Saturday of the 6th Week of Eastertide
“Until now you have not asked anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and so your joy will be complete.“
As a cradle Catholic, I know the drill. I make the sign of the Cross and intone, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. I say my prayers. Then I end off with, “In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.” There you go, the right way to pray. For 1, 2..3 decades of my life, prayers were pretty set, predictable and recited almost by muscle memory. Sure there were times when we included intentions in our prayers, which made them seem more grown-up, more proper, more sincere, more faithful.
A few years ago, I needed to pray — really pray — for my unborn child, who was diagnosed with a serious heart defect. Other than the shock at the realisation that I had never really asked for anything before, the other shock was that I was not convinced of my sincerity in my prayers. As I grappled with my worst nightmares, I was still struggling to ‘let go and let God’. I prayed Novenas, but I kept looking out for a shower of roses (or any kind of flower, really) to confirm that my prayers were heeded. I prayed fervently, but still had to contend with waves of crushing fear and despair — some of them right in the midst of praying.
(In case y’all getting worried, my daughter is totally fine now!)
It is interesting to see Jesus practically rebuking the apostles for not asking anything in His name, and that He had to belabour the point — Ask! I wondered about this non-asking, based on my own experience. First, there is Doubt. I believe most of us have faith. But we still doubt. And this doubt is likely more a denial than an unbelief. It was not for lack of faith, but a denial of what God might have planned. If I had been an apostle, my excuse for not asking would not have been due to unbelief in Jesus, but a denial of what He had to go through for us to get to the point where we can ask and receive. This is basically a denial or rejection of God’s will. But being human, it is expected that we cling to our own logic, rely on our own strengths and abilities, and believe that we are in control. When God’s will does not match our expectations, we reject it and try to swerve our way through life on our own terms. And this brings us to my second point.
Pride. We always think we know best. We argue with doctors, with teachers, with our parents, with everyone. It is not wrong to be confident, and to approach life with a bit of a swagger — but we do need to know our limits. Clearly, we are limited in terms of earthly knowledge — unless I have a medical degree, I should probably listen to my doctor; unless I have a teaching degree, I should probably not tell my daughter’s teacher how to do her job. More importantly, we are limited because we do not know what God has planned for us. We do get glimpses of His plan now and then, but our instinct is to fight it if we don’t like it. We pray fervently to be released from that plan, but at the same time, do we truly believe that our prayers will be answered in the affirmative? Maybe we should pray instead for the strength to carry out His plan.
So we have Pride and Doubt that get in the way of sincerity in prayer, because deep down inside, perhaps we know that we cannot escape God’s will. These feelings of fear, while normal, do keep us from a sincere prayer. So how and when CAN we pray and ask for things sincerely? Whom can we turn to as a role model? Mother Mary, of course.
As far as asking in Jesus’ name goes, Mary was the one who first asked for something in His name. At the wedding in Cana, she was told that the party had run out of wine, and she simply told Jesus, “They have no wine”. Jesus had never performed a single miracle before this, and here was Mary, basically kick-starting His public ministry with this request. Mother Mary had no doubts. She knew whom she would ask, and why. She had humility enough that she neither stopped talking nor started nagging (as I probably would have) when Jesus pithily stated that His hour had not come yet. She told the stewards to “do whatever He tells you”. She was no stranger to following God’s word in order to fulfil His will, and she knew that Jesus would command, and following His command was the only way to go.
When praying for something, we could do well to discern if what we are praying for co-operates with what God has planned. Conforming our actions to God’s will shows our acceptance and humility. In CS Lewis’ book The Magician’s Nephew, there are two instances of asking that, to me, highlighted the importance of humility and co-operation with God’s will.
In the first instance, Polly and Digory, with Fledge, were on their way to pick an apple when they realised they did not have any food with them. The children thought that Aslan should have provided for it, but Fledge (the winged horse) thought that perhaps Aslan likes to be asked. This struck me as significant, because while God surely knows what we need and will provide, especially since we are doing as He wanted, we do need to ask and not simply assume and take His generosity for granted. That a lot rides on humility is also evident in Luke 23:42, where the penitent thief asks Jesus to save him.
The second instance was when words failed Digory when he thought he had no chance to save his mother’s life. He had asked Aslan once before but received no answer, only instructions for a mission. But once the mission was accomplished, to Digory’s sheer joy, Aslan then told him to take an apple which would restore his mother’s health. That his mother would be healed was likely in the plan all along, together with everything else that Digory and Polly were supposed to do. If it is in accordance with His plan, ask and you will receive, eventually, and your joy will be complete.
And so it is that Jesus exhorts us to ask. Mother Mary, too, is telling us that we can ask, and if not Jesus directly, we can always go through her. Behind the asking is an acceptance of God’s will, and the grace to recognise One who is so much greater than you. “Do whatever He tells you.” If we cooperate with God’s will, we can and should ask Him for what we need, and surely it will be given to us.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Felicia Zou)
Prayer: Father God, teach us to seek you in all that we do. May we always remember that You are the centre of our lives, and that all that we do should be a testimony of Your dwelling in us.
Thanksgiving: Thank you Father, for always loving and being there for us. Send your Holy Spirit to guide us in our journey.