Thursday, February 14, 2008

Thursday in the 1st Week of Lent
Knocking On Heaven's Door

Readings: Esther C:12, 14-16, 23-25; Psalm 138:1-2ab, 2cde-3, 7c-8; Matthew 7:7-12

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you…

What is our reaction, what are our thoughts and feelings, as we listen to these words of Jesus in the gospel today? Perhaps some of us will feel consoled. Perhaps we will be reminded of times in the past when our prayers were answered, and feel encouraged to keep praying for what we need in the present. But do we really know what we need? Or have we reached a place in our life’s journey when we seem to have everything already, where there’s nothing left for us to seek from God.

And then perhaps there may be some of us who will react with some skepticism. We may remember occasions when we have indeed asked, and sought, and knocked, but did not seem to receive that for which we were looking. As a result, we may have all but given up. We may think that it’s better not to ask than to be disappointed. Whatever may be our reactions to Jesus’ words, perhaps it will do us good to reflect on the extent to which they continue to hold true for us today. How are we to understand them? What does effective knocking look like?

Here’s where the story in the first reading comes in handy. Esther shows us at least three important characteristics of effective knocking. The first is faith. We have a striking image of this in the description of the queen lying prostrate on the ground from morning until evening. She does this because she firmly believes what we told God earlier in our opening prayer: without you we can do nothing. In her prayer, Esther confesses to God that I have no help but you… From where does her confidence come? It is rooted in the traditions of her people: As a child I used to hear from the books of my forefathers that you… always free those who are pleasing to you. This early training has taught her what Jesus continues to teach us today: that our God is a heavenly Father who gives good things to those who ask him. Do we dare to continue believing this today?

But Esther’s prayer is not just one of faith. It is also a prayer of hope. Although we are told that she is seized with mortal anguish, although hers is a desperate situation, Esther is not content simply to remain passively lying on the ground. If we were to read on in the story, we will find that her prayer leads her to hope-filled action. We already find hints of this in her prayer, when she tells God, I am taking my life in my hand, and also when she asks that God put persuasive words in her mouth so that she can change the king’s mind, so that she can turn his heart from his plan to massacre her people. Esther doesn’t only pray, she prays in order to act. Isn’t this also what we were asking God for earlier, when we prayed that God’s spirit might help us to know what is right and to be eager in doing God’s will? To what extent do we pray in order to do God’s will?

There’s a final characteristic of the prayer of Esther that makes it so effective. It is a prayer of love. This becomes clear to us especially when we realize the reason for Esther’s anguish. As we noted earlier, she is at her wits end not so much for herself, but because her whole people is in danger of being wiped out by evil men. Esther prays not just for herself but especially for those whose lives are in peril. And that hers is a prayer of love is perhaps also demonstrated in how she prays. She does not lie prostrate alone, but together with her handmaids. Hers is a prayer for and with others. How loving is our prayer?

A queen prostrating herself with her handmaids for the sake of her people, taking her life in her hands, and speaking boldly in the face of death: these are images of the kind of prayer that opens doors, the prayer of faith and hope and love. This, too, is what we are trying to learn in these Forty Days of Lent.

How are you being encouraged to knock on heaven's door today?

1 comment:

  1. Fr Chris may remember a song not so long ago (by Eric Clapton?) entitled "Knock on Heaven's Door". Its lyrics are as poignant as they are easy on the ears.

    My take-home phrase from Fr Chris' reflections is: "pray in order to act". All too often, I'm quite content to plead my case and sit back to wait for the miracle.

    Allow me to share a couple of my insights.

    Fr Chris asked: "Do we really know what we need?" I do - but they're invariably all self-centered, material needs. This Lent, I must resolve to get in touch with my *real* needs; the needs of the soul and spirit. These are elusive and a lot more difficult to articulate.

    My second point pre-supposes that God sits on his mighty throne waiting for us to pray, to entreat, to knock on heaven's door. We often overlook the fact that God KNOWS our needs and aspirations, that He always makes the first move, and that He is in charge ALL THE TIME. Complete trust in and utter dependence on God does not come easy but, at the same time, is not impossible to attain.

    Finally, God fulfils those needs of ours WHICH WE ARE NOT AWARE OF but which, in the eyes of God, are more important than those that occupy our consciousness. This Lent, let us pray for the grace to attune ourselves to these higher needs.