Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time – Fr. Pete Iorio
July 28, 2019 – 8:30 & 11:00AM
I would like to share a true story:
Years ago, in Illinois, a young man with six months schooling and self-education competed in the state and national elections nine times and was defeated six times. First, he ran for an office in the legislature when he was 23 and was beaten. Next, he entered business with a partner but failed in that too and spent the next seventeen years paying the debts of his worthless partner. He fell in love with a charming lady and they became engaged, but she died. The next year he had a nervous breakdown. Relying on the power of prayer, he ran for three more offices [post of Speaker (at 29), of Elector (at 31) and for a seat in Congress (at 34)]. He was defeated each time. He then tried to obtain an appointment to the U.S. Land Office as commissioner but didn’t succeed. He became a candidate for the Vice-Presidency and lost. Two years later he was defeated in an election to the Senate (at 46). He ran for office once more and was elected the sixteenth President of the United States in 1860 when he was 51. That man was Abraham Lincoln who put his trust in the power of persistent prayer coupled with never-fading Faith in God’s goodness.
In today’s Gospel, after teaching the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus instructs us that we should never give up in our prayer life. This theme of perseverance in prayer is also contained in the first reading in the book of Genesis. Abraham is pleading to God for mercy. Abraham pleads that God spare destroying the city of Sodom if there are just a minimum of innocent people found in the city. Let’s be careful. This story has the possibility of leaving bad impressions. First, that God can be manipulated or persuaded by anyone or anything. This is not true. Second, that God is punitive, that God will punish people in the city who are not good. By the time we get to Jesus several centuries later, that notion has evolved. Jesus tells us that God loves the Good and the Bad. This is an important point that we maybe still do not understand.
We tend to make God into our image instead of us becoming fully the image of God. How many of you have ever given or received the “silent treatment.”? You “punish” by not talking to a person for a period of time. That very human part of us wants to exact punishment when we judge them to be bad. Humans even go so far to the point of punishing people to death. But God is all loving, all merciful and desires that the sinner not die, but live. God Himself is even willing to die so that others may live. Just look what is on full display in front of us (the Crucifix). The innocent one (Jesus) is put to death for the guilty. That does not make human sense to me, and it is the mind-boggling love of God for humanity. It is what we call part of the Paschal Mystery.
Let us go back to prayer – One of my favorite saints, St. Therese of Lisieux (the Little Flower) described prayer: For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2565, New Covenant prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond measure, with his Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit. The grace of the Kingdom is “the union of the entire holy and royal Trinity . . . with the whole human spirit.” Thus, the life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God and in communion with him. This communion of life is always possible because, through Baptism, we have already been united with Christ.
With this definition, we can live inside of a world called prayer. I believe that this is what he means when Jesus encourages persistence in prayer. It is a sustained relationship as described in the catechism. What we see in the passage from Genesis, Abraham has a loving trusting relationship with God. He knows that he can even talk back to God. When you can feel completely safe without any need to impress other people, and you can just speak and listen, from your heart, that is prayer.
Have you ever spoken to God in a way in which you feel totally free to tell God exactly who you are, exactly how you feel, exactly how you think? I hope so. Trust that God hears you, respects you, and most of all loves you. You may protest that it does not feel like God hears, answers, respects and loves me. But this is where trust and faith in God is called forth. Jesus says, “If you who are wicked are able to give good things, then how much more…. will your heavenly Father give?” Think of most loving and generous person you have ever known, now multiply that by infinity. WOW! That is good. Our human finiteness cannot comprehend this. Humans count and measure. But God is infinite. When you have a sustained relationship with God over time and persevere in prayer, you begin to trust more and more in God who is infinitely good and generous.
Pay attention also to what Jesus says: The answer to all these prayers is the same. Jesus does not say that He will give you what you ask for. Jesus says: “Whatever you ask for, I will give you the Holy Spirit.” This Holy Spirit is the power of God to know and to be imbued with the Divine. With the Holy Spirit, we will know and trust that God is always with us and loves us and gives us what we need and not always what we ask for. Let us keep ourselves open to want that Holy Spirit. He is an awesome gift!