What are our Difficulties in Prayer?

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gensis 18:20 - 32

In those days, the LORD said: "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great, and their sin so grave, that I must go down and see whether or not their actions fully correspond to the cry against them that comes to me. I mean to find out." While Abraham's visitors walked on farther toward Sodom, the LORD remained standing before Abraham. Then Abraham drew nearer and said: "Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty? Suppose there were fifty innocent people in the city; would you wipe out the place, rather than spare it for the sake of the fifty innocent people within it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to make the innocent die with the guilty so that the innocent and the guilty would be treated alike! Should not the judge of all the world act with justice?" The LORD replied, "If I find fifty innocent people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake." Abraham spoke up again: "See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord, though I am but dust and ashes! What if there are five less than fifty innocent people? Will you destroy the whole city because of those five?" He answered, "I will not destroy it, if I find forty-five there." But Abraham persisted, saying "What if only forty are found there?" He replied, "I will forbear doing it for the sake of the forty." Then Abraham said, "Let not my Lord grow impatient if I go on. What if only thirty are found there?" He replied, "I will forbear doing it if I can find but thirty there." Still Abraham went on, "Since I have thus dared to speak to my Lord, what if there are no more than twenty?" The LORD answered, "I will not destroy it, for the sake of the twenty." But he still persisted: "Please, let not my Lord grow angry if I speak up this last time. What if there are at least ten there?" He replied, "For the sake of those ten, I will not destroy it."

Colossians 2:12-14

Brothers and sisters: You were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And even when you were dead in transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he brought you to life along with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions; obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims, which was opposed to us, he also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross.

Luke 11:1-13

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples." He said to them, "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test." And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend to whom he goes at midnight and says, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him,' and he says in reply from within, 'Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.' I tell you, if he does not get up to give the visitor the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence. "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. What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?"

Our Gospel for this Sunday is of great significance, for in it the Son of God teaches us to pray. We hear from not just a guru, or a spiritual teacher, but from the very Son of God. This is why the “Our Father”, the Lord’s Prayer, is the model of all prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is the prayer for the Christian journey which has been offered up consistently for the past two thousand years. Nevertheless, we often find our prayer as source of great frustration. Perhaps, we listen to the Gospel, we are edified and inspired by it. But then, many people may say, “I pray and pray, but things don’t seem to happen the way I want them to happen.” How do we explain this beautiful and inspiring Gospel, with people’s lived experience runs against it? When we study the scripture in length, there are certain rules, or directives, on how we should pray. I would like to briefly introduce them.

Rule #1: Pray with faith. How often in the New Testament, before Jesus heals someone, does He say, “Do you believe I can do this for you” (Mt 9:28)? Recalling an account when Jesus visits His own town but people do not believe in Him, “He did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith” (Mt 13:58). Our faith is like the opening of a window. God wants to live in us, and act in us. Nevertheless, the divine power is not going to flow until God finds a place in us, where He can “plug in”. If we shut that down, He cannot enter. Therefore, ask in faith, with a passion for the impossible, or say, “Lord, what I can’t do on my own, I ask more of you to the point that I’ve expected of you.” Jesus says, “I tell you, all that you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours” (Mk 11:24). Faith is necessary in prayer.

Rule #2: Forgiveness. When we pray, and we realize that we need to forgive somebody, go and do it! What blocks our access to God? It may mainly be our anger, resentment, past hatred, and our incapacity to forgive. All of these build up in our soul, and they block the flow of God’s power. God wants to speak in and through us, but if our souls are filled with all kinds of obstacles and blockages, then it will not work. So, forgive those against with whom we have a grievance, heal a broken relationship, get rid of the past frustration, hatred, and resentment. Reconcile then pray.

Rule #3: Persistence. As mention throughout the Bible, God wants us to persist in prayer. Our first reading for today is the famous account of Abraham praying to God on behalf of Sodom. Abraham goes on persistently to beg for God for rescuing the city (Ref. Gn 18:23-32). Keep praying, keep asking, be persistence with the Lord. Why Does God make us wait? Is God too busy to answer? St. Augustine says, “Sometimes God makes us wait because He wants to enlarge the capacity of our soul so as to receive the good He wants to give us” (Ref Tract. 4: PL 35, 2008-2009). So, ask persistently!

Rule #4: Pray in Jesus’ name. When we pray, we are relying on His help. But also, when we pray in Jesus name, we are aligning our prayer properly, orienting ourselves to Christ, assuming his attitude, and his perspective. St. Paul says, ” Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5). Therefore, we have to pray for the “right things”, focus and sanctify our desires and mind in the Spirit of Jesus. Prayer is not designed so much to change God’s mind than it is to change ours. Rather, He is the one who wants nothing other than to give us good things — though they might not always be the things we want. Practice to pray with all our strength, mind, and heart with the above 4 rules. Then God, Abba Father, “who art in heaven”, who creates, sustains, governs, and provides for us, will transform our prayer into daily miracles in our life.

This is an excerpt from Bishop Robert Barron’s homilies, including “The Ways of Prayer”, and “Rules of Prayer”. For more information, please visit WordOnFire.org.

Posted: July 28, 2019

Ben Cheng


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