Why should we pray? That’s a question children ask their parents all the time—and one we often ask ourselves when our faith flags during tough times. But a more important question is “How should we pray?” The answer to how will help us answer the why. And we get the answer to how from today’s readings: repeatedly and persistently!
Today’s first reading from Genesis shows Abraham behaving like any little child bugging his daddy for his heart’s desire. In this case, he was begging for the lives of the people of Sodom. “Would you save 50 innocents? 45? 40? 35? 30? 25? 20? 10? 5? To each of these God gives in to his loving child.
Then in today’s gospel, Jesus gives us the poetry to accompany Abraham’s persistence. This is actually what Abraham was saying to God in his petitions: “forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.” In less poetic terms, “Please daddy, give us another chance! We’ll be good from now on!”
Paul gives us the reminder we often need that God answers our prayers. He tells us that Jesus did the big job of breaking the ice that formed over our lifeline to God after our original sin. God brought us all back to life along with Jesus after the events at Calvary. “He brought you to life along with him,” Paul tells the Colossians, “having forgiven us all our transgressions; obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims…he removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross.”
Jesus broke his earthly bonds and his rising is a promise that we will do the same. Ever since his promise was made, man has prayed for that same freedom from earth and for God’s kingdom to come. And even those among us who don’t make a practice of verbal prayer nevertheless pray to God again and again with the way they live their lives—in their families and on their jobs.
Even scientists who devote their lives to space exploration have, whether they know it or not, prayed to God for success with every experiment they performed. Like a child repeatedly asking daddy for his heart’s desire until the Big Guy finally gives in, man prays that he may no longer be earthbound.
Ronald Reagan gave voice to this desire on January 28, 1986 by quoting perhaps the most beautiful prayer ever linked to flight and, with Reagan’s memorial tribute to the fallen astronauts of the Challenger, it has since become the unofficial prayer of aviators and astronauts:
“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth – Put out my hand and touched the Face of God.”