Tuesday of the Twenty-ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s Liturgy of the Word speaks to us about being ready.  And now’s as good a time for that as any, especially since we are getting so close to the end of the liturgical year.  The liturgical year ends on the feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King of the Universe, which this year is celebrated on November 26th.  What we are going to start noticing in the readings from now until then is a decided interest in how all of time will be wrapping up.  Theologians call that “eschatology,” which is the theology about the end times.

Now, to be clear, we don’t know when the end of time will actually happen.  God in his providence keeps the big picture on that to himself, which I think is good, or we would be constantly worried about it.  But today’s Liturgy of the Word tells us that we can’t be complacent either.  We have to have our spiritual houses in order lest the master return and find us slacking off and give his blessings to more diligent servants.

It’s easy to slack off on our spiritual service when things are going well.  The urgency to our prayer wanes and we’re easily distracted.  But even when things aren’t going so well, we can be bogged down in the mire of whatever we’re dealing with and forget to attend to the faith that sees us through.  So the issue is being prepared: girding our loins and lighting our lamps, so that when the Master returns, we’re ready to go.

For us this might mean a return trip to the Sacrament of Penance if it’s been a while, or perhaps signing up for the Bible Study if we have been meaning to do that, or even just taking the Bible down off the shelf and reading a few verses each night before bed.  Whatever we haven’t been doing, whether it’s Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament or a renewed dedication to the Holy Rosary, it’s time we got on it.  It might even mean taking time out of our busy schedules to be of service to those in need.

God wants to take us with him and he’s very patient, but we have to do our part.  We have to be diligent and ready.  We have to be eager to say with the Psalmist, “Here I am Lord, I come to do your will.”

Monday of the Twenty-fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I love the little line in the gospel reading that says, “Take care, then, how you hear.”  It almost seems like a throw-away line, but really, I believe, it’s an essential instruction from Jesus.  We disciples are to take care how we hear.  Not what we hear, although that’s probably part of it, but how we hear.

So how do we hear the words of the gospel?  Do we hear them as something that seems nice but doesn’t really affect us?  Do those words fly over our heads or go in one ear and out the other?  Do we hear them at Mass, and then live however it is we want, leave the same way we came, ignoring what we’ve just heard?

Or, do we really hear the Word of the Lord?  Does the gospel get into our head and our heart and stir things up?  Do the words of Jesus get our blood flowing and our imaginations racing?  Does hearing the gospel make us long for a better place, a more peaceful kingdom, a just society?

We believe that the Word proclaimed is the actual presence of Christ.  We are not just hearing words about Jesus, we are hearing Jesus, we are experiencing the presence of God right here, right now, among us.  If we open the door of our ears and our hearts, we might just find God doing something amazing in us and through us.

Take care, then, how you hear.

The Twenty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

So today our Gospel, at the end of it, talks to us a bit about what prayer looks like.  And that reminds me of one of my favorite little stories.

So this person was not a real person of faith, but they were going through some hard times.  So since everything else she tried didn’t work, she decided to pray about it.  Not knowing really where to start, she reached for the old Bible that was up on a shelf in her room, took it down and dusted it off.  She said, “Okay God, I need to hear you tell me how to fix this situation.”  So she decided to point to a verse and see if that was God’s answer.  She opened up the Bible and did just that and then read it: “And Judas went out and hanged himself.”  That was pretty horrifying, and she didn’t think that could possibly be what God was telling her, so she decided to try again.  Opening to a different place, she read the verse: “Go thou and do likewise.”  Now it was getting personal, but she decided to try one more time: “Go and do quickly what you must do.”

I have to say, when the Scriptures talk about prayer, I get a little uneasy.  Not because I don’t like to pray, or think prayer is a bad thing.  But more because I think mostly we misunderstand prayer, and usually a brief mention in the readings like we have today can do more harm than good.  The line almost at the end of the Gospel reading is the culprit: “if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.”

Really? Anything? I don’t know about you, but I personally can think of examples – plenty of examples – of times where I had prayed with friends or family for something and ended up not getting it.  You can probably think of examples too.  People tell me all the time, “Father, I have prayed and prayed about (fill in the blank), and I never get any answer, it doesn’t seem like God even hears me.”  Have you ever thought that?  Lots of us have.  So what are we to make of this?  Why would Jesus make a promise like that if he wasn’t prepared to deliver on it?  Well, I’d like to make three points about prayer that maybe will help with that conundrum.

