Saturday, June 20

Prayer of Petition

Thank you for coming to pray with us for Fr. Subprior. Thank you for helping him and all of us with your prayer.

I thought it would be fitting to speak to you of the prayer of petition. We divide prayer into various types, but they all very linked in fact. When I ask for something I am glorifying God. When I adore Him, I am opening up to His graces. The Our Father is a list of petitions, but the first one is "May Thy Name be sanctified."

It was normal, with this personal God Who revealed Himself to them and acted in their lives, that the Israelites prayed a lot. The Old Testament is indeed full of prayer. There are some big scenes, such as Abraham intervening for the sinning cities that the Lord planned to destroy.

Moses is a major intercessory figure. We see him praying on the hill while the Israelites battle on the plain. He prays for the healing of his sister. And especially when he was up on Mt. Sinai, and the people began worshipping false gods, and God decided to destroy them, promising to raise up a new people, Moses "turned away His wrath."

David considered it part of his mission as king to represent and pray for His people. The prophets also officially prayed for the people. Elijah prayed to bring a child back to life etc. Of course the psalms are the main prayers, and they are largely made up of petitions. They are wonderful—simple, direct, spontaneous earnest ["help me! hear me! turn towards me! I'm afraid! simple.

Let me read you a little of Ps 24/1-7,16-22

Since you are on a pilgrimage, I might mention the series of psalms around 121 that were sung on pilgrimages to Jerusalem, for example 124/1-2; let me quote 131 also.

Our Lord gave a fair amount of teaching about the prayer of petition. There are especially the two rather amazing parables: the importunate widow whom the iniquitous judge did not want to help, but to get her off his back, he did what she wanted. Then the importunate friend in St Luke 11/5-8 Christ really insists on this certitude of help (verses 9-13),

He is not saying that God does not care for us, but that we must insist and persevere. He encourages us greatly. He wants us to storm Heaven and trust in our Father.

So the Christians went forward in this line. Paul always promises his prayers and asks his faithful to help him in his ministry by their prayer. And he says not to be anxious but put all our requests before the Lord: Phil 4/5.

Likewise all through the centuries. There are the famous intercessors— St Monica's years of praying for her wayward son, then
being heard beyond her wildest dreams. St Catherine of Siena's prayers to save her sons going to the execution. The rosary and Lepanto. And St Therese of the Child Jesus' "first child" who converted at the guillotine. And then all the miracles of healing from prayer.

So, the essential role of prayer of petition in our life is a fact. It remains mysterious. However one might ask two questions here to help us understand better:

1) we cannot change God, make Him change His mind. And when we pray Fiat voluntas tua--but of course His Will will be done. He is all powerful! And He loves this sinner more than I do, wants his good. He doesn't need our information as our Lord Himself told us: "don't speak a lot of your words, Your Father knows what you need before you ask." Mtt8/6

Certainly, God does not need our prayer but He wants it. He takes it into His providential designs. In His eternal plan He wants this or that good, but He also wants to work it out in time through this or that means, notably by prayer. Saints, so attuned to the Holy Ghost, know that when they want and pray for something intensely, it is because God wants to give it.

Prayer is thus one very fitting way for us to cooperate in His work. It is indeed fitting, for several reasons easy to see.

First it makes us turn to Him, take up contact with Him. Prayer helps us recognize that we are creatures, that we are not the masters of our life. It teaches us to be children, to rely on God. It helps us to desire more; it disposes us, it opens us up to His action.

It also links us to one another. We will see in Heaven all the little ties brought about by prayer, the graces we owe to one another. After WWII, Russia placed a puppet ruler over Poland. Cardinal Wyszynski hardly knew him but had always prayed for him. This man later lost favor and was called back to Moscow, and the Cardinal pretty much forgot about him. Then one night he had a dream and this man was calling out to him—"Cardinal Wyszynski, pray for me." The next day, the Cardinal read in the newspaper that the man had died during the night. That shows these mysterious and powerful ties woven by prayer.

2) Second question: why doesn't prayer seem to work as much as promised?

First, there is a certain hierarchy in prayer. Certain intentions are absolute—grace, salvation, conversion. Others are not absolutely necessary—I want to succeed in my exams, that is a good thing, but I can go to Heaven and be eternally happy without it. God might not hear me about my exams for some greater good.

Also, they say that we must distinguish between asking for self and another. When I ask I am already opening myself to God, but with another that person's free will intervenes. Nevertheless, no prayer is in vain. When I pray for someone God is going to help that person all the more. Then obviously it is not so simple. There are big intentions we must battle for—abortion, the conversion of our country, of the Jews, of the Muslims. Perhaps a St. Catherine of Siena could obtain that all alone, but for us it is a continual war.

Then there is the condition of perseverance— that was the very point of the parables of the importunate friend and widow. And we must indeed battle. When the disciples could not exorcise a demon, Christ told them such demons can't be expelled except through prayer and fasting. So it's not so easy.

There are also dispositions we must bring to prayer if we are to be heard. Faith, first of all. Our Lord pushed away the Canaanite woman harshly, yet she persevered and He praised her for her faith. The parable about the publican, a public sinner who was heard instead of the pharisee who obeyed the law, teaches about the necessary humility to address God. We also must do God's will. St. John tells us we are heard in our prayer, "because we do what pleases God." [Jn 3/22] James likewise: James 1/5-8. And he encourages us with the fact that Elijah was heard, but because he was a righteous man. We all realize we ask holy people to pray for us. It's not those who say Lord Lord who will be heard but those who do the Father's will.

Also we must be reconciled with our brethren. Our Lord tells us to leave our offering there and go be reconciled with a brother who has something against you; then you can make the offering. And in the Our Father, we ask to have our sins forgiven but our Lord tells us we must forgive others if we are going to be forgiven.

