Thursday February 21, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier First Week of Lent
Reading (Esther C:12, 14-16, 23-25) Gospel (St. Matthew 7:7-12)
Our Lord, in the Gospel reading, tells us that we are to ask and we will receive, we are to seek and we will find, we are to knock and the door will be opened. It makes things sound very easy and simple - as if we do this once and we are going to have whatever it is that we have asked for. Well, I think we have all had enough experience in prayer to know that it does not always work that way.
Yet we see, in the first reading, Queen Esther praying to the Lord, but it is at the time of her mortal anguish, we are told. The people of Israel were already in captivity. They had been taken away to Babylon as slaves, and now they are going to be exterminated. That is how far the Lord allowed things to be pushed, and then He answered their prayer. Now we look at that on the natural level and say, "But didnít He say: 'Who would hand his son a snake if he asks for a fish or who would give him a stone if he asked for a loaf'? Isn't that what the Lord is doing?" The answer is no. What God is doing is what is truly going to be the best.
He knows that sometimes what we need is to be purified. Or He knows that before we can receive what we are asking for, certain things need to take place internally. And so, we may ask for something and the way he is going to answer it is not the way that, in our wildest imagination, we ever would have thought God would have answered it. But He will answer the prayer. No prayer ever goes unanswered; it is just the way that it is answered is not always the way that we had in mind. But we have to remember that we are not the ones in control. God will always hear our prayers, and He will always answer our prayers. But what we need to learn is to trust Him.
Queen Esther, because she was totally backed into the corner, was about to put her own life on the line; then she turned to God and she prayed. Up to that point, she had not done so. Unfortunately, we are not a whole lot different. Sometimes, the prayer does not really come from the heart until things become so desperate and extreme that we have no other choice - then we go inside and we pray. Otherwise, for many of us, it is just empty words or none at all, for that matter, because we do not always turn to God or we do not really trust Him until we are in such dire straits that we have no other alternative. What we need to learn is just to trust God totally.
We know that there are some people who do ask and they get almost immediately what they ask for. Those are the ones who are the saints. They have been through all these other difficulties, and they have remained faithful to the Lord. They have learned to trust Him completely. They go in and they pray from the heart immediately. They do not hedge in the least; therefore, they get what they ask for. For most of us, well, we look at God as being one alternative among others. And we are not really sure if He is going to do what He said He is going to do so we go to prayer and it really is not with the kind of fervor, with the kind of trust, with the kind of confidence, that we ought to have.
And so, the Lord just simply says, "How much do you really want it?" He leaves us hanging out there for awhile or sometimes He puts us into difficult positions so that, again, we learn to trust. It does not look like He is answering our prayer, in fact, we think at the time that He has totally rejected our prayer and has given us exactly the opposite of what we asked for. But if we persevere, we will find that He has indeed answered our prayer, and He has answered it even more completely than what we were even asking for. But it means that we have to trust, and that is difficult.
So the Lord has made this promise to us that if we ask we will receive, if we seek we will find, if we knock the door will be opened. He just did not tell us what the timing was going to be or how it would be answered, but that it will be. And for us, we need to persevere in prayer, and we need to be earnest about the prayer. Not just giving lip service, not just empty words, but true prayer from the heart with absolute confidence in God. Then, whatever we ask for in His Name will be given us.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.