Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Wednesday of the 27th Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Mass for the Priest on the Anniversary of his Ordination (The 16th anniversary of my Diaconal ordination)
October 8, 2014
Gal 2:1-2.7-14, Ps 117, Lk 11:1-4
To listen to an audio recording of the homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Yesterday we pondered the example of Mary of Bethany sitting at Jesus’ feet, allowing him to feed her. She had chosen the better part and the one thing necessary, the activity more important than all others. Today we see Jesus sitting at the feet of his Father in prayer. His example of prayer brought the disciples to ask him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John [the Baptist] taught his disciples.” Jesus had already taught them much about prayer by his parables describing the need to pray with perseverance, patience, humility, purity of intention, faith, without show and in his name. He had taught them much by his example of prayer, constantly going out at night or early in the morning to pray. But they were asking for some direct instruction, to have Jesus open up to them the mystery of intimacy with God.
- It’s noteworthy that Jesus didn’t reply to their request by teaching them a posture of prayer, telling them to kneel, close their eyes and fold their hands. He didn’t instruct them to go through breathing exercises or other techniques to empty themselves of distractions. He didn’t indicate how to listen to God, like Eli taught Samuel to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” He didn’t give them a meditation method. He didn’t even given them a formula of vocal prayer, something seen by the fact that Luke’s rendition of the Lord’s Prayer is different from Matthew’s, a sign that Jesus wasn’t passing out “magic words” as much as trying to pass on an attitude, a whole approach to prayer; he wasn’t imparting a quid ores (a what you are to say when you pray) but a qualis ores (a who you are as you pray), as St. Augustine was wont to say. And what was that approach?
- Everything can be summarized by the first word he taught them: Abba! He taught them to turn not to some cosmic life-force way out in the heavens, or to some slavemaster or judge or apathetic Creator, but to a “Father.” This is the open secret to what Jesus teaches us about prayer. We see his own prayers: “I give you praise, Father, … for having revealed these things to the merest of children.” “I thank you, Father, for having heard me. I know that you always hear me.” “Father, glorify your name!” “Father, take this chalice away from me!” “Father, forgive them!” “Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit.” Jesus’ prayers were all to the Father, to whom he turned with great trust and love. In teaching us how to pray, Jesus was trying to form us to enter into his own divine filiation and to pray with loving confidence. He told us in the Sermon on the Plain that if earthly parents aren’t sadists but know how to give good things to their children, so God the Father won’t give us a stone when we ask for bread, or a poisonous eel when we ask for fish, but will give himself — the Holy Spirit — no matter what we ask for. To pray as Jesus taught is to enter into that relationship of love with the Father. Everything else Jesus taught us about prayer flows from that.
- He instructs us to pray, “Hallowed by thy name,” and “Your Kingdom come,” which means that we are seeking God’s glory not our own, his kingdom not ours. St. Matthew’s inclusion of Jesus’ words “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is just a magnification of seeking God’s kingdom and the glory of his name. Jesus is helping us to remember that prayer should first be about God, not about ourselves.
- But precisely because prayer is about God and he loves and cares for us, Jesus gives us some indications about how we should bring our needs to God in prayer. When we grasp that God is a loving Father, we should trust in his Providence. He knows what we need even before we ask it and he cares for us more than the lilies of the field or the sparrows in the sky. So Jesus says we should ask, “Give us each day our daily bread.” We don’t ask for security in material possessions or big grain bins. Instead, we trust in him to provide every day out of love. We trust in him not to forget us. And unlike the Jews in the desert who complained about the daily Manna, we’re called to be satisfied with the Father’s continued provisions. For most of us, the Father responds to that prayer not by raining down what looks like coriander seed, but by giving us the conditions by which we can grow or buy food through the talents and opportunities he’s given us and by using those same gifts in union with God’s fatherly love to help care for those who are hungry. Jesus is helping us to relate to God the Father in his providential care.
- Then he helps us to relate to him with regard to his mercy, teaching us to say, “Forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us.” We’re all prodigal sons and daughters, but the Father never ceases to forgive us. Jesus wants us to relate to God in those terms and never to forget that, first, we need his mercy, and then second, we’re supposed to become like him in sharing that mercy with others. If we don’t see ourselves as in need of his mercy, we can’t relate to him because we don’t know who he is or who we are. And if we’re not sharing that mercy with others, then our hearts will be closed to receive God’s mercy, too, for as Jesus indicated in the parable of the two debtors, what others owe us on account of their sins against us is nothing compared to the debts we owe God for our sins against him. But he wants to envelope us in that mercy.
