To every believer whose desire is to know how to pray, here are some heart-warming pointers: in today’s Gospel (Lk 11: 1-13) we have a formula par excellence, and in the First Reading (Gen 18: 20-32), an illustration of how to pray. It is not ours to reason why, for if we are to survive, praying must come as easy as breathing. As Alexis Carrel, Nobel Laureate for Medicine, puts it: ‘Simple souls feel God as naturally as they feel the heat of the sun or the fragrance of a flower; but the same God, accessible to those who know how to love Him, remains hidden from those who do not understand Him.’

Abraham had no difficulty in relating to God who visited him in human form. They talked about Sodom and Gomorrah that were slated for severe punishment for their grossly offensive conduct. That is when Abraham began to do a deal with God, like a child would with his parents: he was concerned about the safety of his nephew Lot who had relocated to Sodom in a huff. Abraham left no stone unturned to secure a good ‘bargain’ as only he can do who knows God intimately.

Thankfully, Christian mystics from St Paul down to St Padre Pio have elaborated on kinds, methods and levels of prayer, and offered formulas; but none of them are crucial, for a child talking to his parent follows no fixed action pattern. The best policy is to be our honest selves, ready to do our Father’s will in all things, as the ‘Pater Noster’ counsels. While St Augustine reportedly said that he who sings, prays twice; St Aloysius of Gonzaga believed that work is prayer. Which goes to show that it is of the essence to establish a hotline with God and not merely employ a certain formula or method.

That God finally took a softer line at Abraham’s instance should be an eyeopener to those who doubt the efficacy of prayer! Such doubts stem from a secular attitude or a spirit that excludes God from our life. It is clear from today’s parable that God wants us to ask and persevere in the asking – while all the time believing with The Imitation of Christ, that ‘Man proposes; God disposes.’ And how can we forget the words of Our Lord Himself: ‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you’!

Of course, that promise comes with a rider: we must have a change of heart; deep faith and trust in God; and pray calmly, humbly and confidently. We must praise and thank God, petition Him and intercede for others. When we leave it to Him to fix our broken lives soon we will hear our lips sing, ‘Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me… Your kindness, O Lord, endures forever; forsake not the work of your hands.’ We have the Lord’s promise: ‘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?’

But is that all as simple as it sounds? It is so if we do not let sin snap our hotline with God. At any rate, the Sacraments that can help restore it. We also need to create the right physical and psychological conditions to communicate with the Creator: for instance, personal prayer in the privacy of our rooms, and communal prayer in the sacral ambience of our churches. Notice how the interior of a monastery or the protected area of Old Goa or even a quiet and sprawling campus like Don Bosco’s situated in the middle of Panjim city can set the tone for a divine encounter: they are oases of tranquillity fit for the angels of India!

Although forces of evil are pressing against us, we must not be disheartened. St Paul in the Second Reading (Col 2: 12-14) puts things in perspective when he says that God has given us the ultimate gift of love through His Son Jesus Christ, thus securing us a return to the One we are united to through Baptism. So, even if our outer shell be diseased, the core of our being finds healing through prayer. We remain insulated against the fear of suffering, sickness and death if our life be a prayer offered to God, ‘an elevation of our soul to God’ (Tanqueray, The Mystical Life, cit. The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality, p. 765), a way of life!