The Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Genesis 18:20-32 + Colossians 2:12-14 + Luke 11:1-13
July 24, 2022
“… how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him”.
Four Sundays ago we heard Jesus begin his long journey to Jerusalem. He was “resolutely determined” to journey there, even though He knew full well what He would find at the end of the road. During these Sundays in Ordinary Time, we are listening to Jesus so that we might follow Him no matter where He leads.
Any guide worth his salt covers the basics at the start of a journey. Jesus is the best of guides. He prepares us for the journey to Heaven by way of the Cross. Today in the Gospel Reading, He’s covering some basic skills regarding prayer that we need for our journey.
When our holy Mother the Church teaches us about prayer, she often uses a mnemonic device to help us remember the four basic types of vocal prayer. We can remember the letters of the word “ACTS”—A, C, T and S—by thinking about the New Testament Acts of the Apostles, where the disciples after Pentecost lived their Faith through the power of prayer. These four letters—A, C, T and S—stand for “Adoration”, “Contrition”, “Thanksgiving” and “Supplication”. It’s the last of these (often called “petition”) on which Jesus focuses our attention today.
Using the word “ACTS” to remember the four types of vocal prayer also helps us keep first things first, because adoration is the most important of these types of prayer. Supplication is the least important, so it belongs last. Unfortunately, if we don’t understand the prayer of supplication correctly, we might never move beyond it to the more important forms of prayer. The potential for this is very real, because petition is the form of prayer most easily corruptible: that is, it’s the form of prayer that most easily can become self-centered.
So regarding supplication, and beginning with the most simple of questions, why should we ask God for things? Why is the prayer of supplication even important in the Christian life? When we reflect on today’s Gospel Reading, and how Jesus teaches us here about petitionary prayer, we see His teaching rooted in two things, or rather, in two Persons: God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit. Consider here how prayer leads us to the Father.
Jesus, as the divine Son of God, roots His prayer in His own relationship with God the Father. Jesus teaches us that the answer to all our questions about prayer, and the answer to all our prayers, is in seeing exactly who God the Father is. For this purpose, Jesus begins in today’s Gospel Reading by giving us the only verbal prayer He ever taught: the “Our Father”. He follows this prayer by unpacking it through two parables. Then he concludes by asking us a rhetorical question about His Father, which will lead us to the Holy Spirit.
In regard to petitioning God the Father for what we want, a devil’s advocate might ask, “If God is all-knowing, and knows what we want, why do we need to ask?” The devil’s advocate might also ask, “Doesn’t God know better than we do what we need?” Obviously, these are questions about who the God the Father is.
So we can ask: when a loving father gives what his child needs, does he always do so immediately? The loving father does not, because he knows that his child in certain cases needs to desire what he has to give her. Otherwise, as soon as the father gives the gift, the child might cast it aside. Even the most knowledgeable and most powerful father does not seek to control his child. The loving father knows that a child has to experience life for herself. The desire within the child for what she needs is essential. The father cannot impose everything. All this is to say that the manner in which God the Father does, or does not, answer our petitions has a lot to do with His shaping our desires, both by His silence and by His responses to our petitions.