Reflection for Sunday, July 24, 2022: 17th Week of Ordinary Time.

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Mattingly, Molly
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|"Ask and you shall receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you."|There have been times when I thought of Jesus' words here with some resentment. "Okay Jesus, but what you must really mean is 'ask the right question, seek the right thing, knock on the right door.' Because it feels like I've been asking, seeking, and knocking persistently for a long time without receiving, finding, or having the door opened!" I've so far learned a couple things from those times: that asking God to "tell me what to do" or thinking that I have to "figure it out" isn't helpful in prayer. Those tendencies sneak in subtly and frequently!|Many of us know from experience that asking a direct, concrete question to God doesn't usually receive an answer in the way we hoped. College students will pose questions to God like, "Do you want me to be a doctor, a teacher, or a missionary? Are you calling me to married, single, or religious life?" Very rarely does God answer by checking A, B, or C when we present a choice like that. This "tell me what to do" approach, while it includes a beautiful willingness to listen to God, also assumes that it is God's responsibility to make my decisions for me. I implicitly resign from participation and responsibility in my own choices. It rather stunts any conversation to be had in prayer.|Often I catch myself thinking that if God isn't answering my very clear question, then I must be asking the wrong question. Lurking in the background is the idea that I just need to figure out the question God wants to answer! This "figure it out" approach sees both God and myself as tricksters: God has a map of my life that I'm not allowed to see but I have to solve in order to succeed, while I attempt to trick God into answering my questions. (Perhaps a little like Abraham in the first reading – as if God didn't know what he wanted to ask for in the first place and want to give it to him!) This approach also gets in the way of dialogue in prayer and discernment.|Remembering Jesus' words within the context of teaching us how to pray helps bring them into focus. In Ignatian spirituality, we know God speaks to us through our deepest desires. Naming our desires before God is an honest prayer. God wants us to ask, seek, and knock about those desires! Honesty like that is the foundation of good discernment, a collaboration with God, a participation in the abundant life God wants to give us. "Even when you were dead," writes Paul, "[Christ] brought you to life along with him." God draws us close through our desires. Abraham "drew nearer" to God to pray centuries before Jesus taught his disciples. I think that's what Jesus is getting at in this Gospel passage. He is teaching the disciples (us) how to pray, which is not really about getting what we want or getting it "right," but about drawing closer in relationship to God who brings us to life.|So who is this God to whom Jesus teaches us to pray? A loving parent, a generous friend, a just king, and a compassionate teacher who is with us amid our struggles (Jesus himself). This God is not a trickster, a miser, or cruel. If we are skeptical that God could be that good to us, Jesus holds up a mirror to help us out. If we know how to be loving parents, generous friends, fair judges, and compassionate, encouraging teachers – and most of us have a pretty good idea of how to do those things, even if we don't always do them perfectly – how much more does God know how to love us? Then Jesus teaches us to ask for what draws us closer to God: for forgiveness, for what we need, for the coming of the Kingdom. If we seek the coming of the Kingdom, we can begin to see it and participate in it. If we knock on the door of abundant life, it opens. Indeed, we may find we were holding it closed to begin with, and it opens easily once we let go of the handle to knock.|Teach Us To Pray (John Foley, SJ)
University Ministry, Creighton University.
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