Finally, we have to work too, on our side. While Moses prayed the army really fought. If I want to succeed in the exams I have to study too.

Prayer is a trial of faith. Benedict XVI wrote in his first encyclical of the necessity of prayer in our charitable actions. Then
he came to the temptation of doubting prayer since there are so many miseries in this world.

"Often we cannot understand why God refrains from intervening. Yet he does not prevent us from crying out, like Jesus on the Cross: "My god, my god, why have you forsaken me?" We should continue asking this question in prayerful dialogue before His face: 'Lord, holy and true, how long will it be?' (Rev 6/10). … Our protest is not meant to challenge God, or to suggest that error, weakness or indifference can be found in Him .. Instead, our crying out is, as it was for Jesus on the Cross, the deepest and most radical way of affirming our faith in His sovereign power. Even in their bewilderment and failure to understand the world around them, Christians continue to believe in the goodness and loving kindness of God. Immersed like everyone else in the dramatic complexities of historical events, they remain unshakably certain that God is our Father and loves us, even when his silence remains incomprehensible. "

Now we can kind of put it all together in a little synthesis on our prayer of petition. First of all God takes the initiative in
Christian life. He calls on us. Prayer is part of our response, it is the reciprocal call. It is always first in our response, because we
rely on grace. "Without me you can do nothing." This is especially true in the order of grace, the supernatural order. So, we must come to God like children to their father, with faith, hope, trust. We can do so only in Christ. Grafted in Him by baptism, we can approach the Father as His sons. This also puts us in communion one with another. "When two of you ask anything together in My Name, you will be heard."

It is especially in the official prayer of the Church that we pray in Christ and with one another. Especially at Mass where all our prayers are lifted up with Christ in His passage to the Father. And then we must persevere courageously in our prayer, and work to be faithful in our life.

All our life indeed should be a prayer. We can do nothing in the supernatural order, so our acts themselves are mainly a beseeching, an offering. So, one good way to pray, and do penance, is to go on pilgrimage. That activity puts the petition in our bones and muscles, makes it concrete, more real. It increases our desires. It's good to go to a holy place, a source of graces, where God likes to intensify His action. A monastery, a place of prayer, a sanctuary is a good place to go for graces. And Clear Creek is the house of Our Lady.

God likes us to pray to the saints. We thus knit ties with members of the Mystical Body on the other side. That too is in service of God's plan. This is especially true of Mary, our heavenly Mother.

Now we can turn to Fr. de Feydeau for a last word. "Tout est grace," all is grace - some harder than others. Often we have to be cornered to make us open up to big graces. This is a grace for Fr de Feydeau, a deepening of his spiritual life; perhaps a last purification if God takes him. It's a grace for us in many ways. This illness wakes us up to the fact that we cannot install ourselves here below. It wakes us up to reality. And Fr. de Feydeau is very edifying, a great example with his good humor, his realistic, natural attitude of someone who is probably about to pass from this life to the next, to the real life. He could say like St. Paul in Philippians 1/20-24.

He is a strong soul. He was a naval officer and likes challenges.

This is a chance for fraternal charity also. Fr. de Feydeau doesn't come on recreation. So, last Sunday he drew a cartoon. We see him sitting on a pillow with another one behind his head and one under each arm. He's on the phone and we see Fr Andrews on the other end [you have to know Fr. Andrews...] saying: "I'm on my way, I thought you might need a fifth pillow." We see Br. Michael cleaning up Fr. de Feydeau's cell, Br. Martin at the door with a snack, Br. Anthony perhaps with Fr. de Feydeau's shoes all polished, Br. Isidore next door carving a staff for him!

God may want to take a soul that is ready. But let's pray for his healing, we must want him to stay with us. Padre Pio of course was very high in grace, very advanced in holiness. Nevertheless when his parents died, he could hardly bear it - he couldn't celebrate mass for two or three days. We don't want to be without Fr. de Feydeau and we need him. Maybe God wants to work a miracle. maybe He wants to put us through this and then give him back. But all prayers must end, "Thy will be done." Father de Feydeau will help us in Heaven as well. Also, help Father along the way with your prayers. He deserves them. Pray also for Fr. Prior. Pray for Br. Martin [Markey, the infirmarian] who has consecrated himself to serving Fr. de Feydeau day and night.

So let's entrust Father to Mary. Let me close by quoting some stanzas of St Therese of the Child Jesus' poem on the Blessed Virgin. Her sister asked her to write out her thoughts on our heavenly Mother. This was the last poem she wrote, near her death. The theme is that she wants the Virgin Mary to be close to us, then she can imitate her, trust her. She expresses that in the first two stanzas:

Oh! I would like to sing, Mary, why I love you,
Why your sweet name thrills my heart,
And why the thought of your supreme greatness
Could not bring fear to my soul.
If I gazed on you in your sublime glory,
Surpassing the splendor of all the blessed,
I could not believe that I am your child.
O Mary! before you I would lower my eyes!

If a child is to cherish his mother,
She has to cry with him and share his sorrows.
O my dearest Mother, on this foreign shore
How many tears you shed to draw me to you!
In pondering your life in the holy Gospels,
I dare look at you and come near you.
It's not difficult for me to believe I'm your child,
For I see you human and suffering like me.

Then she grows through Mary's life. And comes to the moving, final stanza evoking the time when the statue of Mary smiled at the little Therese on her sickbed and healed her:

Soon I'll hear that sweet harmony.
Soon I'll go to beautiful Heaven to see you.
You who came to smile at me in the morning of my life,
Come smile at me again, Mother, it's evening now!
I no longer fear the splendor of your supreme glory.
With you I've suffered, and now I want
To sing on your lap, Mary, why I love you,
And go on saying that I am your child!


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