First, in the line right after this, Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”  Notice how he says, “in my name.”  So it’s not like a couple of us can get together and pray for something crazy and hold God accountable for granting it.  That would be absurd; I’m sure you realize that.  If we’re gathered in anything less than the name of Jesus, we’re in the wrong place, and you don’t get what you want, or even what you need, when you’re in a place other than where Jesus is.

Second, reflecting on that same line, I would point out the last phrase: “there am I in the midst of them.”  Sometimes God doesn’t answer all our prayers in the way we think he should, or in the way we would like him to.  God isn’t a divine vending machine.  But he definitely always answers them with his presence.  Sometimes that leads to resolution of a problem that is greater than we could have imagined.  Sometimes it makes us a stronger, more faith-filled person.  And sometimes the answer to a prayer means that we are the ones who have to change, not the situation, or the other people, or whatever is going on.  So the abiding presence of our God, most perfectly experienced in community, when two are three are gathered in his name, is the most important answer to every prayer.  And even if it’s the only answer, it surely is enough.

Finally – and I can’t say this often enough, nor stress it strongly enough – prayer is not a magic wand.  You might read in this brief little passage that all you have to do is pray for something and you get it.  “God help me win the lottery.”  Not so fast.  Prayer is always experienced in relationship: relationship with God and relationship with others.  That’s why this brief little passage mentions praying together, and praying in Jesus’ name.  Those are important points, and it’s best not to overlook them.

Prayer is a relationship, prayer is work – sometimes hard work, prayer is a way of life for the disciple of Jesus.  We enter that relationship at our Baptism, and it’s our task as disciples to nurture that relationship our whole lives long.

Thursday of the First Week of Lent 

Today’s readings 

If we take one thought out of Lent this year, it should be this: we need a Savior.

Even before Jesus’ time, Esther knew this. Esther’s adoptive father Mordecai was a deeply religious man. His devotion incurred the wrath of Haman the Agagite, who was a court official of King Ahasuerus of Persia. Mordecai refused to pay homage to Haman in the way prescribed by law, because he felt that it was idolatry. Because of this, Haman developed a deep hatred for Mordecai, and by extension, all of the Israelite people. He convinced King Ahasuerus to decree that all Israelites be put to death, and they cast lots to determine the date for this despicable event.

Meanwhile, Esther, Mordecai’s adopted daughter, is chosen to fill a spot in the King’s harem, replacing Queen Vashti. Esther never had revealed her own Israelite heritage to the King. Mordecai came to Esther to inform her of the decree that Haman had proposed, and asked her to intercede on behalf of her own people to the King. She was terrified to do this because court rules forbade her to come to the king without an invitation. She asked Mordecai to have all of her people fast and pray, and she did the same. The prayer that she offered is beautifully rendered in today’s first reading.

Esther knew that there was no one that could help her, and that it was totally on her shoulders to intercede for her people. Doing this was a risk to her own life, and the only one that she could rely on was God himself. Her prayer was heard, her people were spared, and Haman himself was hung from the same noose that had been prepared for Mordecai and all his fellow Israelites.

God hears our own persistent prayers. We must constantly pray, and trust all of our needs to the one who knows them before we do. We must ask, seek and knock of the one who made us and cares for us deeply. But most of all, we must always be aware that like Esther, we all need

Monday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

So the disciples are waiting for Jesus to come down the mountain after the Transfiguration.  They have attempted to cure a man’s son from the hold of a demon, but they were apparently unable to do so.  This seems to have led to an argument between them and the scribes.  You can almost feel Jesus’ exasperation.  Both the disciples and the scribes should have been able to do something for the boy, but they couldn’t.  Why?  Because instead of praying, they argued about it.  “This kind can only come out through prayer,” Jesus tells the disciples when they ask why they were ineffective.

I often wonder, with more than a little fear, how many demons I could have cast out – in myself and in others – if I had a little more faith, if I prayed a little more than I do.  There are, of course, all sorts of demons: demons of illness, demons of cyclical sin, demons of impure attachments, demons of homelessness, poverty, and marginalization, and so many more.  Think of all the demons we could cast out if we just had more faith, if we prayed more fervently.

