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With the Lord, It Never Hurts to Ask
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, July 28, 2013
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If we’re living in suburban America, we probably don’t have any everyday experience of the haggling that was commonplace in the bazaars of the ancient world—and still goes on in many places around the world. Providers and consumers work together to set a fair price—or a fantastic deal for one of the two participants. These transactions are governed by unspoken rules and each one knows that the other is acting on self-interest. It becomes as much a game as an economic transaction.

In today’s first reading, we might be shocked to discover Abraham bargaining with God to save Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of ten worthy men. Like any good merchant, he starts high and works his way down. But we quickly realize that God was less interested in haggling over a specific number than in helping Abraham to realize that while divine mercy and compassion are infinite, there comes a point when even God says no, however regretfully. Abraham finally comes to terms with the fact that he can’t save a city whose inhabitants have no desire to be saved.

Abraham’s story provides a good example of the persistence that Jesus talks about in his Gospel story of the man who wakes his neighbor asking for bread to feed a visitor. Sometimes we can turn a no into a yes if we just keep asking. We’ve all heard the saying, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Suffering in silence might show fortitude and forbearance, but it’s not likely to change the situation, at least not in the short term.

The entire Gospel passage finds several ways to say the same thing: God wants what’s best for us. The problem is that sometimes we don’t know what’s best for us. And sometimes we don’t know what we truly want. We waste time and energy asking for the wrong thing. Other times we don’t realize that we are indeed on the right track and we give up too soon. Fearing disappointment, we ask once and then abandon our desire. Most of the time, we simply don’t ask. And in the process, we lose sight of how much we’ve been given without asking. We feel cheated, but in truth we never asked.

Our gracious and abundant God thinks nothing of telling us, “Ask and you shall receive.” But because this is not usually our experience with other people, we’re afraid to ask. Instead we become fiercely independent, determined to go it alone. Maybe once too often our hopes were disappointed, our trust was abused, we were in fact handed a stone instead of the loaf of bread we needed. Asking isn’t always easy.

Jesus gives his followers a simple prayer to teach them how to ask for what they need. And not surprisingly, it begins with a reminder that God is greater than anyone we’ve ever known. The central petition in the Lord’s Prayer is, “Give us this day our daily bread.” This is at the heart of our learning to ask. Life is lived day by day. If we get what we need today, we aren’t as likely to fear tomorrow.

Psychologists tell us that our basic needs must be satisfied before we can trust in more complex matters. Each time we ask and receive, we’re able to ask for a bit more. Someone once defined economic justice as the ability not only to survive but to thrive a little. It’s that state of thriving that Jesus wants to help us reach.

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Charles de Foucauld: Born into an aristocratic family in Strasbourg, France, Charles was orphaned at the age of six, raised by his devout grandfather, rejected the Catholic faith as a teenager and joined the French army. Inheriting a great deal of money from his grandfather, Charles went to Algeria with his regiment, but not without his mistress, Mimi. <br /><br />When he declined to give her up, he was dismissed from the army. Still in Algeria when he left Mimi, Charles reenlisted in the army. Refused permission to make a scientific exploration of nearby Morocco, he resigned from the service. With the help of a Jewish rabbi, Charles disguised himself as a Jew and in 1883 began a one-year exploration that he recorded in a book that was well received. <br /><br />Inspired by the Jews and Muslims whom he met, Charles resumed the practice of his Catholic faith when he returned to France in 1886. He joined a Trappist monastery in Ardeche, France, and later transferred to one in Akbes, Syria. Leaving the monastery in 1897, Charles worked as gardener and sacristan for the Poor Clare nuns in Nazareth and later in Jerusalem. In 1901 he returned to France and was ordained a priest. <br /><br />Later that year Charles journeyed to Beni-Abbes, Morocco, intending to found a monastic religious community in North Africa that offered hospitality to Christians, Muslims, Jews, or people with no religion. He lived a peaceful, hidden life but attracted no companions. <br /><br />A former army comrade invited him to live among the Tuareg people in Algeria. Charles learned their language enough to write a Tuareg-French and French-Tuareg dictionary, and to translate the Gospels into Tuareg. In 1905 he came to Tamanrasset, where he lived the rest of his life. A two-volume collection of Charles' Tuareg poetry was published after his death. <br /><br />In early 1909 he visited France and established an association of laypeople who pledged to live by the Gospels. His return to Tamanrasset was welcomed by the Tuareg. In 1915 Charles wrote to Louis Massignon: “The love of God, the love for one’s neighbor…All religion is found there…How to get to that point? Not in a day since it is perfection itself: it is the goal we must always aim for, which we must unceasingly try to reach and that we will only attain in heaven.”   <br /><br />The outbreak of World War I led to attacks on the French in Algeria. Seized in a raid by another tribe, Charles and two French soldiers coming to visit him were shot to death on December 1, 1916. <br />Five religious congregations, associations, and spiritual institutes (Little Brothers of Jesus, Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Little Sisters of Jesus, Little Brothers of the Gospel and Little Sisters of the Gospel) draw inspiration from the peaceful, largely hidden, yet hospitable life that characterized Charles. He was beatified on November 13, 2005. American Catholic Blog You know, O my God, I have never desired anything but to love you, and I am ambitious for no other glory.

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