Persevering Prayer, 27th Wednesday (I), October 12, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Thursday of the 27th Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
October 12, 2017
Mal 3:13-20, Ps 1, Lk 11:5-13

 

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today Jesus continues to respond to the question of yesterday, to teach us how to pray.
  • Yesterday when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he began by teaching them that the secret of prayer is to approach God as a loving Father. Once we do, almost everything flows. We begin to seek the glory and sanctification of his name and the building of his kingdom not only because we love Him but also because we know that, as his sons and daughters, we share that name and are heirs of that kingdom. Once we relate to him as a Loving Father than we trust in his providence to give us each day what we need and in his mercy to forgive us when we err because he loves us more than he detests the sins that hurt us and wound our relationship with him. When we relate to him as a Loving Father we trust him not to put us in a position in which we’ll fail the ultimate test but to challenge us and help us to meet those challenges that are beyond what we think are possible.
  • Today Jesus continues his responding to our request to teach us how to pray by illustrating for us how to persevere in prayer. He gives us a parable based on middle eastern customs of hospitality. Especially during the summer months when the sun is most brutal, many Jews would travel at night and so it was not unheard of that a guest would arrive at your home — in the days before not only phones, texts and emails but also before a postal system that was affordable and efficient — unannounced at night, famished after a long journey. Because bread was baked normally in the morning, it’s possible that all the bread had already been eaten. That’s why you’d go to your neighbors to ask if they had anything to share. The second thing to understand about middle eastern culture is that their doors were open all day long but when they were shut and locked, that meant that the entire family and all their animals had gone to bed. They’d sleep together in an interior part of the house to stay warm during the typical middle eastern radiational cooling at night. To get up to answer the door when a neighbor was knocking at midnight meant that one would likely be stepping on one’s children, one’s animals and waking everyone up. It’s understandable that one would want to wait to share bread until the morning. But Jesus says that because of the perseverance of the neighbor, “I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence.” Jesus mentions this as a lesson in prayer precisely in order to contrast that motivation with one of God. He was saying, “If a neighbor would eventually give in because of harassment, think about how God will respond out of love?”
  • That led Jesus to say, “I tell you, ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you, for everyone who asks receives, everyone who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks the door will be opened.” Notice that he doesn’t say that one will receive, find or have the door opened immediately. He also doesn’t say that one will receive and find exactly what one expected to find. But he does promise God will respond, precisely because God is a loving Father who always responds first and foremost by giving himself. That’s why Jesus said, “What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” God sends the Holy Spirit not just to those who ask for the Holy Spirit but for those who ask, seek, or knock for anything, and he does so precisely because he loves us and provides what we really need beyond what we desire or explicitly request. God always responds to our prayers by giving us himself.
  • The question we need to answer, however, is why God doesn’t answer our prayers immediately if he loves us. Why does he want us to persevere in knocking like the neighbor for bread? Why does he want us to spend hours, days, months even years seeking in order to find? He does so precisely so that we may learn how to persevere in life. Pope Francis asked in an Angelus meditation a few years ago why God wants us to pray with perseverance. “Why does God want this? Doesn’t he already know what we need? … This is a good question that makes us examine an important aspect of the faith: God invites us to pray insistently not because he is unaware of our needs or because he is not listening to us. On the contrary, he is always listening and he knows everything about us lovingly.” But because we pray as we live and live as we pray, he wants to develop in us through prayer the type of perseverance we need to remain faithful in life. “On our daily journey, especially in times of difficulty, in the battle against the evil that is outside and within us,” Pope Francis continued, “the Lord is not far away, he is by our side. We battle with him beside us, and our weapon is prayer which makes us feel his presence beside us, his mercy and also his help. But the battle against evil is a long and hard one; it requires patience and endurance. … Indeed persevering prayer is the expression of faith in a God who calls us to fight with him every day and at every moment in order to conquer evil with good.” Persevering prayer helps us to learn the persevering faith we have to have to fight the good fight so as to win.
  • This is important for us to understand today’s Psalm and first reading. There’s a contrast between two types of people. For the Prophet Malachi, it’s between those who think it’s “vain to serve God,” to do penance, to keep the commandments, because the those who are proud, who do evil, who tempt God all prosper — it seems — whereas those who serve God don’t. But God through Malachi reminds the people that those who trust in his name, who fear him, will receive his compassion on the day of judgment. They will see the eternal sunshine and receive the healing of the Sun of Justice. Similarly in the Responsorial Psalm, there’s the contrast between those who follow the counsel of the wicked and insolent, who are like chaff that will disappear after being burned, and those who meditate on God’s law day and night. The latter will be like a tree near running water that is always evergreen and prospers.
  • These readings show us something really important about prayer: prayer is heavily influenced by our desires. If what we want is this-worldly prosperity, pleasure, money, health, fame, then we will probably envy the Hugh Hefners and Harvey Weinsteins of the world. If we’re really seeking those things, then we probably will easily quit on prayer, especially if God doesn’t grant us those things. If, on the other hand, we really want God’s name to be hallowed instead of us, his will to be done, his kingdom rather than ours — if, in other words, we really love God and want what he wants — then we’ll persevere, because it’s through prayer God gives us himself and makes us more and more like him.
  • There are several forms of persevering prayer that are given to us in the school of prayer in the Church that we can mention:
    • The Holy Rosary, which we should ponder more deeply in October, the month of the Holy Rosary, in which we persevere in pondering Christ’s mysteries together with Mary.
    • The Liturgy of the Hours, in which we persevere in praying the Psalms that Christ and Mary prayed, for the needs of the Church.
    • Work, which is a real setting for persevering prayer, as we offer what we’re doing as the sacrifice of Abel to God.
    • Suffering, as we imitate Saints Francisco and Jacinta Marto, on the vigil of the centenary of Fatima, in offering up our sufferings for the conversion of the world.
    • The Mass, the greatest prayer of them all, in which until the end of time, from the rising of the sun to its setting, we share in Christ’s eternal prayer for the Upper Room and the Cross.
  • And in response to this persevering prayer, God the Father gives us not three loaves of bread, but himself: his Son the Living Bread come down from heaven and the Holy Spirit who seeks to make us one body, one spirit in Christ.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 MAL 3:13-20B

