Child-like and Childish Prayer
The basilica of St Lawrence, the 3rd-century Roman deacon, is called the 'beautiful basilica' and it was built in the 4th-century on the site of his martyrdom. Pope Gregory II established the Station here in honour of this important Roman saint whose renowned love for the poor is shown below in a fresco by Fra Angelico.
Indeed, the name Panisperna given to this area is derived from the bread and ham (pane e perna) which is distributed on St Lawrence's feast day to the poor of the city. In the 13th-century, during the lifetime of St Clare herself, the Poor Clares moved into the convent adjacent to the basilica and began to undertake this act of charity in St Lawrence's memory. Before the Poor Clares arrived, the Benedictine had occupied the monastery from 1451. In 1896 the Franciscan Friars of St Clare arrived and they took over the running of the church and continue to have care for it. Inside the church is one of the Crucifixes which is believed to have spoken to St Bridget.
Acts of charity like St Lawrence's distribution of wealth to the poor and the Poor Clares' distribution of food to the needy of the City of Rome are ways in which we participate in the providence of God; the kind of providence that Jesus talks about in today's Gospel (Mt 7:7-12). For we have indeed received abundantly from God and we are especially reminded during Lent that almsgiving is a way of offering thanks to God, the giver of all good gifts, by giving in turn to those who are without.
As it says in Scripture, God helps us that we may help others from the help that God has first given us. But how are we to receive from the Lord, if we do not first ask. Like the beggar who comes to us, seeking alms, so do we knock on the door of God's heart, seeking "good things" from Him.
And, in response, the Lord says: "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good deeds to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" (Mt 7:11).
And so we return again to the theme of prayer, which is central to our Lenten journey. In Tuesday's Gospel (Mt 6:7-15), the Lord taught us how to pray and in addition, today the Lord tells us that we should not fail to ask God for anything we need and to do so confidently, earnestly and insistently, like Queen Esther in today's First Reading (Est C: 12, 14-16, 23-25).
Reflecting on this "catechesis of prayer" the then-Cardinal Ratzinger says in Journey to Easter:
"What are the possible subjects for Christian prayer? What things can we ask from God's goodness? The Lord's reply is very simple: everything. Everything that is good. The good Lord gives only good things, but his goodness in this knows no limits. This answer is very important. With God we can really speak as children to their Father. Nothing is excluded. The goodness and power of God knows only one limitation: evil. But it knows no boundary between big and little things, between material and spiritual things. God is human - God is man, and could become man, because his love and his power embrace for all eternity the big and the little things, the body and the soul, daily bread and the Kingdom of Heaven. Christian prayer is completely human, prayer in communion with the God-man, with the Son. The prayer of the simple is the true Christian prayer, that prayer which with a fearless confidence brings all reality and the poverty of life under the eyes of omnipotent goodness."
This reminds me of a beloved aunt of mine who prays, when out shopping, for a good parking space for her car; or a friend of mine who prays for a taxi to come along when she is out in town and needs one; or even of those who pray that their football team will win the match. Many of these people tend to be evangelical Christians. Why? Somehow, I feel that their faith and their childlike trust in God and their desire to entrust all their cares, wants and needs to Him is what Jesus tells us to do in today's Gospel. Such an approach to prayer is beautiful, simple and child-like.
We've all seen children who unhesitatingly run to their parents when they want something; there is this confidence that they will not be disappointed. And yet, many of us may feel that such simple prayer, like the child running to their Father, is not sophisticated enough, or just not serious enough to warrant God's attention; those are all real objections I have heard. But underlying this is a lack of faith, a most unchild-like independence, and a fundamental desire to rely firstly on one's own resources. Jesus asks us to do otherwise, to trust the Father and to believe that He will give us whatever good thing we ask, if only we'd have the confidence to ask.
Some may rightly wonder why it is that their asking has not availed of a positive response from God. Why do we not get what we want? Again, I think any parent can answer that question of why sometimes, a child simply cannot and does not get whatever he should ask for... But Ratzinger offers a further perspective on the nature of our asking, the didactic of our prayers:
"We can ask all that is good. But as part of this unboundedness, prayer is a road to conversion, the way of divine education, the way of grace: by praying we must learn which things are good or not. We have to learn the absolute difference between good and evil. We have to learn to renounce all evil, fulfill our baptismal promises... Prayer separates light from darkness in our life and accomplishes in us the new creation, makes new beings. Therefore it is important that in prayer we do in fact present our whole life before the eyes of God, we who are evil, who desire so many bad things. In prayer we learn renunciation of our own desires. We begin to desire good things, to become good by talking to him who is goodness itself. The divine response is not simply a confirmation of our life but a process of transformation."
Therefore, God would be an irresponsible Father indeed if He merely gave whatever we asked. Instead when we communicate our desires with Him in prayer, He gradually purifies our intentions, and teaches us and forms us as true children of God, taking us from self-centred, indulgent childishness to truly Christian and Child-like prayer. Thus Ratzinger says:
"The prayer of God's children is the prayer of his Son, a Christological prayer, 'through Christ'... The Holy Spirit penetrates all, but the actual object of prayer is emphasized: that we evil people should cease to be evil and become good by sharing in God's goodness itself. This will be the true answer to prayer, if we not only have the good things, but are also good ourselves."
So this Lent, let us pray to the Father with confidence and trust; let us pray knowing that the Father will give us whatever is good for us, molding us and forming us more and more into the image of His Son.
May St Lawrence and St Clare pray for us and teach us how to love the things of heaven, to give generously to the poor and to desire that which is truly good for us that we may become good.