ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Today’s Gospel tends to disturb us. We are impatient and overly sensitive. We are easily and quickly offended when we ask a question and get no answer. And we are cynical. We both say and believe that it’s easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission. But most of all, we are slow to believe. We are so sure that others won’t come through that we’re already making a “Plan B” even before we ask someone a favor.
And then we hear about St. Paul, and that only confirms us in our impatience and cynicism. You know the story. It’s seared in your memory, and it haunts you every time you pray. Paul writes, “A thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan. Three times I begged the Lord that He might take it away from me.” We all know St. Paul’s frustration, because we’ve all lived it. And then Jesus says, “Most assuredly, I say to you: Whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” Sinners that we are, we hardly believe what Jesus says. “Ask anything”? We’ve tried that, and it didn’t work. We think He must mean something else.
But we also have selective hearing. The singer Paul Simon wrote, “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” This perfectly describes the ears of the sinner. We hear what we want to hear, and we make the Bible say what it never says. We pray only because we’re supposed to. And sometimes we do not pray at all. Instead of asking “anything,” we believe that God helps those who help themselves. Of course, you won’t find that anywhere in your Bible. What your Bible does say is this: “LORD, it is nothing for You to help those who have no power; help us, O LORD our God, for we rest on You, and in Your name we carry on.”
So why is St. Paul not helped? Paul certainly prayed in Jesus’ name. The problem is, we refuse to see Our Lord’s help when He gives it. We give up on the Lord when we don’t get our way. We think He doesn’t keep His promises. But the truth is, St. Paul is helped. He himself says so. His thorn is not taken away so that he might keep his eyes, his heart, his mind and his soul fixed on Our Lord and His mercy. If his ailment goes away, then Paul says, “I will be exalted above measure.” In other words, we would believe in ourselves and the power of our prayers and the strength of our faith. And the worst thing a man can do is believe in himself, for then he is believing less—or not at all—in the Father who created Him and who provides what is truly needful.
That’s why Jesus tells us to pray the way He does. We should not ask for things that make life easier. We should seek His mercy, which increases our peace even when we’re in pain. We should seek His grace, which increases our joy even when we’re sad. We should seek His compassion, which gives us true peace even when we’re depressed or stressed.
So the “anything” in our Lord’s “Ask anything” is not “anything you want.” The “anything” we’re to ask for is that which helps us attain the Lord’s kingdom, that which grows and matures and perfects our faith and life in God. He urges us to pray for those things which aid our salvation, which are useful for our life in God, which reinvigorate our communion with God.
Ultimately, the “anything” that we ask for is not a thing, but a person, for it is in the Holy Spirit that our life in God begins; it is through Him that our selfish desires our suppressed; it is by Him that our hearts are cleansed; it is in Him that our communion in God is made whole; it is through Him that we receive every blessing, including the kingdom of heaven. And so we pray for and rejoice to receive the Holy Spirit, so that our joy may be true and full. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.