Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Logic of Prayer - Homily for the 17th Sunday in OT (C)

One of the more difficult paradoxes in the Bible is the idea that in the Old Testament, God is all war and famine and fire and wrath, but in the New Testament, God is all love and mercy. It is almost tempting to look at it as though they are different gods or that He learned along time’s way. So how do we explain that—this war on one side and mercy on the other?

I think the key rests in who He is dealing with. At the time of Abraham, for example, we must remember that God is dealing with a nomadic, Bedouin tribe. They aren’t a people moved by finer points of Greek or Roman argumentation; they are a people moved by their passions. War moves them. Death moves them. Hence, God must speak in their language—this Logic of Suffering, if you will—to move them.

We see this in our own day, actually. I’ve seen it happen too many times to count where a person has lost all sense of God—that is, until some tragedy strikes or some death draws near. Then they ask the big questions: who am I? what is the meaning of life? what happens after I die? and so on. When people have closed their minds and hearts so much, the Logic of Suffering is sometimes the only way for God to break through.

This is what makes the first reading so novel: Abraham sees the impending destruction of an entire city—Sodom and Gomorrah—and in this moment, Abraham sees that there may be some innocent people there. The Logic of Suffering is not enough; Abraham is starting to be moved by love. And there, with the Lord, the Lord helps Abraham to learn the Logic of Love: that is, when we love, we place ourselves into the breach and intercede. In this case, Abraham, our Father in Faith, intercedes as destruction looms, praying that disaster will be averted.

Thus begins a great and beautiful history of men and women interceding for the world, the culmination of which is seen in Jesus Christ and in every Catholic who stands in the breach when it seems the world is on the verge of destruction.  

*          *          *

But for all that, we must all admit that war is still the language of the day. And we’re not the only ones taking notice.

Father Donald Calloway, a priest becoming more well-known for his preaching and mission, tells the story about a priest who was ministering in Japan.

This priest in Japan was attending an international gathering of Christians from across the world and it was attended by foreign dignitaries. One particular dignitary, an Ambassador from Japan, approached the priest. The Ambassador asked the priest if he was serving in Japan whether he was a Catholic one. The priest said he was.

The Ambassador then said, "War is your fault."

Struck by surprise, the priest gathered himself and asked what the ambassador meant. The ambassador said, "You Catholics, all of you — we do not have peace in the world. It is your fault."

(Can you imagine? What would we say to that accusation?)

The priest said, "Ambassador, why do you blame us?"

The ambassador said, "I've read about this. The Lady came to you at Fatima, right? That's what you believe? She told you what to do to secure peace in the world. Well, there's no peace in the world, so obviously you Catholics haven't done it."

The priest was stunned and, trying to defend himself, said "But Ambassador, isn't peace everyone's responsibility?"

The ambassador doubled-down: "No, she came to you Catholics. Not to Buddhists. Not to Hindus. She came to you, and it is your responsibility."

*          *          *


I don’t know about you, but this convicts me.

It convicts me because I’ve never looked at peace and prayer in this way: in such close proximity to each other—and my responsibility. The Ambassador’s words evidences that he sees something, a Logic, that I think it is so easy for me (and I speak for myself here)—it is so easy for me to overlook.

For example, I realize that deep down I’m always deferring the work towards peace to my political candidates and politicians. I mean, they are the ones with all the real power, right?

But wait! When was it that I forgot the power of prayer? When was it that I forgot that the world changes when we pray (Mary promised!) and that this great work was given to me. The work for peace isn’t simply given to politicians and judges—it’s give to me, to all of us!

When did I forget this great dignity that each of us holds in our hands?—this great dignity of prayer!

*          *          *

I think it is easy to think that our prayers don’t matter much because we either think that we are too little and we don’t matter very much, or that God is too big and He doesn’t listen very much.

I mean, look at Sodom and Gomorrah: Abraham prayed, but the cities were eventually destroyed. Lord, didn’t you hear his prayer?

Or yesterday, I went to the NICU at Cardinal Glennon Children’s hospital. And the place was at capacity were 80 children. Lord, it seems like there are a lot of unanswered prayers there.

Or I think of a friend and his wife who were pregnant with twins and moving from one part of the US to the other. And how, during the middle of their journey, they went into labor—four months early. They asked for prayers and we prayed and we prayed, but the twins didn’t make it. Lord, didn’t you hear our prayers?

I just don’t see it, Lord.

*          *          *

At that point, I have to take a breath and step-back for a moment. And in that moment I realize that I’m a results-driven prayer kind of guy. I want result and I want them now.

But that’s actually a kind of hopeless and melancholic—even self-centered—kind of way of looking at things.

Maybe there were graces that that I didn’t see! Maybe something deeper—deeper beyond my ability to comprehend—was going on there. Maybe He has something better... (Better than keeping those twins alive? Yes! Something even better-- this is the hopefulness of God and His eternity! Blessed are those who can see this!)

Shoot, maybe things could have been worse and I was overlooking that, too.

Yes, being merely a results-driven prayer kind of guy can blind us to actual graces and lead us to a kind of hopelessness that wonders where the heck God is—when in reality He’s been there all the time and really helping us through.

*          *          *

I also realize, when I take a step-back for a moment—I realize that my results-driven kind of prayer also weakens my ability to love.

Here’s what I mean by that. Jesus prays and then turns to us and reveals that God is a Father: He has a heart, He has desires, He loves. But so often I turn God the Father into a vending machine. I think that if I “put in” a prayer, make my selection and jump through the hoops, that God will give me what I want. And if I don’t get it—then, like any vending machine, I get angry and shake it and say give it to me!

But where is love in that? For me, I know that I want to be loved for who I am, not just for what I give people. I think that’s more akin to what the Father wants as well: He wants us to love Him for who He is, not just what we get from Him.

And yet, He wants to give.

Parents: when your child is young and they ask you for a candy bar in the aisle at Target, sometimes you say “no,” right? And why? Not because you're skimpy or unloving, but likely it’s because dinner is around the corner and there is something better for your child. Sometimes when your child asks, you can’t give because maybe it won’t help or maybe there is something better that you want to give. That's the Logic of Hopefulness.

Now, the child might get angry at this—the Logic of Suffering!—but he doesn't see. Not yet. But one day he will. And that's the process of maturity: of moving from something childish to being an adult. 

And yet, when your child grows older and becomes a man or a woman, you still want them to come to you and ask, right? To seek your wisdom and your generosity? Of course!

And you hope that, between being a child and being a man or woman, they move from seeing you as a vending machine to seeing you as someone who loves them with all their heart. And that they can ask from that love.

That’s the Logic of Love. That’s what the Father wants. That’s what He is revealing through Jesus today. That’s why we see Jesus praying to His Father. There is love there.

*          *          *

So, when we are invited to pray, God is asking us: “Do you trust me?” And not only that, but “Do you love your neighbor enough to bring them to me? to stand in the breach for them?” “Do you love me?”

Do you see the faith in the Asking of prayer? And the hopefulness? and the love of the Father?

Let us listen and respond to this Logic of Love and pray—pray for the world that still only knows the Logic of Suffering: the wars and the famine and the fire….

Let us pray!

Our Lady of Fatima, Queen of Peace, pray for us!

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