do.

It was certainly the hardest thing Jesus had to do. Being crucified (one of the most painful and humiliating forms of capital punishment ever devised by human cruelty) must have been more difficult than any of us can possibly imagine. All Jesus had to do was say no. He could have rejected the Father’s will and spared himself all that horror.

That was not Jesus’ way. He knew that by saying yes to the cross, he was saying yes to life and to love. By aligning his will with his Father’s, he was teaching us how to live—and how to pray, thereby showing us the way to true happiness and peace.

Do we expect the woman praying in her parish church to add “your will, not mine, be done” to her prayer?

We don’t expect it, but we hope for it, and we pray that she will come to accept God’s will for her son whatever it may be. Our prayer for this struggling mother, and for ourselves, is that we can learn to pray as Jesus taught us. When that day comes, we will know for sure that God hears and answers us. And we’ll trust that God’s answers, even if we don’t understand them, always flow from his love for us.

During this holy season of Lent, we intensify our year-round commitment to prayer, fasting and almsgiving. May the Lord’s Prayer become our very own now. Following the teaching and example of Jesus, may we pray always that his will, not ours, be done.†

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