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Pray like an insistent toddler, pope suggests

pope francis wim wenders

We have to have determination and persistence, Francis says, because prayer is work that requires will power

Pope Francis today in his morning homily offered some advice on how to get what we need in prayer: be insistent, pray with courage, and be ready to “fight” with God to get what is for our good.

Drawing from today’s Gospel about the man who goes to a friend in the night, asking bread for a newly arrived guest, the Holy Father said that we have to be insistent in prayer:

Prayer must be courageous, because when we pray, we have a need — normally we have a need. The friend is God: He is a rich friend who has bread, who has that which we need. As if Jesus would have said: ‘In prayer, be insistent. Don’t get tired.’ But, don’t get tired of what? Of asking. ‘Ask and you shall receive.’

Prayer isn’t like a magic wand, the pope continued, using an expression he’s called on before. It’s not that we can barely ask for something and then get it, he said, or pray Our Fathers and then abandon the effort.

Prayer is work, work that asks us to have will power, that asks us to have constancy, that asks us to be determined, without shame. Why? Because I’m knocking at the door of a friend. God is a friend, and with a friend, I can act like this. A constant, insistent prayer. 

Think of St. Monica, for example — how many years she prayed, even with tears, for the conversion of her son! And the Lord, at the end, opened the door.

Francis recalled another example, from his pastoral life in Buenos Aires. He told of a man, a worker, who had a daughter who was dying. Doctors had not given the man any hope, but he traveled 70 kilometers (43 miles) to go to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lujan. When he finally got there, it was night and the sanctuary was closed, but he stayed outside the door the whole night, begging the Virgin: “I love my daughter, I love my daughter, [I want her health.] You can give her to me.” And the next morning, when he got back to the hospital, his wife told him, “You know what? The doctors have taken her for another exam. They couldn’t understand it, but she woke up and asked for food. And there is nothing wrong with her. She’s ok. She’s out of danger.”

That man, the pope declared, knew how to pray.

Offering another image, the Successor of Peter spoke of how a capricious child will suddenly decide he must have this or that other thing. And the child screams and cries, demanding, “I want that! I want it!” And eventually the parents give in.

Someone could ask, “But God wouldn’t get angry if I acted like that?” The pope answered with another line from today’s Gospel, saying that Jesus himself, anticipating this question, tells us: “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

He is a friend. He always offers us good things. He gives more: ‘I ask you to fix this problem’ — and he fixes it and gives you the Holy Spirit. Even more than that.

Let us think a little: How do I pray? Like a parrot? Do I pray with my needs in my heart? Do I fight with God in prayer so that he gives me that which I need if it is just?

Let us learn from this Gospel passage how to pray.

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