Praying with Faith in God, Eighth Friday (II), May 27, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Friday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Funeral Mass for Melanie Gaspard, Daughter of Vanessa Gaspard, a Child who died before baptism (miscarriage)
May 27, 2016
1 Pet 4:7-13, Ps 96, Mk 11:11-26


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

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Many times people are confused by the episode of Jesus’ cursing the fig tree in today’s Gospel for not producing fruit even though it was the time of year when it shouldn’t have produced any fruit at all. Some can wonder whether the scene confirms the false idea that Jesus demands us to do the impossible, to bear fruit even when physically impossible, at the risk of being cursed by him forever. But the lesson, I believe, is much simpler, and we see that when we exegete rather than eisegete the text, when we draw from the text rather than read into it. In the text, as soon as Peter points out to Jesus that the fig tree he cursed the previous day had withered, Jesus replied immediately with a lesson not about fruitfulness or condemnation but about praying with faith in the God who hears: ““Have faith in God,” Jesus said. “Amen, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it shall be done for him.” What Jesus was indicating was that on the previous day, when he said to the fruitless tree out of season, “May no one ever eat of your fruit again!,” God the Father was hearing him. The withered fig tree was a lesson about the power of prayer, a prayer that can literally move mountains or desiccate trees because God is listening attentively to his sons and daughters like he was listening to his Son and dried up the fig tree in order to give his Son a chance to speak about the power of prayer.
  • In the readings today there are several important lessons about prayer.
    • The first is about faith, faith that God can do anything, as we’ve already seen.
    • The second is about the conviction with which we pray, that we pray without doubting but believing in our heart. “Therefore I tell you,” Jesus says, “all that you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours.” Many times we pray without this conviction. We ask, but we really don’t trust that our prayer will be heard, often because we don’t really trust that God is there listening with love ready to respond. By these words, Jesus isn’t telling us a “magic formula” to ensure that every prayer we ask is heard — even when we’re asking for things that would not foster his kingdom, or our salvation, or others’ — but describing the type of trust we should have in the One to whom we’re praying, who won’t give us a stone when we ask for bread, a poisonous eel when we ask for fish, but who also loves us so much that he won’t give us poison even if we ask him for it and who will often give us, not exactly what we ask for, but something far more. Jesus is calling us to pray, imitating his conviction.
    • Third is with purity. Jesus drives the money changers and the animal sellers out of the Temple precincts today, quoting the Old Testament, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples, but you have made it a den of thieves.” They were selling animals for the sacrifices at exorbitant profits and exchanging money for the temple tax at total ripoff return rates, something that wouldn’t impact the rich very much but seriously hurt and take advantage of the poor. Jesus wanted the Temple to be a place where God was worshipped in words and in action, where the love of God who be translated into love of action, and if people were turning the temple into a place of profiteering, God was being blasphemed. Jesus likewise seeks to cleanse us, to purify our souls, so that we may be a house of prayer, a fitting dwelling place for him, a tabernacle. He does so not necessary with cords and overturning tables, but he will do so with some difficult experiences that occasionally may overturn our life so that our life cans turned right-side up. Even though it’s really hard to go through these experiences of purification, Jesus loves us enough to treat us with “tough love.” And he’ll do this in a particular way when we ourselves make the cords and drive away our sins, bringing them to him in the Sacrament of Penance.
    • After we’ve been purified and cleansed by God, the fourth condition of prayer is to do so forgiving others. Jesus says, “When you stand to pray, forgive anyone against whom you have a grievance, so that your heavenly Father may in turn forgive you your transgressions.” We can’t be saying, “Thy will be done!,” “Thy kingdom come!,” “Thy name be hallowed!,” when we are failing to do his will in forgiving others, when we’re excluding others from our forgiveness which in turn will exclude us from God’s forgiveness and kingdom, when we’re failing to acknowledge that the other bears God’s name. One of the most important fruits of prayer is that we become like God, and so through prayer Jesus wants to make us merciful like the Father. If we’re refusing others forgiveness, then we’re not really in the union with God that prayer is meant to facilitate.
    • The fifth condition, we see from today’s first reading, is to be “serious and sober-minded, so that you will be able to pray.” The word “serious” comes from the Greek sophronsune, which means “the wisdom that keeps one sane,” someone who lives in the “real, real world,” which is the world of God, focused on the most important things. There are many people who are insane, living in this world as if St. Peter is lying when he says, “The end of all things is at hand.” Likewise he calls us to be “sober-minded,” which means not only not being drunk with the pleasures of this world, but modest in our pleasure seeking because our real joys are with God. If we’re not sane and modest in this way, if we’re caught up with earthly frivolities or vanities, we won’t be able to pray well, because God is not frivolous and God loves us enough to give us Crosses when we need them instead of Hershey’s kisses!
    • The sixth condition is “intense love.” Charity is the fruit of prayer and therefore prayer should always be something that intensifies our love. We should go into prayer cooperating with that fruit and desiring it because we know the God to whom we pray desires it.
    • The seventh condition is hospitality, that prayer changes us so that we recognize every guest is Christ, and that when we receive them, we receive him. Without that hospitality to those whom he sends us, we won’t have our hearts wide open to Him in prayer either, because that’s always one of the ways he seeks to change us in prayer, to unite us to his own divine hospitality.
    • The eighth thing about prayer we learn, less a condition than a fruit, is that prayer changes the way we speak. “Whoever preaches, let it be with the words of God,” St. Peter tells us. When we speak to God and listen to him, especially when we speak to him with the sacred words that he has given to us in Scripture, slowly the way we speak changes.
    • The ninth thing is the way prayer changes the way we look at the gift of life and the strength we have to live it well. St. Peter tells us, “As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace. … Whoever serves, let it be with the strength that God supplies.” God has given us the gift of life so that we can reign with him by serving, and he gives us the strength to serve others rather than to be served, to give our life as a ransom to save theirs. In prayer we need to be open to this way God seeks to strengthen us for this service by the way he serves us in prayer.
    • The tenth point is the way we bring our sufferings to prayer and pray through them together with Jesus. St. Peter says, “Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you. But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly.” St. Peter was writing to the first Christians at the dawn of the age of persecutions, and he was saying that that shouldn’t catch us off guard. But rather we should see in those persecutions an opening to share in Christ’s sufferings, and just as Christ prayed his sufferings to the Father, so our own trials are an opportunity for us to enter into this prayer. Rather than alienating us from God, our trials should bind us even more to Christ on the Cross.
  • All of these conditions ought to influence the way we pray the Mass together with Jesus. Jesus wants us to do so with faith, the faith of the Church; conviction that if God the Father didn’t spare his Son but gives him to us as our food, everything else we ask is small; with purity, which is why we always begin Mass with the penitential rite, beginning Jesus mercifully to cleanse us of whatever in us is not worthy of a house of prayer; forgiving others, which is why we have the sign of peace before Holy Communion; serious and sober-minded, sanely uniting our whole life to Jesus present on the altar and forsaking all the pleasures of the world for this pearl of precious price; with intense love for God and others, so that we may “do this in memory” of Jesus; with hospitality, for those here with us at Mass and for those God will send us today, to receive them as we seek to receive Him in Holy Communion; listening to the Word of God and the words of the liturgy in such a way that we may go from this Mass to proclaim the Gospel of the Lord; receiving God’s strength to spend this day as Christ’s hands and feet and heart in service; and uniting all our trials, sufferings, contradictions and sufferings so that “this sacrifice, Christ’s and ours, may be acceptable to God the almighty Father!” This is the way in which we will bear fruit even when physically impossible, even when we least expect it!


