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17th Sunday C


Applying for a US visa in Rome, I was warned that a particular embassy employee humiliates applicants publicly. I was advised to avoid falling into the tentacles of this irate Italian woman. But inside the embassy, I found myself assigned to her counter! Indeed, she spared nobody, even nuns wearing religious habits! One by one, she sent them away empty-handed, visa denied. I clutched my rosary and Padre Pio’s photo, praying for my visa and an escape from the woman’s wrath.

When my turn came, the woman silently grabbed all my documents, folded them without even inspecting, and said: “Completi” – complete! Without saying a word, she handed me coupon. I must return in the afternoon and claim my visa. I went home overjoyed, thanking God, the Blessed Mother and Padre Pio.

In our modern world, many times we hear people downplaying formula prayer or prayers of intercession. They say it is childish. We should speak to the Lord from the heart and avoid asking favors from him. We should blurt out into spontaneous praise and adoration or remain in silence before the mystery. But because we are too tired at the end of the day or too distracted when we pray, don’t we often take solace in our formula prayers and in our petitions?

As if to challenge modern prayer-experts, the gospel shows Jesus teaching the disciples a formula – the Lord’s Prayer. Formula prayers are gifts from the Lord and from the Church. Jesus counsels us to treasure them, not to avoid them. They help us to start our conversation with God. Prayed from the heart, they invite us to enter into deep encounter. Try saying the Lord’s Prayer or Hail Mary meditatively and see for yourself.

Jesus also teaches us prayers of petition; asking God for all our needs. God is our Father; he wishes to listen. He wants to give us what’s best! Jesus gives so much confidence in the prayer of petition that he makes this promise – “Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.” When you ask, do it with persistence, do it with trust, as a child does.

But why is it that we don’t always get the object of our prayer – the desired job, the restored relationship, the change in people’s hearts, the big break. The gospel tells us that God, in his wisdom, grants us only what is good for us; what he considers good. Since our knowledge is limited, our assessment of what’s good is different from God who sees all things. Again, this is where trust enters. When we petition God for something, we surrender our desire to his will, for he will lead us to that which is always better and greater than we can imagine.

As we approach the Lord today, let us thank him for teaching us valuable lessons in prayer. Let us thank him for the Lord’s Prayer, for prayers of petition and for the disposition of trust he implants in our hearts. Let our prayers be heard by the Father who wills only the best for us.