Fighting to Win the Battle of Prayer and Life, 14th Tuesday (I), July 11, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Tuesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. Benedict
July 11, 2017
Gen 32:23-33, Ps 17, Mt 9:32-38

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today’s readings are about the perseverance we need in our Christian vocations to pray and to work in God’s kingdom, and about the help God gives us to fight the good fight and triumph in so doing.
  • In the first reading from Genesis, we encounter the mysterious scene of the nocturnal wrestling match between Jacob and an angel of God that throughout the history of the Church has been treated as an illustration of the “battle of prayer.” Describing this scene in the midst of its tremendous section on prayer, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Before confronting his elder brother Esau, Jacob wrestles all night with a mysterious figure who refuses to reveal his name, but he blesses him before leaving him at dawn. From this account, the spiritual tradition of the Church has retained the symbol of prayer as a battle of faith and as the triumph of perseverance” (2573).
  • Pope Benedict XVI gave an entire catechesis on this scene on May 25, 2011 at the beginning of his beautiful 18 month series on prayer. He that our prayer requires the tenacity not to give up when prayer is hard, but to continue struggling to see God and embrace his will. Prayer is he emphasized, “the good fight of the faith.” “For the believer the episode of the struggle at the Jabbok thus becomes a paradigm. …  a reference point for understanding the relationship with God that finds in prayer its greatest expression,” Pope Benedict said.. “Prayer requires trust, nearness, almost a hand-to-hand contact that is symbolic not of a God who is an enemy, an adversary, but a Lord of blessing who always remains mysterious, who seems beyond reach. Therefore the author of the Sacred text uses the symbol of the struggle, which implies a strength of spirit, perseverance, tenacity in obtaining what is desired. And if the object of one’s desire is a relationship with God, his blessing and love, then the struggle cannot fail but ends in that self-giving to God, in recognition of one’s own weakness, which is overcome only by giving oneself over into God’s merciful hands. He finishes by saying that such a struggle summarizes not just the prayer of a Christian but also the entire life of faith. “Our entire lives are like this long night of struggle and prayer, spent in desiring and asking for God’s blessing, which cannot be grabbed or won through our own strength but must be received with humility from him as a gratuitous gift that ultimately allows us to recognize the Lord’s face. And when this happens, our entire reality changes; we receive a new name and God’s blessing. … Whoever allows himself to be blessed by God, who abandons himself to God, who permits himself to be transformed by God, renders a blessing to the world.”
  • This connection between prayer and the life of faith is underlined by Jesus in the Gospel. St. Matthew tells us Jesus’ heart exploded with pity for the crowds because they were like abandoned and mangled sheep without a shepherd. And so he turned to his disciples and told them, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” Jesus had already spent days teaching these hungry crowds in their synagogues, curing every disease and illness and casting out demons. There was a need for urgent need for hardworking collaborators. He knew there would also be an pressing demand for such coworkers whose hearts likewise would be so moved with mercy that they would follow Jesus in caring for the vast crowds. And so Jesus gave an imperative with no expiration date. He told his disciples to pray, not just for bodies in the vineyard, but “laborers,” those who know how to roll up their sleeves and work up a sweat. Little did those who began to pray recognize that they were going to be the Harvest Master’s answers to those prayers, as we’ll see in the Gospel tomorrow when Jesus after a night of prayer calls the first 12 apostles by name. Likewise, when we pray to the Harvest Master, we’re not only praying for “others’ to step forward to labor in the Vineyard but we need to be open to how the Lord wants all of us, in different capacities, as apostles in that vast worldwide vineyard bringing in a great harvest of souls before they perish on the vine. Our prayer is not isolated from our life. Faith unites and is meant to suffuse both. And the struggle of prayer and the life of faith likewise continues.
  • A great inspiration in this persevering prayer and harvesting for the kingdom is the Saint the Church fêtes today, Saint Benedict, who for the last almost millennium and a half has been helping Christians to pray and to work, to battle against our fallen nature by getting up in nocturnal vigils of prayer and by laboring in earthly harvests to strengthen us in the harvest of souls.
  • He founded the Benedictine Order, as he said in his famous Rule, as a “school of the Lord’s service.” St. Benedict and his Benedictine sons and daughters seek to serve the Lord in their prayer, especially their common liturgical prayer that he called the “opus Dei,” the work of God. They seek to serve the Lord in their work. Prior to St. Benedict’s revolution, manual work, like working the fields, being in shops, even copying manuscripts, were considered things done by slaves. The Benedictines sought to do it as slaves of the Lord, not in a slavish way, but learning from the Master in the school of service how to do it well. They also sought to serve the Lord in their study, zealously learning from the Master in such a way that they could not only live it but pass on as of the first important what they themselves received. Ora et labora et studium: They served the Lord in the three-fold united service  of prayer, work, and study. Those remain the three principle courses in the life of every Christian. St. Benedict would finish his rule instructing them to put nothing before the love of God, and it is in prayer that we put God first, it is in our work that we seek to offer him the sacrifice of Abel, it’s in study that we come on fire for him and for the truth that he has revealed in so many settings.
  • The culmination of the good fight of faith, of our “opus Dei” of liturgy, of our work presented as our “holy and acceptable sacrifice, our spiritual worship” is the encounter with the Lord in the Holy Eucharist. It’s here that the Lord seeks to renew us in our new name — Christian — and bless us with himself so that we can become a blessing for the world. This is the center of Benedictine life and the source and summit of the Christian life. St. Benedict would instruct his monks, “Christo omnimo nihil præponant,” “Prefer nothing whatsoever to Christ.” May we never prefer anything to the Christ we are about to receive, who wishes to fill us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens and make us victorious in his eternal victory as he gave Israel (“God is victorious”) a new name when he allowed Jacob to “defeat” him in order to open him up to his blessing!