Sometimes, when we are trying to overcome some problem, the last thing we think to do is pray, when it should absolutely be the first.  The disciples were guilty of it, the scribes were, and we are too sometimes, if we’re honest.  And all of us should know better.  I know that I myself can think of a number of problems I’ve tried to solve all by myself, when it would have been so much more effective to first turn them over to our Lord.  We can’t just cut God out of the picture and rely on our own strength; that never works – our own strength is so fiercely limited.  We have to turn to the tools we have been given: faith and prayer.  And we can start by saying with the boy’s father: “I do believe, Lord; help my unbelief.”

Saint Josaphat, Bishop & Martyr and Notre Dame Day of Service

Today’s readings

This morning we gather in the presence of a merciful and compassionate God, not a dishonest judge. We gather in prayer knowing that those prayers are heard and answered in God’s way, in God’s time. The exercise of perseverance in prayer is not so much to change God’s will as it is for us to come to know God’s will and to further our relationship with him. People of faith get answers to their prayers all the time: maybe not the answers they expected, but always the answers that are for their good, in the long run.

Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Josaphat, a sixteenth century Basilian monk and Orthodox bishop of the church in what is present-day Belarus. He joined five other bishops in a cause seeking reunion with Rome. Other Orthodox monks, however, did not want union with Rome; they feared interference in liturgy and customs. But over time, using synods and other instruction, he was able to win many of the Orthodox in that area to the union. But the fight was far from over. A dissident faction of the church was formed, and they fomented opposition to Josaphat. Eventually the mob murdered him and threw his body into a river. The body was recovered and is now buried in St. Peter’s basilica. Josaphat is the first saint of the Eastern Church to be canonized by Rome.

So Josaphat’s mission of unity in the Church continues to this day. This task requires open dialogue and discussion, but also persistence in prayer. Every day more and more doors are being opened, and we continue to have faith that one day, Josaphat’s mission, and the mission of so many others, will finally achieve unity and will re-establish the one Church that Jesus came to establish.

Today, on our Day of Service, we take our persistent prayer and manifest it in our work. As we come together to visit the nursing home or Ronald McDonald House, or make cards for those in military service, or make rosaries for the sick, our presence and concern may be the way God is answering someone’s prayers. As we engage in whatever we have signed up to do today, God may give us gifts that answer prayers we didn’t even know we had in our hearts. One thing is certain: when we pray persistently and work for the kingdom of God, God can take our faith and do great things with it. He did with Saint Josaphat, and he will with us.

The Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The thing is, you know, the Pharisee was quite right. His righteousness was beyond reproach. He has been innocent of greed, dishonesty and adultery. He has been more pious than even the law requires. Fasting was only required once a year, on the Day of Atonement, but he fasts twice a week. Tithes were only required to be paid on one’s earnings, but he pays them not only on his earnings, but also on all of his possessions, basically, he paid the tithe on his total net worth. He was probably quite right about his own righteousness, and he may well have been right about the failures of righteousness in the tax collector as well.

And, in those days, tax collectors were despicable human beings. There was no taxation with representation, so the tax collectors worked for the Romans and were in league with the foreign occupation. They were told what they had to collect, and whatever the collected over and above that was theirs to keep. Now certainly, they were entitled to some income, so a modest markup would have been understandable – that was how they were paid. But mostly the modest markup was far from modest, and often bordered on extortion. The tax collector in our parable today does not deny that he has participated in those activities. He does not even pray about anything he has done except for one thing: he has sinned. “O God, be merciful to me a sinner,” he says.

Both of these men were right in what they said about themselves. From an objective point of view, they have presented themselves honestly before God and everyone. So what’s the problem? Where has the Pharisee gone wrong and how did the tax collector end up justified?

It’s pretty easy to see what went wrong when we step back and look at the nature of their prayers. The Pharisee uses the word “I” four times. It’s all about him. The tax collector does not use the word “I” at all; he uses the word “me.” What’s the difference? Think back to your grammar lessons: “I” is the subject, “me” is the object. So, for the Pharisee, it was all about what he had done through his own righteousness, and not about what God had done or could do. For the tax collector, it wasn’t about him at all. He acknowledges his sinfulness and asked God to have mercy. And that’s the second difference. The tax collector asks for something, namely mercy, and receives it: he goes home justified. The Pharisee asks for nothing, and that’s just what he gets: nothing.

