Homily for July 24, 2016Published:
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time “C”, Sunday, July 24, 2016
Ps. 138: 1-2, 2-3, 6-7, 7-8
The Word of God today reveals God in a marvelous way, and we must be careful not to let this pass unnoticed. The Gospel tells us that, together with Jesus, we are privileged to call God “Father”; that we are to know, love and trust our Father just as Jesus does.
Jesus assures us of this by something at one and the same time familiar and extraordinary. He tells us, in the first place: 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? Anyone who is a parent can understand these words immediately. You know how profound is your love for your children, how deeply you wish you could provide every good thing for them. All of us, in fact, whether parents or not, can think of people we love and for whom we would willingly sacrifice and to whom we willingly would give good things. Yet we also know that sometime we sin against our children and against one another, even as we strive to give good things. Nevertheless, in spite of that sinfulness, we still strive to love others. This is the ordinary part of Jesus’ message, which we can understand from our own experience.
What is so extraordinary is what follows: 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? If we can acknowledge that, in spite of our sinfulness and limitations, we try to be good to those whom we love, how infinitely more does the goodness of God, who has no sin and who is boundless love, exceed our efforts at goodness?
There is yet more. God is not promising to give us simply good things. God is promising to give us His very self: How much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him? God will give us His own Spirit, His own life and love. Thus are will we be able truthfully to call God “Father” together with Jesus, because God has shared His life with us. Do we ever stop to contemplate this awesome gift?
I suggest there are at least two questions we might wish to ponder in the light of the Gospel’s teaching today:
The first question is whether we trust God’s love and great power, as Jesus has revealed it to us today? Our second reading from the Letter to the Colossians reminds us of God’s greatest act of love in the crucifixion of His own Son for our salvation, which we make present today in this Eucharist: Even when you were dead in transgressions… he brought you to life along with [Christ], having forgiven us all our transgressions; obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims, which was opposed to us, he also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross.
If we do trust God’s love, revealed most starkly in the fact that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, can we discern in the sufferings and evils of this life God’s invitation to us as His true sons and daughters to be conformed yet more closely to the mystery of His Son’s dying and rising? At the beginning of the Prologue to his Rule, St. Benedict tells us, paraphrasing St. Paul, “We will by patience share in the sufferings of Christ so as to deserve also to share in his glory.” Do we regard these as merely nice words, and thus find ourselves thrown into confusion by the evil so evident in the world, or do we remain steadfast in faith, confident that God has already revealed His final judgment in the glory of the Lord’s resurrection – the same Lord we are about to welcome present in this Eucharist?
The second question we ought to ponder is whether we pray, and, if we do, whether our prayer is an expression of our love for God and our trust in God’s love and great power.
It is clear that Jesus instructs us to pray: Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. He uses the example of the man going to a friend to ask for the three loaves to encourage us to persistence in our prayer.
“But”, we may object, “we have asked and not received.” It is difficult for us to trust Jesus’ words because we think we have asked and have not received. Can it possibly be that our prayers seem to go without the answer we want because they are too small; that we ask for far less than God wants to give?
So often our prayer seems to be a list of precise instructions as to what God is supposed to do. We seem to feel that we have to pray hard in order to change God’s mind so that He will be benevolent. But is not prayer supposed to change us, and not God? In the wonderful account in today’s first reading of Abraham’s intercession for the citizens of Sodom is it God who changes, or is it Abraham who comes to the realization that indeed the Judge of the World acts with justice and that God will not destroy the innocent with the guilty?
St. Augustine provides a beautiful teaching on prayer when he responds to a Roman matron by the name of Proba. She had written to St. Augustine to ask why we should pray when God already knows what we need. St. Augustine responded: “Why he should ask us to pray, when he knows what we need before we ask him, may perplex us if we do not realize that Our Lord and God does not want to know what we want (for he cannot fail to know it) but wants us rather to exercise our desire through our prayers, so that we may be able to receive what he is preparing to give us. His gift is very great indeed, but our capacity is too small and limited to receive it.” What God wants to give us is indeed great. Jesus tells us today that it is nothing less than the Holy Spirit. But do we, who have been baptized and confirmed, ever call upon the Holy Spirit to come to us? St. Paul teaches us: We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groaning. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.
Since we have been taught today by Jesus of God’s great love, let us trust God and simply ask for the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that our prayer will be in accord with God’s will, as Jesus’ prayer always was. Then, by God’s own life in us, we will be able to remain steadfast through the trials and disappointments of this life by the power of the Spirit, which will lead us in the end to what God wants to give us most of all: Eternal life with Himself in the glory and endless joy of God’s presence.
+ + +