I have a distinct memory of my mother teaching me how to pray the rosary. I knew the prayers; I just did not know which ones were said on which beads. I also have memories of my father sitting on our bed with my sister and me at each of his knees saying our night prayers. I have no idea why I remember these events. I don’t remember my parents teaching me how to eat or how to read, but I do remember them teaching me how to say my prayers.
Just what is prayer? Tomes have been written to answer this question. Probably the simplest definition for prayer is talking with God. Talking with God, not merely talking to God. Saying prayers is a very good start, but it is only part of the exchange. In prayer, God speaks as well. Still, there are times when we feel that God is not listening, is not interested or totally rejects what we are saying.
The Gospel tells us what to do at such times. Like the man in the story, we are encouraged to keep knocking on the door. Jesus assures us that our prayers to God will be heard. This assurance is grounded in God’s love for us. After all, if loving parents shower their children with everything good, how much more will God give us what is good for us?
This raises another issue. We may not always receive that for which we pray; instead, something entirely different may come our way. Some people deal with this by saying: I asked something of God, and God’s answer was no. Our prayers of petition are an acknowledgment of our dependence on God. We must never stop turning to God in our need, but we can only stand patiently and await God’s response.
But we should remember that petition is only one form of prayer. There is also prayer of praise, of thanksgiving, of contrition and of confidence. These prayers are our response to God, who has spoken to us before we even think to pray. God speaks through the marvels of creation, and we burst forth in praise; God speaks through the blessedness of the people and events of our lives, and we express our gratitude; when we have been unfaithful to our covenant commitment, God calls us back, and we repent; God’s past goodness speaks to us, and we respond with confidence for the future.
Perhaps prayer is a problem for us, not because God does not seem to respond to our petitions, but because we do not respond to God, who is continually speaking to us through blessings bestowed on us. Paul has described the basis and depth of these blessings: God did not save us in Christ because we deserved it, but because God loves us. Our prayer is our response to this prodigious love.