So I think today’s Liturgy of the Word is asking us a very important question: have you been aware of your need for a Savior? Because sin is exhausting. Anyone who has struggled with sin, or a pattern of sin, in their lives can tell you that. Those who have been dragged down by any kind of addiction or who have tried to work on a character flaw or striven to expel any kind of vice from their lives often relate how exhausting the sin can be. Sin saps our spiritual energy, weakens our resolve to do good, and causes us to turn away in shame not only from God, but also from family, friends, and all those whose spiritual companionship we need in order to grow as Christians. That’s just the way sin works.

But today’s Liturgy gives us very good news. Sirach says in today’s first reading that “The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds, judges justly and affirms the right, and the Lord will not delay.” We see that very clearly in the parable in today’s Gospel. The lowly tax collector cannot even bring himself to raise his eyes to heaven. “O God, be merciful to me a sinner,” he says. It is the perfect Act of Contrition. He acknowledges his sin, he prays for God’s mercy. And God responds. He can go home justified.

Just like the Pharisee and the tax collector, we have come to this holy placed to pray today. What is our prayer like? Are there sins that have become a pattern for us? Do we have addictions that need to be worked out? Have we failed in some way in our daily life? What dark corners of our lives desperately need God’s light and God’s mercy? In what ways do we need a Savior? Have we asked for God’s mercy, or have we been like the Pharisee, asking for nothing and receiving exactly that?

Pray the tax collector’s prayer after me: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

The Twenty-ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Prayer is one of the most important elements of the Christian life, of the life of a disciple, and yet it is also, I think, one of the most difficult to master. Still, it’s something that we work at every day of our lives, and the working it out should be one of our greatest joys. In today’s Liturgy of the Word, we have just one element of prayer, and that is the element of persistence in prayer.

Now I’m going to be real careful here. Lots of people give some lousy advice about prayer: if you just pray hard enough and long enough, everything will eventually work out all right. I’m not going to tell you that, because things often don’t work out perfectly no matter how much we pray, and they almost never work out the way we’d like them to. So why even bother praying? Well, hang in there, we’ll get to that.

We have a wonderful image of prayer in our first reading. I invite you to raise your arms with me if you’re able, and leave them raised until you can’t any more. This is what Moses had to do to keep the Hebrew army in a winning position against Amelek and his warriors. The minute Moses lowered his hands to rest, things went ill for the Hebrews, but as long as his hands were raised, things went okay.

Now, again, I proceed cautiously here, because I don’t think things always work out perfectly as long as we pray. But there’s an element of this analogy that is very important, I think. And that element is that sometimes it’s hard to be persistent in prayer. Sometimes you get tired. Maybe your arms are not yet weary, but they might soon get there.

I can think of a few times in my life when I’ve grown weary of praying. One of them was in my late thirties when I was trying, once again, and once and for all, to figure out what God wanted me to do with my life. I prayed and prayed and prayed, and it didn’t seem like God was answering at all. I finally grew weary of prayer and told God that he should give me a big challenge and whatever it was, I would do it. Then one day, the day of the Easter Vigil that year, I got a letter in the mail from a friend and it made everything crystal clear. Six months later I was in seminary.

Sometimes in our weariness we have to let go of what we think we would like God to do for us and just let God be God. Because praying isn’t supposed to be comprised of telling God what to do. But how are your arms doing? Are you weary yet? Well if so, you’re in good company. Moses found that to really be persistent in prayer, he needed friends – Aaron and Hur – to hold him up. That’s true for all of us, I think. There comes a point when we need to admit that we need friends to hold us in prayer, to take some of the burden of prayer when persistence has become difficult. If you haven’t already, you can put your arms down now.

Then what are we to make of the gospel reading? I mean, are we really supposed to think that God is an unjust judge who has no respect for anyone? Obviously not. I think that we’re supposed to see in this little parable that if even an unjust judge – one who neither fears God nor respects any person – if even that judge will eventually give in to the widow pleading for just judgment, well then how much more will our God who is infinitely just and doesn’t just respect us but loves us beyond all imagining, how much more will he pour out his blessings of justice on all of us?

