St. Monica was born in North Africa in the early 4th century. She was born into a very devout Catholic family. She knew her faith and she practiced it. But even so she was married off to a Roman pagan by the name of Patricius. After marriage Monica went to live in her husband’s home. The mother-in-law was also in residence. Both Patricius and his mom had bad tempers and the mother-in-law in more than one source is always described as cantankerous. They were a challenge to Monica. They didn’t appreciate her prayer life or her care of the poor or her piety. But Monica never gave up her faith or the practices of her faith and she never hid her faith either. And with time both her husband and mother-in-law asked for baptism. God used Monica to win them over; he heard her prayers for their conversion. In our Gospel today our Lord teaches the disciples to pray, and later he tells them, “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Be persistent in prayer. Now many times St. Monica is held up as a model of one who prays well. She persisted in prayer.
And today St. Monica is known mostly as the mother of St. Augustine. She’s known as the mother who prayed almost 20 years for the conversion of her son. She spent almost 20 years begging God with daily tears and prayers to convert her heretical and pleasure-loving son. Augustine knew of her prayers. And her example later helped him to explain how God answers our prayers in three different ways.
He once wrote, “If we ask God for something in prayer, God can say one of three things in response.” First, he can say OK, and give us what we ask for. Second, he can simply say no, which means that what we are asking for is not good for us. This too is an answer to prayer, and, as every parent knows, sometimes it’s the most loving answer of all. Third, he can say OK, but not now. And to this response Saint Augustine would say that God makes us wait because he wants to give us more. God is inviting us to be persistent so that he can stretch our hearts, making them able to receive more grace, stretching our hearts the way you stretch out a burlap sack so you can fill it to the brim. He explained it this way, “Suppose you want to fill some sort of bag and you know the bulk of what you will be given, so you stretch the bag or the sack or the skin or whatever it is. You know how big the object is that you want to put in and you see that the bag is too narrow so you increase its capacity by stretching it. In the same way by delaying the fulfillment of our desires God stretches our souls. By making us desire more, he expands the soul, and by this expansion he increases the soul’s capacity to receive.”
Yes, no, and not now are the three answers that God has to choose from. In responding to our prayers of petition it’s either yes, no, or not yet and he always chooses one of them. Pope St. John Paul II once referred to the parish as a school of prayer. It’s where we pray the Mass; the most perfect of prayers and learn to pray. I want to share with you a way of praying, it’s called the A-R-R-R prayer, sometimes referred to as the pirate’s prayer. ARRR! You might even already be praying this way, you just didn’t know it. The letters stand for acknowledge, relate, receive and respond. The first step is to acknowledge; openly and honestly we acknowledge how we are before God. What are you experiencing? What is moving in your heart? What are your thoughts, what are your feelings, and what are your emotions? An example from my life; on a Friday a few years ago I was anxious and stressed. It was going to be one of those days. And I remember that I had just exposed the Blessed Sacrament. It should have been a moment of peace. But kneeling in front of that altar I was anxious and stressed.
The second step is relate; bring yourself as you are into relationship with God. Tell God what you’re experiencing. He knows, but tell him anyway, speak to Him from your heart, your thoughts, your feelings, and your emotions. And so kneeling in front of the altar, I told God I’m stressed out here. I need your help; I can’t do this by myself.
The third step is receive; listen to what God is doing with the movements of your heart, your thoughts, your feelings, your emotions, and your memories. Receive his presence and the constancy of his love. Spend some time receiving his love. I spent some time in quiet prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, celebrated Mass and then went about my day with its appointments and meetings. It was about 2:00 in the afternoon when I met by accident Fr. Klingler walking down Michigan Ave. in downtown Kalamazoo. He gave me the counsel of an old experienced priest. He put everything into perspective. I don’t even remember exactly what he said, but I do remember a weight being lifted from my heart. We are never forgotten by Heaven. God used Fr. Klingler to answer my prayer.
The fourth step is respond; what we receive from God impels us to respond in gratitude and with a renewed heart. I remember walking away from Fr. Klingler looking upward and saying, “Thank you.” I was probably smiling too.
God is all around us. And to pray is to breathe in God. And in breathing in God He resuscitates and revives and enlivens our souls. We exhale our own self will and agenda to inhale the Divine. With time as we more and more breathe in God, as we more and more pray, we are made over more and more in His Divine image.
Let us be great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley