When I was growing up I could be, to put it kindly, persistent. I don’t think I was any more persistent than any other kid, but as we all know, if a kid wants something, that kid is going to ask for it until he gets it or gets sent to his room. So being a child in this tradition, my mother had certain rules around asking for things, rules that went beyond the normal please and thank you rules. The first rule was “A nudge is a no.” If I was annoyingly persistent and bothersome, the answer was automatically no. Also on the list was “Don’t ask me for anything while I’m on the phone,” which to my memory was the rule I broke most often. When I got older and started asking for things like an earring or a tattoo, my mother set up a new rule: if you still want that earring or tattoo or whatever in one year, and in that year you haven’t failed out of school or done anything embarrassingly stupid, I might be able to have it. These are good parenting techniques, I think, good rules to put into place if kids come our way. Kids have to learn how to ask for things, and apparently, so do Christians.
“Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” Jesus responded with what we call the Our Father or the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer says lots of things; it teaches us what we should do and believe even as it says a lot of things to God. God is our heavenly Father, and He relates to us and we should relate to Him as Father. His Name is and should be hallowed, made sacred, kept sacred in our hearts and in the public sphere. We want God’s kingdom to come, to come to fruition with all that means, we ask Him to hurry on up and make everything perfect again. Thy will be done, we say, giving up our own will and admitting that God knows better than us. We ask for our daily bread, our sustenance, asking especially for that living Bread of Christ’s Body in the Blessed Sacrament. We ask for forgiveness, forgiveness that’s dependent on our forgiving others as well. Lead us not into temptation, please don’t test us when not necessary, but rather deliver us, keep us safe from the wiles of the devil. That’s a lot to say, a whole bunch of things to comprehend about God and ourselves, so Jesus, after giving us how and what to pray, gave us His own commentary on it.
The first commentary Jesus gave on His own prayer is the story I like to call the “Midnight Run” story. Having no 7-11’s or White Castles in ancient Israel, people were depended on their neighbors if they needed something when the market was not accessible, like in the middle of the night. The guy in need of some food to serve his guests pesters his neighbor into getting up and giving him what he needs, which seems at first to be a little rude. But it seems that the point of the story is that God can take a little persistence; He’s heard it all and heard it a bajillion times, so never think that you are bothersome to God. Prayer is welcomed, even in the middle of the night.
The second comment from Jesus is the famous “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” passage. It’s followed up by Jesus saying this: “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?” All you parents out there, maybe you’re thinking back to a time when your kid asked for a cookie, maybe when you were on the phone or maybe they asked for a cookie over and over and over again, and maybe you thought “If I just had a scorpion or a snake around here…” But of course you didn’t slip little Johnny a viper, but maybe you did break down and give him that cookie. Thankfully God holds it together a little better than we frail mortals do, and in His mercy and abundance He knows when to give us that cookie and when to give us something infinitely better.
Prayer can be difficult. Prayer is difficult enough that the 12 disciples, who watched and heard Jesus pray constantly, had to ask how and what to pray. The first answer is this: pray constantly and with as much intention as you can. Talk to God and listen for Him to talk back. He will. The second answer is this, these two things: a Bible and a Book of Common Prayer. Read Scripture; read it silently or read it aloud, read it back to God, He breathed it to us, breath it back to Him. Don’t always know what to say or how to say it when you pray? Here’s the Book of Common Prayer. There is nothing common to man that is not addressed in this prayer book. The Mass itself, the whole of the Mass, is the greatest prayer ever, so learn it, participate in it, receive the Mass and offer it back to God. Between the Mass, the Rosary, and the Bible, if you can’t find what to say, the Holy Spirit will find a way to say it for you.
In a little bit, right after the consecration, we will say the words Jesus taught us. Just as the sacrifice of the Mass is an act of obedience to our Lord, so also is praying the words He Himself taught us to pray. In the Liturgy of St. James, one of the oldest versions of the Mass, right before the Lord’s Prayer the priest said this: “Make us worthy, O Lord that lovest mankind, with freedom and without condemnation, with a clean heart, with soul enlightened and with unashamed face and holy lips, to dare to call upon Thee, our holy God and Father in heaven and to say: Our Father….” So dare to call upon the Lord, dare to call Him Father; pray without ceasing, ask without shame, and I bet you’ll get something better than a cookie.