Project Canterbury

Locust Street Letters

By Frank Lawrence Vernon

Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.




The Gospel for today gives us a lesson in the discipline of prayer. The word discipline means a rule for disciples. The word disciple means one who is learning. So the discipline of prayer means schooling in prayer. Sometimes a person will say that prayer does not help. Or if the person is a little more humble, he or she will say, "I can't pray." If the person is a little bit more humble yet, he or she will say, "I do not know how to pray." If to this humility the person can add a grain of faith, the final advance can be made to say to Our Lord, "Lord, teach me to pray." Then the troubled person will cease to be a troubled person and will become a disciple.

The Apostles were humble enough, and simple enough, and genuine enough, and trustful enough to say that. We certainly are not beyond the need of being taught how to pray, if they were not. So the first lesson in prayer is to be humble and simple and genuine and trustful. My answer to a person who tells me that prayer does not help is to answer never a word. I wait until the person has thought a little longer and suffered a little more and comes back to say, "I can't pray." Then I have an answer. "Neither can any of us. We have to be taught. Go and ask Our Lord to teach you. You must do as the rest of us do." When a person goes to Our Lord and says to Him, "Lord, teach me to pray," that person has said the greatest and the most important and the most far-reaching prayer that probably they have ever said in all their life. And they have done more than that. They have opened the door of the prayer life. No one knows how far on they may go. When I see a person arrived at this point, I say, "sometimes will you remember me in your prayers?"

The road that leads up to the crossroad at which one makes the turn is a long one, for most of us. As far as I can find out, it is a long one for everybody. We all have to travel it. We all have troubles on the road. The troubles are too personal to talk about. But on one thing we are all agreed. The troubles drive us on. We can't go back. We won't stand still. There is nothing to do but to keep on going. As we go we learn. We learn from experience. What we learn from experience we are not apt to forget.

The woman of Canaan, in today's Gospel, is an example. So many people who are examples seem too far above us and beyond us to offer us much of encouragement. We admire them, but they seem so hopelessly far ahead of us. But the woman of Canaan is different. We can understand her. She was in trouble. Her daughter was sick. No one could cure the child. Of all troubles this is the most piercing. It makes one first frantic and then numb. But she learned how to pray. The disciples discouraged her. The strangest part of it though was that Our Lord seemed to discourage her. But she never wavered. She never thought of herself. She was thinking about the child. She knew that child could be cured. Would He do it? She believed He would. And He did. She had great faith! Faith enough to get what she asked. It was faith in Our Lord's power. Not faith enough to bear not getting what she wanted. That would have meant a faith in Our Lord just a little beyond her at that time. But as far as it went it was great faith.

A real prayer is based upon mutual trust. The person who prays, trusts God to do what is best. God trusts the person to trust that what He does is best.

Affectionately in Our Lord,

Project Canterbury