Which isn’t to say that he will definitely answer our prayers the way we want them answered. Those persistent prayers will be answered in God’s way, in God’s time. He may say “no” or he may even allow something evil like an illness or some other disappointment. We may have to bear the burden of disease or the sadness of the death of a loved one. But in all of that, God will be with us. He may heal us in other ways, that we might come to know God’s love in the midst of our burdens.

When we persist in prayer, sometimes the change that happens is not the situation, but ourselves. We may grow in grace in some way that we would not otherwise experience or even expect. We may grow in our capacity to love, or in our awareness of the needs of others, or in our ability to be steadfast in the midst of chaos. All of these give honor and glory to God, which after all, brothers and sisters, is our ultimate purpose in life.

So let’s get back to that question that I asked at the beginning of the homily. Why even bother praying if we’re not going to get what we want? I think we pray for three reasons. First, we pray to grow in our relationship with God who is our friend. As in any relationship, we open ourselves up to conversation, watching for God’s response, accepting God’s will and his desire that we grow in love for him.

Second, I think we pray because God genuinely cares about us. If we are to grow in love, we have to know that he is open to us and desires that we communicate our needs, our hopes, our fears, our deepest longings to him. It’s not that he doesn’t know these things already, but the process of expressing them in prayer helps us to know those needs in deeper ways and helps us to be aware of God’s action in our lives.

Third, I think we pray because that’s how we grow in holiness. The more that we bind ourselves to God by receiving his mercy and grace and knowing his love for us in prayer, the more we become new people, new creations.

At the end of the Gospel today, our Lord asks, “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” That’s an incredibly important question. So often it seems like the world, or even our lives, have gone horribly wrong. We may be upset about our country’s values, or the candidates for the upcoming election, or the seemingly constant wave of crime, terrorism, or natural disaster. But it’s important that we remember that we can’t stop praying about these things. If we ever want to see things change, we have to be people of faith. We have to persist in our prayer, even if we don’t see things changing as quickly as we would like. The Psalmist reminds us today that “Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Every prayer may not be answered in our time and in the way that we’d like. But by persisting in prayer, we will eventually and always become something better.

The Seventeenth Week of Ordinary Time: Pray Without Ceasing!

Today’s readings

Prayer is that activity that people of God have at their disposal to remain in contact with God. It takes many forms: intercessory prayer, in which we pray for people or issues; adoration, in which we extol the greatness of God; confession, in which we note how, in comparison to God’s glory, we have fallen short; and thanksgiving, in which we remember the graces and mighty acts of God which have sustained us and blessed our lives. Prayer can change our lives and change our world, and today we need prayer seemingly more than ever.

So, based on today’s readings, I’d like to say three important things about prayer. First, prayer must always happen in the context of a relationship with God. Second, prayer must be approached with the long game in view, persistent and relentlessly hopeful. And finally I would like to answer the question that I get pretty often, and that is: “Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?” It’s a lot to cover, so please hang in there with me.

First, and this is really important: prayer must always happen in the context of a relationship with God. As I said a minute ago, prayer is an activity of the people of God, and to undertake prayer outside of that relationship will never be successful; indeed, it doesn’t even make sense. Let me illustrate with an apocryphal story: There was a woman who was not religious, didn’t worship, never prayed. But her life took several bad turns and she didn’t know what to do. Friends of hers found a lot of grace in prayer, so she figured it couldn’t hurt to try. She had a Bible on an upper shelf that she hadn’t opened in decades. But she got it down and dusted it off and said, “Okay God, if you’re there, I need to know it. Tell me what to do about my life right now.” She decided to open the Bible up, point to a passage, and hope it spoke to her.  So that’s what she did.  Opening the Bible, she pointed to a passage and read: “And Judas went out and hanged himself.”  She thought that was frightening, so she decided to try again.  This time she opened it up, pointed to a passage, and read: “Go, and do likewise.” She decided to try one more time, and on opening it up, she read: “Friend, do quickly what you must do.”

