BY: Fr Andrew Ekpenyong



1. Prayer in prison. As inflation, violence, insecurity, and injustice in many places on earth fill Heaven with the cries of the innocent; as Putin’s unjust war in Ukraine rages on, my focus is on you who are here to worship God in spite of all this, and because of you, I remember those who have raised their voices in the past against man’s inhumanity to man, becoming catalysts of justice, reconciliation, love and peace. One such voice was the Soviet dissident, the Russian writer and Nobel laureate, Alexander Solzhenitsyn. In his novel that raised global awareness of repression in the defunct Soviet Union, titled “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”, Ivan endures all the horrors of a Soviet prison camp. One day he is praying with his eyes closed when a fellow prisoner notices him and says with ridicule, “Prayers won’t help you get out of here any faster.” Opening his eyes, Ivan answers, “I do not pray to get out of prison but to do the will of God.” Sisters and brothers, that is a key takeaway from the Scripture readings today.

2. Prayer changes us. In the 1st reading (Gn 18:20-32), Abraham had a privileged revelation of God’s will, in reaction to grave sins and the cries of the victims: ‘the Lord said: “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great, and their sin so grave”’ (Gen 18:20). Abraham’s privilege involved heavy responsibilities. Where did this privilege come from? It came partly because Abraham and Sarah showed hospitality to three mysterious strangers who were on their way to Sodom. And Abraham’s response to God’s revelation of impending justice against Sodom and Gomorrah was a continuation of Abraham’s godliness. “Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty?”, Abraham asked? He prayed to God to spare the cities on account of a few good women and men. But how few? God agreed that 50 would be fine. Abraham then prayed to God for mercy at progressively lower numbers: 45, then 40, then 30, then 20, and finally 10. As we heard, each time, God agreed to spare the cities. Unfortunately, there were not even 10 found and, in the end, the one innocent family, that of Lot, was found, warned to leave, and the cities were destroyed. In the end, God spared the innocent, showed mercy to the repentant and brought justice to the unrepentant. So, did Abraham’s prayer change God or Abraham? Clearly, the prayer changed Abraham. It prepared him not only to accept God’s will but to cooperate with it.

3. Prayer helps us. Why then did our Lord in today’s Gospel reading (Lk 11:1-13) tell us: “Ask and you will receive…. For everyone who asks, receives”. Of course, even Abraham received answers in accord with God’s will. Of course, several more questions and many objections can be raised against prayer. Using insights from all of Sacred Scripture, St Thomas Aquinas wrote three memorable responses to such objections: (1) We need to pray to God, not in order to make known to Him our needs or desires but that we ourselves may be reminded of the necessity of having recourse to God’s help in these matters. (2) Our motive in praying is, not that we may change the Divine disposition, but that, by our prayers, we may obtain what God has appointed. (3) God bestows many things on us out of His liberality, even without our asking for them: but that He wishes to bestow certain things on us at our asking, is for the sake of our good, namely, that we may acquire confidence in having recourse to God, and that we may recognize in Him the Author of our goods. (ST II-II, q. 83, a. 2, ad 1-3). Wow. Sisters and brothers, in short, prayer changes you and me, for good. Prayer changes things and outcomes for human beings. Our Lord taught us the prayer that encompasses all our petitions and good desires. All our desires for healing, for mercy, for rescue from insecurity and economic woes, are contained in the Lord’s prayer: “Thy Kingdom come. Thy Will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven”. Wow, Ivan was profoundly correct: “I do not pray to get out of prison but to do the will of God.” When the will of God is done on earth, Ivan won’t even be in prison, violence would end, love and peace will endure forever. While still on earth, prayer prepares you and me for Heaven, God’s ultimate answer to all our prayers. Let’s keep praying that we may do God’s will.

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