Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time  • Year C

Francis J. Barr, O.S.A.
St. Thomas Monastery
Villanova, Pennsylvania

Gn 18:20-32
Ps 138:1-2, 2-3, 6-7, 7-8
Col 2:12-14
Lk 11:1-13

This Sunday’s readings point us in the direction of prayer. The reading from Genesis tells of how Abraham prays to the Lord, even as he sees him, on behalf of Sodom. He drives a hard bargain with the Lord, but the Lord obliges him and saves the city for only a few faithful people. (Abraham does so well here that he may have done well in the real estate market.) There is another lesson here, that God is generous with his mercy. God will not judge us all even because of the many evildoers. Abraham’s pleas are heard in the way he hopes, but as you may already know, our prayers are not always answered in the way we expect or want-although they are always heard. Sometimes our task is to conform our desires and will to the Lord’s.

In the reading from the gospel of St. Luke, we see a few times that Jesus prays. Even if we feel that God is not listening, the Lord teaches us to be persistent with our prayers-eventually we will receive an answer. God’s timing in answering us may seem to be taking too long, but we may learn something about patience here. When the answer finally comes, God may have a better plan than we ask for or imagine. At times, between the beginning of our prayers and the time we receive the answer, some important thing has happened. Circumstances may have changed in a way we could not foresee and the answer to our prayers ends up being more appropriate or helpful. God really does know best.

“God, help me pass this test!” “Lord don’t let my relative die!” “Help me with this problem!” Anyone who believes even a little bit has said one of the above. Even if we only believe a little, we have prayed. Many times, as above, we are looking for help with an immediate need. But we might be looking for something else.

More than anything else, in prayer, we are looking to make a connection with God, and we need for him to hear us. When the communication goes back and forth between us and God, it is a communion between Him and you or me. When prayer is most satisfying, it is not just because our prayer is answered, it is also because this communion has taken place, and we feel better because of it. And hopefully, we want more of this. The way we pray is less important than that we do pray.

Catholic faith highlights four types of prayer. The one mentioned above is prayer of petition or intercession–where we need something. But there are others. Some faith traditions mention as many as 12, from what I have seen. There is prayer of adoration or praise of God, or blessing. Prayer of repentance may be familiar to us–when we tell God we are sorry for something. Here we are asking for forgiveness. There is also prayer of thanksgiving for same favor we have received.

Many books have been written on the several ways to pray. That topic is too involved to discuss here, but there are many people who can help you with that. How we choose to pray is our decision. We need to find one that suits us and then go about it with some consistency. So, just do it!