Daily homilies by the Prior of Pluscarden at the Quarr Abbey Retreat, 5-12 October 2016
Homily for Thursday, Week 27 Year II, 6 October 2016: on Luke 11:5-13
Ask and it will be given to you; search and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.
In the plan of St. Luke’s Gospel, and of our lectionary, immediately after giving us the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus speaks about the prayer of petition, or intercession. His teaching here is given in the strongest possible terms. Jesus insists that we come to God, asking him for things we want, or need. He wants us to ask boldly, with confidence, in firm hope, and to persevere in asking, without ever losing heart (cf. Lk 18:1). However paradoxical or mysterious these words might seem to us, they are given to the Church to hold on to forever. They remain ever valid; they will never be taken away. Again and again we return to them, as if each time with fresh surprise, and from them, ever and again we take new heart, and courage.
The emphasis of St. Benedict is on the prayer of praise rather than on petition and intercession. Nevertheless, this sort of prayer also is at the heart of our monastic life. The Lord wants to pour out his blessings in response to, and not apart from fervent intercessory prayer, and the great need for such prayer can certainly lend urgency to our vocation. Why become a monk? Surely sufficient reason could be found in a sense of the heavy afflictions of the Church and of the world, and a desire to counteract the manifest evils that are abroad. For without ever leaving the monastic enclosure, by our prayer we can reach the poor, the oppressed, the persecuted, the sick, all who suffer, wherever they are. Our prayer can also reach sinners, unbelievers, men of violence, those without hope, those tempted to suicide. It can reach also the faithful departed still suffering in purgatory. As for people who know themselves to be the object of prayer, who know they are upheld by prayer amid all their trials or difficulties: what a great consolation and encouragement this is! Here the love of the Church is concretely directed and applied: here is wonderfully manifested the communion of grace that she is.
The image of the importunate friend Jesus offers today is almost burlesque; surely a joke; a ridiculous comparison which shows not so much what God is like, but what he is certainly not like! God is not a grumpy old man, disliking any personal inconvenience, selfish, ungenerous, sleepy, and prevented from action by surrounding clutter. If he is slow to answer our prayer, it is certainly not for those reasons! On the contrary: as Incarnate God Jesus himself precisely demonstrates how much God loves us, cares for us; to what lengths he is prepared to go to reach out to us, and load us with blessings.
Yes, sometimes it’s true: we ask for peace, and conflict continues. We ask for the health of a loved one, and they grow worse, and even die. We ask for the conversion of a sinner, and they remain obdurate in their unbelief. When this happens, we presume that God has purposes which we are unable for the moment to understand. If he apparently refuses to grant a prayer made in faith, the reason can only be that he is preparing to give something better instead. Even in this case, we continue to make our requests, knowing that such prayer is very pleasing to him. When we say Your will be done, it’s not as if we are bowing before an arbitrary power that is in principle inscrutable. Rather, we do so knowing that the will of God is always for our good, and our salvation, and that as a result of our prayer, somehow things will be better than if we had not prayed.
Of course all of us also have much experience of prayers being wonderfully answered, even against all expectation. Risky medical operations go well, houses are sold, children are conceived, family conflicts are overcome, exams are passed, the gift of faith is given, sinners go to confession, jobs are secured, the dying pass away in peace. Sometimes such favours seem nothing short of miraculous, and quite often they really are miraculous. Still in our day, as in every age of the Church, the Lord works many many miracles, in small things and in great, at the request of his faithful, and of his Saints. And the greatest of all miracles remains the fundamental object of our prayer: that the Lord will give the gift of all gifts, the gift of himself, of his own divine life, of the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.
I suppose that when today’s Gospel is solemnly proclaimed in the course of a Holy Mass, even though only in the course of the lectionary cycle, the occasion brings with it a special grace. Let us acknowledge that the Lord has spoken his word to us today in all its freshness and power, impelling us thereby to respond. So today once again we boldly ask our heavenly Father to grant the particular intentions we bear in our hearts. Allow me to name one of them now. We ask that in spite of all obstacles and difficulties whatever, good, fervent, holy young men may come forward very soon, filled with desire to live the Benedictine monastic life in this place. Lord, send us monks, we cry: men who will dedicate their whole life to you, for the upbuilding and renewal of your Church; men who will rejoice to follow in the traditions of this community, however adapted and transposed for our own day. May each one who comes be a new source of grace and blessings for this community, and also for very many others throughout the world. We ask this Lord, we seek it from you, we knock on your door, always of course with the proviso that your holy will be done, and that great glory be given to your holy name.