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The Peace Pulpit: Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
|By special arrangement, The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company is able to make available Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton's weekly Sunday homilies given at Saint Leo Church, Detroit, MI. Each homily is transcribed from a tape recording of the actual delivery and made available to you as an NCR Web site exclusive. You may register for a weekly e-mail reminder that will be sent to you when each new homily is posted. From time to time, Bishop Gumbleton is traveling and unable to provide us with the homily for the week. NOTE: The homilies are available here five days after they are given, always on Friday.
|Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time||July 25, 2004|
At different times watching television and in person at the ballpark, I have seen Ivan Rodriguez [catcher for the Detroit Tigers] get up to bat. He always goes like this (makes the sign of the cross quickly) just before he bats, and I wonder, "He must be saying a prayer that God will help him get a hit." Well, is that the right way to do it? Sometimes he gets hits. Lots of times in fact. Maybe that's the attitude we have about prayer, if we just do the right thing, God will hear our prayer and God will answer our prayer.
But that is not what Jesus teaches us today. There are no special, magical ways to pray, so that if you follow the steps exactly right then God has to hear the prayer and answer you. No, there is much more to prayer. It is much deeper than that. And, in fact, as we listen to all three lessons today God is instructing us on more than just how to pray.
In the first lesson, we are reminded that God is very close to us and so prayer is always possible. God is close to us. We're reminded of that in the reading today when we hear Abraham bartering back and forth with God. The reading is a reflection of how the people of that time, especially in the Middle East, carried on their business. Even now that's very common, to barter back and forth with a person. So in this incident, God is showing us that God accepts us as we are. No matter what lifestyle or culture we live in, God is present to us in that culture. God is right there in the circumstances in which we live.
So the first thing to remember as we try to understand how to pray is that God is always close to us, as close as someone bartering with another person, going back and forth. Then St. Paul reminds us in the Letter to the Colossians on how God's love is always present to us. It is not something that we earn. It is not something that we can merit. It is not something that we get by praying -- even exactly the right way. "You were dead. You were in sin and uncircumcised, but God loved you and gave you life with Christ."
Today we're going to have a baptism of Arym Jacqueline. Does that mean -- and think about this -- that God didn't love her before today? Of course not! God loved her from the first instance of her existence. And God loves every one of us and every person in the entire universe. And that is very reassuring. When we turn to God in prayer, we know we are turning to someone who loves us. Loves us no matter what.
Even when we have sinned, God loves us and is ready to be responsive to our prayer. Jesus reassured us of this in the Gospel. He used that very clear example: mothers and fathers. We have many mothers and fathers among us, and every one of you, wouldn't you give your child what is good for the child? If a child asks for bread you don't give a stone. If a child asks for fish you don't give a scorpion. You give what's good. Well, God is like that. God's love even goes far beyond the love we have for our children or our brothers and sisters, and so we can be very confident when we go to God in prayer, because God loves us no matter what.
Jesus assured us, too, that God will hear our prayer. Take the story about the person who goes to get some food from a neighbor who is asleep. At that time, the people in a family would all sleep in the same room in the house. It would have been difficult for that neighbor to get up and crawl over sleeping bodies to get bread for the person who is in need, but as you remember from last week, one of the characteristics of the culture of the Middle East was to be hospitable. It would be shameful if that neighbor allowed another neighbor not to be able to be hospitable. Obviously, the neighbor is going to do what is needed. This is Jesus' way of assuring us that God will always do what is needed. Just like that neighbor, God will always be there to give what we need.
So with that background -- God is so close to us, God loves us, God will give us what we need -- now listen to what Jesus said: "When you pray say this ..." It is clear and simple. Think of God as a father and mother, a father and mother without any limit to love. The first thing you do in prayer, then, is praise God. "Hallowed be your name." All praise to God, a God who is good, a God who is all love. If we really let that truth sink in then our first prayer will always be praise and thanksgiving.
God does want us to ask for what we need, but we have to understand that in the broadest sense of what we need. "Your kingdom come, your will be done." If God's will is done throughout all of the universe, in our world, then the reign of God will happen. And that is the most important thing, because then every one of our needs will be swept up. "Your kingdom come, your will be done." Every need that we ever have, will be fulfilled as God's kingdom comes into its fullness. Jesus reminds us what it means to have the reign of God happen and that we have to do our part in making the reign of God happen.
Notice too how he asks us to pray: "Give us this day our daily bread." In other words, give us what we need for today. Clearly, Jesus is suggesting that we ought not to be asking for a lot more than we need. In fact, in a world where the reign of God happens there would not be a few people who have far more than they need and the majority of people who don't have enough. So if we really pray those words then maybe some of us have to share more of what we have so that others have what they need.
Jesus is asking us to pray that we have enough, but that we share what is beyond what we need. As we do that in our world, the reign of God begins to happen.
There are, of course, many people in our world how need us to share what we have. Sudan has been in the news lately. There hundreds of thousands of people are starving and tens of thousands have been killed in a genocide. We can help by donating to Catholic Relief Services or a similar organization, but should we also be thinking about what kind of political action our nation should take to try to make something good happen in Sudan? We have to go beyond just giving of our excess to trying to change things so that the reign of God begins to happen.
Now the hardest part in the lesson today: Jesus tells us that when we pray for the reign of God that it will happen because we have learned to forgive and to love our enemies. "Forgive us our sins, our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." Those who have done evil to us, who have hurt us, who have attacked us, we must forgive them.
We should pray for strength then, because by forgiving those who hurt us, that is how the reign of God will happen. We live in a world where there is so much violence, so much killing, terrorism and war, yet for the most part our response is to respond with violence., with terrorism and with war. Jesus is saying there is another way, the way of loving your enemy, the way of forgiveness. That is the special kind of love that marked the life of Jesus. He called his followers to carry out that love in this world.
Look at what is happening in our political system. The 9/11 Commission just released its report last week, and they are talking about how we have to defend ourselves; that to ward off terrorist attacks, we have to build up our military strength.
Is anybody suggesting that maybe we ought to look for the root causes of why people hate us? Is it because we don't love our enemies? Is it because we continue to do things to cause them to hate us? Jesus asked his followers to be different, to pray for the grace to forgive and to love even our enemies. If we do that, as we learn to pray this way then, yes, the reign of God will happen. The will of God will be done, will be fulfilled and there will be peace and fullness of life for each one of us and for all people.
Going back to our original question, can we pray for simple things, the things that come up in everyday life? Of course, we can. In a baseball game, it is OK if you want to pray for a hit for your team. But when we pray for little things, we should remember this much larger context, praying that the will of God be done; that the reign of God happens because we are able to share what we have and forgive and love our enemies.
I hope as we leave church today, we will continue to ask Jesus to teach us how to pray, but that we ask him to teach us to pray within this framework: God's closeness to us, God's love for us, God's providing us with what we need just as a loving parent would. Pray with that kind of understanding and pray most of all that God's name be praised, God's will be done, and the kingdom of God come.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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