The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 1 PT 4:7-13

The end of all things is at hand.
Therefore be serious and sober-minded
so that you will be able to pray.
Above all, let your love for one another be intense,
because love covers a multitude of sins.
Be hospitable to one another without complaining.
As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another
as good stewards of God’s varied grace.
Whoever preaches, let it be with the words of God;
whoever serves, let it be with the strength that God supplies,
so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ,
to whom belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you,
as if something strange were happening to you.
But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ,
so that when his glory is revealed
you may also rejoice exultantly.

Responsorial Psalm PS 96:10, 11-12, 13

R. (13b) The Lord comes to judge the earth.
Say among the nations: The LORD is king.
He has made the world firm, not to be moved;
he governs the peoples with equity.
R. The Lord comes to judge the earth.
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice;
let the sea and what fills it resound;
let the plains be joyful and all that is in them!
Then shall all the trees of the forest exult.
R. The Lord comes to judge the earth.
Before the LORD, for he comes;
for he comes to rule the earth.
He shall rule the world with justice
and the peoples with his constancy.
R. The Lord comes to judge the earth.

Alleluia SEE JN 15:16

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I chose you from the world,
to go and bear fruit that will last, says the Lord.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MK 11:11-26

Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple area.
He looked around at everything and, since it was already late,
went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

The next day as they were leaving Bethany he was hungry.
Seeing from a distance a fig tree in leaf,
he went over to see if he could find anything on it.
When he reached it he found nothing but leaves;
it was not the time for figs.
And he said to it in reply,
“May no one ever eat of your fruit again!”
And his disciples heard it.

They came to Jerusalem,
and on entering the temple area
he began to drive out those selling and buying there.
He overturned the tables of the money changers
and the seats of those who were selling doves.
He did not permit anyone to carry anything through the temple area.
Then he taught them saying, “Is it not written:

My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples?
But you have made it a den of thieves.

The chief priests and the scribes came to hear of it
and were seeking a way to put him to death,
yet they feared him
because the whole crowd was astonished at his teaching.
When evening came, they went out of the city.

Early in the morning, as they were walking along,
they saw the fig tree withered to its roots.
Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look!
The fig tree that you cursed has withered.”
Jesus said to them in reply, “Have faith in God.
Amen, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain,
‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’
and does not doubt in his heart
but believes that what he says will happen,
it shall be done for him.
Therefore I tell you, all that you ask for in prayer,
believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours.
When you stand to pray,
forgive anyone against whom you have a grievance,
so that your heavenly Father may in turn
forgive you your transgressions.”