Pray… God Is Listening!

I’ve shared this often, I know… Throughout his time among us, Jesus offered countless revealing glimpses of our generously loving God. As amazing as each of these renderings is, my favorite is Jesus’ portrayal in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The image of that ever-patient and forgiving father who opened his arms to his terribly wayward child is something I’ve held dear all of my life. It is this image of God as my loving parent which encourages me to open my heart to God without reservation or fear. It is this image which encourages me to seek true intimacy in every utterance I send God’s way. I admit that this is a lifelong process which will likely continue well into my venture into the hereafter!

If you’ve been blessed with a close relationship, you understand the implications of intimacy. When we open our hearts to someone special, we hide nothing from him or her. We don’t allow pretenses or formalities or social norms to get in the way of the reality of who we are. When we share ourselves at this level, we put every flaw and every virtue in full view. When God is our partner in such a relationship, even the things we don’t know about ourselves are known to God. Far too frequently, I face the reality that I’m not perfect. When this occurs, I remind myself that God has been well aware of my glaring flaws all along. I know that, in spite of the pettiness or grandeur of my imperfections, God looks upon me with persistent and consistent love. Because God loves me and all of us so completely, I find the courage to approach God with the confidence Abraham exhibited in today’s passage from Genesis (18:20-32).

Did you notice that each time Abraham spoke he found God to be both approachable and compassionate? The author of Genesis carefully portrayed this encounter as a conversation during which God and Abraham walked side-by-side. In spite of being very much aware that he was in God’s presence, Abraham bargained with his Maker. He pleaded for the lives of the innocent inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. God’s apparent anger was in response to the outcries of many righteous people regarding the evil that festered in the two cities. Still, God listened to Abraham. Initially, Abraham asked that the cities be spared if there were just fifty innocent inhabitants. Then, Abraham begged God to preserve forty-five, forty, thirty, twenty or even ten innocent lives. Each time, God responded sympathetically. The chapter which follows tells us that God answered Abraham’s plea as the lives of the innocents in those otherwise wretched cities were spared. At the same time, we must remember that God also knew the hearts of the evildoers in Sodom and Gomorrah better than they knew themselves. God knew the reasons they did what they did and God loved them as well. I write this with great confidence because Jesus assured us that God’s mercy is never lost on anyone!

In today’s gospel (Luke 11:1-13), Luke shares another occasion on which Jesus revealed to his disciples the God with whom Abraham was so familiar. Jesus had just finished praying himself when his followers asked him to teach them to pray. Jesus responded with this advice: “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.” Afterward, Jesus went on to make this instruction regarding prayer perfectly clear. In the event that the disciples had forgotten the persistence of Abraham and God’s generous response to him, Jesus reminded them in no uncertain terms. Jesus spoke of a man who responded to his neighbor’s need in the middle of the night, not so much out of love as out of weariness at the neighbor’s persistence. Jesus added, “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Jesus went on to point out the disciples’ concern for their own children: “What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” I assure you that the God of Abraham continues to listen and to provide us all that we need as we journey through this life!

As I wrote today, it occurred to me that I’ve found a second image of God which I must treasure at least as much as that of the father who embraced his prodigal son. In today’s passage from Genesis, the author illustrated the possibilities when we open ourselves to God’s embrace just as that regretful son did. In this account, God and Abraham walk side-by-side. There is no question that Abraham is conversing with God as he would with a dear friend. Apparently, Abraham found this to be perfectly natural. It seems to me that God’s close proximity to Abraham was no accident. God’s close proximity to you and me is no accident either. Though that prodigal son was separated from his father for a while, we are never separated from God. God walks side-by-side with each one of us every step of the way. In our goodness and in our wrong-doing, God is with us. In our joy and in our sorrow, God is with us. So it is that we must take Jesus’ lesson regarding prayer to heart. We must ask and seek and knock because, even today, the God of Abraham listens and responds… Always!

©2019 Mary Penich-All Rights Reserved

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God Welcomes Our Prayer

I have been talking to God for as long as I can remember. I hold my parents and teachers responsible for this ongoing conversation in which I assume that the Lord God listens to my every word. My parents taught me about prayer when they ushered me down the street for Sunday Mass, prayed grace before meals and gathered our family for the rosary when serious illnesses threatened those we loved. When my uncle lay dying, my dad instructed us to ask God to take him to heaven where he would be healthy and happy again. When she tucked us into bed, my mom reminded us to tell God we were sorry for what we did wrong and to ask God to take care of those who needed God most. The good sisters and priests of our parish added their own lessons in prayer which increased my ease in talking to God whenever I was not talking to someone else. When my dad passed away, I spoke my first words of grief to God.

In sixth grade, I finally recognized myself in the Parable of the Persistent Widow. I wondered if God had listened all those years simply to quiet me. In Luke’s gospel (Luke 18:1-8), Jesus offers this parable to make a point about prayer and God’s absolute attention to our needs. Jesus tells us that this widow feels very strongly about her case, and she refuses to allow a disinterested and dishonest judge to deprive her of justice. She accosts him at every turn. This judge has little interest in justice. Still, he wishes to rid himself of this troublesome woman. He realizes that he had better do so before this widow strikes out at him and gives him a black eye. (Yes, this is the precise scriptural translation!) So it is that the judge rules in her favor, offering the widow all that she hopes for. Jesus goes on to explain that since God cares for us exponentially more than any judge ever could God will see to our needs with exponentially greater love, compassion and efficiency than any judge ever would. All that God asks is our faith in Divine Love in good times and in bad times.

This past week, a somber anniversary reminded me of the importance of that faith. Five years ago, bad times took hold of our family unexpectedly and brutally. My husband and I were on our way up north when his brother called. As soon as Mike responded, “Oh no! No! No!” I knew. Mike’s youngest nephew, Sergeant John Penich, had lost his life in Afghanistan. No words can dispel the sorrow that overwhelms a parent who loses a child, and there was nothing more Mike could say to his brother than to share tears in unison. In a bout of uncharacteristic speechlessness, I muttered weakly, “Help them.”

I cannot forget the sorrowful pall that weighed heavily upon those who love John. I also cannot forget the knowing glances and the firmness with which we hugged and held one another’s hands as we gathered to mourn him. These simple gestures said all that needed to be said. Unexpected consolation came in the friends and comrades who attended John’s services. Each one indicated that John’s presence had made a remarkable impact upon him or her. Though tears continue to flow at the mention of John’s name, our faith in the depths to which we are all loved brings peace. After all, John has known that love first hand for five years!

Jesus teaches us through the persistent widow because we have much to learn from her. God knows more than we do the imperfections of life on this earth. None of our loved ones leave us at just the right time, and it is difficult to accept that any child is meant to leave this life before his or her parents. Suffering sometimes seems to be the most consistent condition in this world. Nonetheless, we join the persistent widow with our hope and our dreams for better things to come. The persistent widow believed that she would eventually move the judge to rule on her behalf. This is the reason she pushed on day after day. Perhaps the lesson we learn from her is not a lesson in persistence, but a lesson in faith that all will be well in the end.

Jesus tells us to pray always, and, indeed, this is what we must do: Pray with absolute faith. Know that we are heard. Know that we will be answered with great love.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved