Bartimaeus helped me pray for others

As a priest, people ask me to pray for them and their intentions often. I struggled with these requests, in part, because they were so many. But I struggled intellectually, too, because in my study of theology and understanding of the divine attributes of God, I wondered why pray petitionary prayer at all. God is immutable. This means he is unchanging. In terms of prayer, I struggled with praying for a situation in which I was praying for change. “Heal this person” as a prayer to me was asking God to change his mind. God is also omniscient, which means he is all-knowing. I had to reconcile asking God for something with the reality that he already knew what I was going to ask. The first year of my priesthood, I encountered the Bartimaeus Gospel on the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time and it changed my perspective on intercessory or petitionary prayer.

Jesus approaches where Bartimaeus is on the side of the road. This blind man hears from someone that Jesus is coming and obviously he knows something about Jesus because he begins crying out, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” He gets the attention of

Jesus who stands before him and asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” It’s an interesting question Jesus asks because Jesus is God. He already knows what Bartimaeus wants, even before the blind man asks. We see this elsewhere in the public ministry of Jesus when he knows the thoughts of the Pharisees and addresses them even though it was unspoken. Jesus posing this question to Bartimaeus helped me understand petitionary prayer.

Jesus wanted Bartimaeus to name what it was he wanted. He wanted to see. And Jesus opened his eyes and he was able to see. God wants us to ask him for his grace and blessings. He wants us to name our requests and realize that we are dependent upon him for all that we have, and that he is the giver of all that is good. Even if our intercessory prayer doesn’t change the mind of God and if God already knows, the fact that he wants us to ask means that our asking makes us more open to God’s will, whatever it might be. Our asking in petitionary prayer also is an act of charity for other people, as we pray for the sick, the homeless, for those in need or whatever else we might pray for on behalf of our neighbor.

I am no longer hesitant with petitionary prayer, and I have Jesus and Bartimaeus to thank. Jesus wants us to ask so that the Trinity can reveal their power in our life and our world. Never be afraid to petition God and don’t hesitate to ask the saints to join you in your prayer. No prayer goes unheard, and God wishes to impart his graces on us and the whole world.

Fr. Looney pastors the Catholic parishes in Brussels and Lincoln/Rosiere. He is the author of “Meditations After Holy Communion.”