- The final petition is, “Do not subject us to the final test.” We recognize our weakness and ask God not to test us beyond our strength, to the ultimate test. We know that God often tests us in order to help us grow. Every time we’re tempted to impatience but behave as patiently toward others as God is toward us, we grow in patience. We pass the test. Likewise every time we sacrifice for others and overcome our selfishness, we grow in the virtue of generosity and become more and more like God who lets us rain fall on the fields of the good and bad. In humbly asking God not to test us beyond our strength, we are precisely acknowledging that, because he will never refuse prayers made in Jesus’ name, whatever tests we do face are within our strength when we’re weak enough to rely on God’s strength (Phil 4:13). It’s a beautiful summary of the entire attitude Jesus instructions us to assume in the dialogue of persons that is prayer. We’re asking God’s grace to relate to him as beloved sons and daughters, to seek his glory and kingdom, to trust he will always provide what we truly need and never turn his merciful heart away from us when we sincerely beg him for mercy. To pray is to enter into this love of the Father!
- Once we begin to pray as Jesus taught us, then it is easier to live as Jesus lived, because we pray as we live and live as we pray (CCC 2725). Our prayer should overflow into our life. That’s what today’s first reading is essentially about, in St. Paul’s conflict with St. Peter, Barnabas and the Judaizing Christians who had come down from Jerusalem. Once we begin to pray, “Father,” and especially “Our Father,” that’s meant to have consequences in our whole approach to life. We begin to look at each as the other really is, as a spiritual brother or sister, as a beloved fellow son or daughter of the same Father. So when Peter (Cephas) and Barnabas stopped eating with their Gentile brothers and sisters in Antioch out of not wanting to be criticized by those from Jerusalem who thought that in order to be a good Christian, you first needed to be a good Jew and eat only kosher food and live separately from the uncircumcised, Paul opposed them publicly. We need to learn that lesson. We’ll hear on Saturday morning St. Paul’s saying, “For through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus. For all of you… were baptized into Christ. … There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise.” When we’ve entered into Jesus’ sonship, we become spiritual siblings and earthly distinctions of separation shouldn’t perdure. Our spiritual bonds are stronger than race, or sex, or class or social conventions. But we need to live that way.
- Today we come to pray the Mass and the Mass is one long prayer to God the Father through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit who helps us to cry out “Abba!” It was in the first Mass — from the Last Supper to Calvary — in which Jesus begged for the glorification of his Father’s name, inaugurated his kingdom, gave us our daily supersubstantial nourishment, died to take away the sins of the world, prayed that the Father would keep us from the evil one, and expressed his desire that all of us would be as united as he and the Father are united. Today let us enter into this prayer of Jesus at the altar as he continues to teach us both how to pray and how to live!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
gal 2:1-2, 7-14
After fourteen years I again went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas,
taking Titus along also.
I went up in accord with a revelation,
and I presented to them the Gospel that I preach to the Gentiles–
but privately to those of repute–
so that I might not be running, or have run, in vain.
On the contrary,
when they saw that I had been entrusted with the Gospel to the uncircumcised,
just as Peter to the circumcised,
for the one who worked in Peter for an apostolate to the circumcised
worked also in me for the Gentiles,
and when they recognized the grace bestowed upon me,
James and Cephas and John,
who were reputed to be pillars,
gave me and Barnabas their right hands in partnership,
that we should go to the Gentiles
and they to the circumcised.
Only, we were to be mindful of the poor,
which is the very thing I was eager to do.And when Cephas came to Antioch,
I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong.
For, until some people came from James,
he used to eat with the Gentiles;
but when they came, he began to draw back and separated himself,
because he was afraid of the circumcised.
And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him,
with the result that even Barnabas
was carried away by their hypocrisy.
But when I saw that they were not on the right road
in line with the truth of the Gospel,
I said to Cephas in front of all,
“If you, though a Jew,
are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew,
how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
ps 117:1bc, 2
Praise the LORD, all you nations,
glorify him, all you peoples!
R. Go out to all the world, and tell the Good News.
For steadfast is his kindness toward us,
and the fidelity of the LORD endures forever.
R. Go out to all the world, and tell the Good News.
one of his disciples said to him,
“Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.”
He said to them, “When you pray, say:Father, hallowed be your name,
your Kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread
and forgive us our sins
for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us,
and do not subject us to the final test.”