Praying, Asking and Receiving

9 March 2006: Thursday of the 1st Week of Lent
Matthew 7, 7-12: On Prayer

The Gospel today gives us points for prayer and more concretely, how to pray. The first thing about praying is that we need the Holy Spirit, and thus, we must learn how to get the Holy Spirit. However, we are faced with a difficulty: the Holy Spirit is not produced by any efforts of our own. He cannot be “merited” like a reward when we do well in studies, or when we have been behaved the past few days. We cannot do anything to get the Holy Spirit. It is a pure gift. But Jesus gave the apostles instructions on how to receive the Holy Spirit.

First, Jesus said, “Wait.” We can’t produce the Holy Spirit. We can only wait for Him to come. And this is something our human nature finds very hard to do in our modern world. We do not know how to wait. We cannot sit still. We are too restless, too impatient. We would rather endure hours of hard labor, than endure the pain of waiting for things beyond our control, or whose arrival we do not know. We are tired of waiting and praying, waiting for God to come to our lives. We would rather “work for God” and so we drown ourselves in activity and work. Yet, the Spirit is given only to those who wait; those who expose their hearts day after day to God and His Word in prayer. “Wait for the promise of my Father... wait in Jerusalem,” Jesus said. Resist the urge to be active, from the compulsion to act, the urge to communicate to others what you yourselves have not experienced. Second, Jesus said, “You will receive power...” We Receive the Holy Spirit. Yes, receive is the right word: Jesus does not expect us to produce power, because this kind of power cannot be produced no matter how we try. It can only be received.

What do we do concretely? Two things: an attitude and a practice. First, an attitude: one of Great Expectations. St. John of the Cross says that “a person receives from God as much as he expects from God.” If you expect little, you will generally receive little. If you expect much, you will receive much. For example, it is said that the greatest sin against the Holy Spirit is to no longer believe that He can change the world, and/or to change me. This is a more dangerous kind of atheist, a practical atheist who says, “God can no longer change me. He doesn’t have the will and power to transform me because I have tried everything--- retreat, prayer, good will, yet nothing happened.” For this practical atheist, God is dead. He is not the God who showed that nothing is impossible with Him: the barren women like Sarah and Elizabeth, in their old age, had bear sons. Expect. Expect even when there is no hope in the horizon.

Second, a practice. Wait till you feel faith enough in Jesus’ words to really ask for the Holy Spirit in full confidence. And then, ask! Ask repeatedly, ask earnestly, ask increasingly, refusing to take NO for an answer. We believe that the Holy Spirit will be given to you, since he promised, and then constantly ask. You can ask with words like “Come, Holy Spirit. Come!” Or, ask without words. Look up to heaven or at the tabernacle in silence and in a spirit of supplication.

And if you wish that your prayer come with maximum power and intensity, do what the apostles did when they waited for the Spirit at Pentecost: the prayed with Mary. The saints knew this secret: No one has fled to Mary, sought intercessions, was left unaided. Or use some psalms like Psalm 4 (“Only the light of your face can bring us happiness.”), Psalm 6 (“But you, O Lord, how long? Each night I weep. How long”), Psalm 12 (“How long will you hide your face.”). Or prayers such as St. Anselm’s: “O my God, teach my heart where and how to seek you, where and how to find you.” or St. Augustine’s, “Teach me, Lord how to come to thee. Nothing else do I have but willingness. How I am to reach thee, I do not know. Do Thou inspire me, show me, give me what I need for my journey.”

And when you do these things, you will receive the power of the Holy Spirit, and gain much faith. And then you will obtain what you are asking for.

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