Thursday, October 17, 2013

Homily: 29th Sunday of the Year C

He told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.

If you decide that you want to learn something about prayer, there are many books that you might read. You might attend a seminar on prayer. You might even consult a ‘prayer professional’ like a religious. Or if you are really desperate  you might talk to your parish priest.

On the other hand, a trip to Walmart is probably just about as good. Walmart is nothing if not catholic, in the most basic sense of the word. The size and the volume of the stores mean that there you will encounter ‘all sorts and conditions of men’ and along with them many  of the most basic tenets of the Christian religion vindicated, not least of all the mysterious business of asking God and receiving from him.

I have a friend who says “I am going to Walmart to watch people beat their kids.” It is a situation which is Dickensian in its ability to stir our emotions, sympathy and revulsion. Inevitably there is a small child who sees something he wants and the parent gently or not so gently says ‘no’. Then ensues the battle, a wrestling match not unlike in the first reading this Sunday. We try to ignore the fracas – it is none of our business. But we want to see how this collision of wills will turn out. Will the child prevail? Will the parent cave? Maybe some of us are even inclined to rescue both parent and child by offering to subsidize the purchase of the child’s fancy. There you have it. Prayer in a nutshell.

He told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.

St. Luke’s Gospel is sometimes called ‘the Gospel of prayer’ Throughout the Gospel Jesus prays before every major event in his life. He practices what he teaches. Today’s parable is the second one Jesus teaches in Luke’s Gospel on the necessity of prayer. Earlier Jesus told a parable about a man going to his friend in the middle of night to ask for bread and even though at first the friend may not want to get up if he persists his friend will get up and give him the bread (Luke 11:5-8).

The sleepy, grumpy friend and the unjust judge are not exactly the most appealing images of God the Father. But Jesus wants us to pray and continue to pray against all the odds, against our emotions, our feelings, against even all the times God says ‘no’, against anything and everything which gets in the way of our praying. This is so because, however childish our prayers and desires and however much God may seem grumpy and downright unfair, prayer puts us in our place: an inferior entreating a superior as St. Thomas tells us. What prayer does, if it does nothing else, is remind us that we are the children at Walmart, utterly dependent on the God who alone is ‘the giver of every good and perfect gift.’

Disappointment is necessarily a part of the Gospel. Our Lord himself was often disappointed, disappointed at Jerusalem, at his disciples’ in ability to understand, at men wanting miracles instead of the Cross, and ultimately disappointed in his prayer that this cup might pass from him. Still he prayed “not my will but thine” as he had taught his disciples to pray ‘thy will be done.’

‘Christianity’ wrote the Dominican Fr. Simon Tugwell ‘has to be disappointing, precisely because it’s not a mechanism for accomplishing all our human notions and aspirations; it is a mechanism for subjecting all things to the will of God’.

What changes, when we pray, is not God’s will. What changes is the person who prays. That is the urgency of prayer. That is why prayer must be persistent. The problem with prayer is that. We have to go, often enough kicking and screaming, from being childish to being a child and there is a world of difference between the two things. For the childish there can be nothing but disappointment.  Even if you get what you want, it never satisfies, never fulfills, always disappoints, always to be  replaced by yet another desire and longing. But for a child a hand in a parent's hand is enough. God himself is enough.

As Dom Hubert Van Zeller put it:  "if you do not pray, everything can disappoint you by going wrong.  If you pray, everything can still go wrong, but not in a way that will disappoint you."  

But talking about prayer is, if not a complete waste of time, as least a waste of the time you could have spent praying.

Pray and pray and pray some more. It is the only way.

He told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.

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