Sunday, July 25, 2010

If God Knows What We Need Before We Ask Him, Then Why Do We Have To Ask Him For Things?

(Seventeenth Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on July 25, 2010 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Genesis 18: 20-32; Luke 11: 1-13.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Seventeenth Sunday 2010]

Tom and Joanne, both 60 years of age, were celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary, when suddenly an angel from heaven appeared to them. The angel congratulated them and said, “God is so pleased with the two of you, that he’s given me permission to grant each of you one wish.”

Joanne said, “O that’s wonderful. I wish that Tom and I had tickets for a romantic cruise that would take us all the way around the world.”

The angel said, “So be it”—and he handed Joanne two first class cruise tickets.

“And what about you, Tom?”

Tom replied, “I wish that my wife was 30 years younger than I am.”

The angel said, “So be it”—and Tom immediately became 90-years-old!

You might call that “a prayer of petition gone bad!”

There’s an old saying (and there is a lot of truth in it): Be careful what you ask for!

But this does raise an interesting question: Why do we need to ask at all? We say that we believe in a God who knows everything. Well, if that’s true—if Almighty God knows everything that we need before we ask him (as Jesus says he does in Matthew 6:8)—then why do we have to ask at all? Why doesn’t the Lord just give us everything we need instantaneously and simplify the process?

Have you ever wondered about those things?

Probably most people have (at least most believers have) at some point in their lives.

This morning I share with you four reasons why: four reasons why God wants us to ask. Now please don’t misunderstand: these are not the only reasons there are. I’m sure that some of you could think of others, if you spent some quality time reflecting on the matter, as I did the other day. These are simply the ones that I would focus on, if someone came up to me and said, “Fr. Ray, why does God want me to pray prayers of petition, if he already knows all my needs?”

The first reason is this: Prayers of petition make us aware of our need for God. They make us aware of the fact that we are not self-sufficient: that we need God’s grace in every situation of our lives. The constant temptation we face in this life, of course, is to think just the opposite. (This is one reason, by the way, why most Catholics don’t come to Mass every Sunday. They don’t think they need it!) And I’m convinced that this temptation to think that we don’t need God would increase a hundredfold, if we received everything from the Lord without asking. The gifts would be from God, yes that’s true—but we probably wouldn’t recognize that fact.

So the bottom line is this: God doesn’t need to be told what we need, but we need to know that we need him—and asking helps us to have that knowledge, that awareness.

Reason number 2 why God wants us to ask: Asking helps us to grow in faith. Asking helps us to grow in our relationship with God. In today’s first reading, Abraham intercedes for the people of Sodom. He starts off by asking the Lord to spare the city if there are 50 innocent people living in it. God says he will. And that affirmative response from the Lord increases Abraham’s faith—so much so that he then asks, “Well, what if there are only 45 righteous people in the city? Would you be willing to spare it for their sakes?” God says yes again. This increases Abraham’s faith even more, leading him eventually to the point of asking God to spare Sodom if there are only 10 good people left in the place. Unfortunately, as we all know, there weren’t. Remember, this is the city from which we get the modern English word “sodomy”—but the point here is that Abraham’s trust and confidence in the Lord grew much stronger through his verbal exchange with God, through this experience of asking the Lord again and again and again.

Those of you who are parents: When your children need something (when they really NEED something) and they come to you and they ask and you give it to them—your relationship with them grows stronger, does it not? Their trust in you—their confidence in you—increases.

Well, the same is true of our relationship with God.

Which brings us to reason number 3 why God wants us to ask: Because our God is a Father, not a tyrant! A tyrant imposes things on others. God doesn’t impose things—even good things—on anybody! Like a loving Father, he simply offers them to us. He gives them to us if we want them—and if we ask for them. That’s why Jesus encourages us in today’s gospel to ask, to seek and to knock—and to do so persistently and perseveringly!

Finally, God wants us to ask him for things in prayer because we are his co-workers! This is an idea that St. Paul, St. John the apostle and Pope Benedict XVI would all understand very well. In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul calls himself God’s “co-worker”; and in his third letter St. John talks about us being “co-workers of the truth.” That last expression also happens to be the biblical phrase that Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) took as his episcopal motto.

We are called God’s co-workers because we are to have an active role in fulfilling the Lord’s plan of salvation for the human race. God could have made us robots in a mechanical universe and worked out everything by himself; but he chose to create us as free human beings in a moral universe—a universe where we would have to freely and consciously choose the good and embrace it. So if we believe that prayers of petition bring good things—blessings—into our lives and the lives of others (and we should), then those prayers are part and parcel of this partnership we have with God! When we pray, in other words, we are acting as his “co-workers” in bringing his help and saving grace into the world.

So there you have it, four reasons why God wants us to ask: to make us aware of our need for him; to help us grow in faith; because he’s a Father, not a tyrant; and because we are his co-workers in this world.

Dear Lord, may these four reasons be reason enough—reason enough for us to take prayer and its power seriously, each and every day of our lives. Amen.