Lent is supposed to be a time to fast, pray, and help those in need.The Gospel reading for today, Thursday of the first full week of Lent, focuses our attention on prayer. There are many types or prayer—praise, adoration, meditation, liturgical prayer, and so forth. Today, however, the focus is prayer of petition, asking God for our needs, or at least what we think we need. The first reading narrates how Queen Esther’s prayers were answered and how her people, in bondage, were saved from the wicked designs of Haman, the king’s official who wanted to kill all the Jews.
In the Gospel, Jesus teaches about the need for constant, faithful prayer. We receive many prayer petitions at the Shrine of St. Anthony, where I reside here in Cincinnati. Some are mailed through our magazine’s subscriber services. Some are posted on the shrine website. Some are written right in the chapel and deposited in the huge box for prayer petitions. Some prayers are shared at the Prayers of the Faithful during daily Mass. There are certain constants. For good health, for helping finding a job, for a wayward child or a spouse who needs to recover from an addiction, and so forth.
I am afraid that some prayer is prayer of last resort—when all else fails, pray, there is nothing else we can do. I trust that most of us do not think that God must follow our directions, as if we were placing an order on the phone, online, or at a restaurant. Experience shows that often our prayers are just not answered in the way we want.
For example, last year I prayed that my brother would be cured of his cancer. A couple months later he died peacefully and we celebrated his funeral Mass. Sometimes God has other plans. I think prayer helps us change, we do not change God’s plan.
Today Jesus teaches us to pray constantly, putting our trust in God. It appears to me that we are called to reflect on how we pray, as well.