You have defied me in word, says the LORD,
yet you ask, “What have we spoken against you?”
You have said, “It is vain to serve God,
and what do we profit by keeping his command,
And going about in penitential dress
in awe of the LORD of hosts?
Rather must we call the proud blessed;
for indeed evildoers prosper,
and even tempt God with impunity.”
Then they who fear the LORD spoke with one another,
and the LORD listened attentively;
And a record book was written before him
of those who fear the LORD and trust in his name.
And they shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts,
my own special possession, on the day I take action.
And I will have compassion on them,
as a man has compassion on his son who serves him.
Then you will again see the distinction
between the just and the wicked;
Between the one who serves God,
and the one who does not serve him.
For lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven,
when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble,
And the day that is coming will set them on fire,
leaving them neither root nor branch,
says the LORD of hosts.
But for you who fear my name, there will arise
the sun of justice with its healing rays.

Responsorial Psalm PS 1:1-2, 3, 4 AND 6

R. (Ps 40:5a) Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.
Blessed the man who follows not
the counsel of the wicked
Nor walks in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the company of the insolent,
But delights in the law of the LORD
and meditates on his law day and night.
R. Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.
He is like a tree
planted near running water,
That yields its fruit in due season,
and whose leaves never fade.
Whatever he does, prospers.
R. Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.
Not so the wicked, not so;
they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
For the LORD watches over the way of the just,
but the way of the wicked vanishes.
R. Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.

Alleluia SEE ACTS 16:14B

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Open our hearts, O Lord,
to listen to the words of your Son.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 11:5-13

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Suppose one of you has a friend
to whom he goes at midnight and says,
‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread,
for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey
and I have nothing to offer him,’
and he says in reply from within,
‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked
and my children and I are already in bed.
I cannot get up to give you anything.’
I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves
because of their friendship,
he will get up to give him whatever he needs
because of his persistence.
“And I tell you, ask and you will receive;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives;
and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
What father among you would hand his son a snake
when he asks for a fish?
Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?
If you then, who are wicked,
know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit
to those who ask him?”