Persevering Prayer and Faith, 27th Thursday (II), October 9, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Thursday of the 27th Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. John Leonardi
October 9, 2014
Gal 3:1-5, Lk 1:69-75, 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: 

  • 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.
  • 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 last October 20 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.
  • We see the importance of this in today’s first reading, when St. Paul sternly corrects the Christians in Galatia for their lack of perseverance in the life according to the Holy Spirit to which Paul introduced them. They had instead gone over to a false gospel that taught that they would be saved not by grace, not by God, not by faithful response to God’s help, but rather by their own participation in the Jewish “works of the law” such as circumcision, dietary practices and the like. St. Paul didn’t mince words when he said, “O stupid Galatians! Who has bewitched you — literally given you the evil eye — before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?” Did they not realize, he was saying, that they were saved by what Christ accomplished on the Cross? ” I want to learn only this from you,” he continued. “Did you receive the Spirit from works of the law, or from faith in what you heard? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? … Does, then, the one who supplies the Spirit to you and works mighty deeds among you do so from works of the law or from faith in what you heard?” They had failed to live according to God, beseeching his help in prayer, receiving the Holy Spirit he always sends, counting on the graces Christ won for us on Calvary. Instead they began to focus on their own works. This is a constant danger for us. In his apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis talked about the danger of spiritual worldliness, living of ourselves, by ourselves and for ourselves, that culminates, he said, in “self-absorbed promethean semi-Pelagianism” of those who “trust in their own powers.” Often we’re tempted to be absorbed in ourselves and our own efforts, in our own supposed self-sufficiency, rather than live dependent on a God who lovingly provides for our needs. Like Prometheus who was entrusted by Zeus with fire in Greek mythology and then began to think that that fire was his own to use however he willed apart from the gods, we can begin to think that the various talents, the fire, God has given us can be severed from him and his purposes. Like the semi-Pelagians who thought that we do 99 percent of the work of salvation and just need a “little” grace, we can begin to obsess about our own actions that we can forget that it’s God who constantly sustains us. Sometimes we’re as “stupid” as the Galatians, but Paul wants to give us the wisdom that flows from persevering dependance on God in prayer and in life.
  • The saint we celebrate today helps us very much with this prayerful dependence. St John Leonardi was a pharmacist who eventually grasped that people needed a greater medicine than what he was able to make and dispense in his apothecary. He wanted to give others what he called the “medicine of God,” which was the Crucified and Risen Jesus Christ. He grasped that people needed this medicine more than anything else, a medicine that begins with the personal encounter with Jesus in prayer and the Sacraments. After his priestly ordination, he founded an association of priests called the “Clerics Regular of the Mother of God” and he sought to renew people precisely by this communion with the Lord, promoting frequently, even daily Communion (for even religious women would receive at the time only a few times a year), 40 hour devotions of Eucharistic adoration to help people pray, devotion to our Lady who shows us how the Almighty does great things for us when we approach him with humility, and more. Eventually, he helped to found what would become the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith in order to bring this “medicine of God” to those in far away lands who were dying without the antidote of eternal life. He always had a great devotion to the “Holy Face” of Jesus, preserved and venerated in the Cathedral Church of his native Lucca. That was the Holy Face whose eyes he never took his eyes off of and whom he tried to help so many others to see and respond to. Because he pondered Christ’s eyes so much, he was able to see them in the poor and the sick for whom he and the Clerics Regular cared indefatigably and perseveringly. Today he wants to help us to see in Jesus in the Eucharist the medicine we need most and to learn from him how to pray the Mass, turning to the Father and asking, seeking and knocking while at the same time opening ourselves up to the Father’s response of his Son together with the Holy Spirit he has been waiting from all eternity to give us today.

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
gal 3:1-5

O stupid Galatians!
Who has bewitched you,
before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?
I want to learn only this from you:
did you receive the Spirit from works of the law,
or from faith in what you heard?
Are you so stupid?
After beginning with the Spirit,
are you now ending with the flesh?
Did you experience so many things in vain?–
if indeed it was in vain.
Does, then, the one who supplies the Spirit to you
and works mighty deeds among you
do so from works of the law
or from faith in what you heard?

Responsorial Psalm
lk 1:69-70, 71-72, 73-75

R. (68) Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people.
He has raised up for us a mighty savior,
born of the house of his servant David.
R. Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people.
Through his holy prophets he promised of old
that he would save us from our enemies,
from the hands of all who hate us.
R. Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant.
R. Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
free to worship him without fear,
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our life.
R. Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; He has come to his people.

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?”