 

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1 GN 32:23-33

In the course of the night, Jacob arose, took his two wives,
with the two maidservants and his eleven children,
and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.
After he had taken them across the stream
and had brought over all his possessions,
Jacob was left there alone.
Then some man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.
When the man saw that he could not prevail over him,
he struck Jacob’s hip at its socket,
so that the hip socket was wrenched as they wrestled.
The man then said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob said, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”
The man asked, “What is your name?”
He answered, “Jacob.”
Then the man said,
“You shall no longer be spoken of as Jacob, but as Israel,
because you have contended with divine and human beings
and have prevailed.”
Jacob then asked him, “Do tell me your name, please.”
He answered, “Why should you want to know my name?”
With that, he bade him farewell.
Jacob named the place Peniel,
“Because I have seen God face to face,” he said,
“yet my life has been spared.”

At sunrise, as he left Penuel,
Jacob limped along because of his hip.
That is why, to this day, the children of Israel do not eat
the sciatic muscle that is on the hip socket,
inasmuch as Jacob’s hip socket was struck at the sciatic muscle.

Responsorial Psalm PS 17:1B, 2-3, 6-7AB, 8B AND 15

R. (15a) In justice, I shall behold your face, O Lord.
Hear, O LORD, a just suit;
attend to my outcry;
hearken to my prayer from lips without deceit.
R. In justice, I shall behold your face, O Lord.
From you let my judgment come;
your eyes behold what is right.
Though you test my heart, searching it in the night,
though you try me with fire, you shall find no malice in me.
R. In justice, I shall behold your face, O Lord.
I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God;
incline your ear to me; hear my word.
Show your wondrous mercies,
O savior of those who flee from their foes.
R. In justice, I shall behold your face, O Lord.
Hide me in the shadow of your wings.
I in justice shall behold your face;
on waking, I shall be content in your presence.
R. In justice, I shall behold your face, O Lord.

Alleluia JN 10:14

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I am the good shepherd, says the Lord;
I know my sheep, and mine know me.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 9:32-38

A demoniac who could not speak was brought to Jesus,
and when the demon was driven out the mute man spoke.
The crowds were amazed and said,
“Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”
But the Pharisees said,
“He drives out demons by the prince of demons.”

Jesus went around to all the towns and villages,
teaching in their synagogues,
proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom,
and curing every disease and illness.
At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them
because they were troubled and abandoned,
like sheep without a shepherd.
Then he said to his disciples,
“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few;
so ask the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest.”