Now obviously, the woman was reading these passages out of context.  Had she read the whole story around each of these quotes, she would have been clear that none of these brief sentences spoke to her situation.  But more than that, she was praying without the context of a relationship with God.  Prayer can be very effective in times of crisis.  But a time of crisis is not the time to learn how to pray.  It is our relationship with God as disciples of the Lord that makes sense of our praying and teaches us how to speak to God. Indeed, if Abraham didn’t have a relationship with God, his bargaining in the first reading today would have been utterly offensive. And if the man in Jesus’ parable in the Gospel today didn’t have a relationship with his neighbor, he would never have been able to get the man out of bed to give him some bread.

The second thing I want to say about prayer is that it has to be persistent, part of the long view of our faith. Jesus presents this concept in the parable he tells about prayer.  Even if friendship does not get the neighbor what he wants, persistent knocking on the door will certainly help.  Nothing illustrates this better, though, than the very astonishing story we have in that first reading.  This reading has always intrigued me, ever since I can remember hearing it as a child. God intends to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their pervasive wickedness. Abraham, newly in relationship with God, stands up for the innocent of Sodom, largely because that was where his nephew, Lot, had taken up residence. In what seems to be a case of cosmic “Let’s Make a Deal,” Abraham pleads with God to spare the city if just fifty innocent people could be found there. God agrees and Abraham persists. Eventually God agrees to spare the city if just ten righteous people could be found in the city of Sodom.

It is important, I think, to know that Abraham’s prayer does not really change his unchangeable God. Instead, God always intended to spare the city if there were just people in it.  Sadly, ten righteous people could not be found, and Lot escapes with his wife and daughters by the skin of his teeth. Don’t read the rest of the story though, it gets really awful from there! But that God would actually have this conversation with Abraham is what captures our attention: Our God is not a distant potentate who has set the world in motion and then stepped back to observe events as they unfold. No, instead our God can be called “Abba, Father” and we can approach God as we would a loving parent.

So finally, that brings me to the question I get so often as a priest. “Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?” And I get it; I’ve been in that situation myself. This summer has been particularly bad: I have had to just slightly re-word one of the prayers of the faithful seemingly every week this summer, changing just the location of the violence and tragedy that we’ve seen. Why doesn’t God hear our prayers and put an end to all this foolishness? Well, there’s a lot to be said about how that works, but let’s just talk about what prayer really does for us.

I always say that praying persistently doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is going to come out the way we want it to. We often approach prayer with a vision of how we want things to turn out. What we have to remember is that, in prayer, everything is going to come out the way God intended it, which is so much better than our little plans. If we are people of prayer, if we pray persistently, we will be able to see the blessings in the midst of sorrow and to have confidence when everything seems to be falling apart. Sometimes, even when the circumstances don’t seem to change, the praying changes us, and makes us more open to the blessings God wants to give us in the midst of the pain.

Which makes us wonder, perhaps, how we are to deal with all the violence and discord in our society right now. If you’re like me, you’re almost afraid to turn on the news to hear where the tragedy is today. There’s almost a pervasive sadness that comes from experiencing so much of this all at once. But prayer is indeed the way we need to go with it. Because we are a people who have a relationship with God; we have the context of knowing that he wills the best for us and stands with us in good times and in bad. And we know prayer is the solution for the big picture. It’s not a magic wand that changes things immediately, but when we persist in prayer, it changes us and opens us up to God’s will which is infinitely greater than what we can see right now. God does answer our prayers. He answers them with love that puts us where we need to be in any given moment. And he answers our prayers with his abiding presence that brings light to every darkness that we encounter.

The psalmist today says, “Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.” God intends the very best for us, we may be certain of that. And if we are people of persistent prayer, then we will indeed see blessing all around us. My prayer today is that we would all be persistent in prayer, that we would become people of prayer, and that we would never, ever, ever lose heart.

Friday of the Tenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

So we know the back story on our first reading, because we’ve been hearing it this week. You recall that Elijah has just come from soundly defeating all of the pagan “prophets” of Baal, which was very embarrassing to King Ahab and especially to Queen Jezebel, who vowed to take Elijah’s life in retaliation. So he has been hiding out in a cave, not for protection from inclement weather, but for protection from those who sought his life. In the midst of this, God asks Elijah why he is here. Elijah explains that the people of Israel have been unfaithful and have turned away from God, not listening to Elijah’s preaching, and they have put all the other legitimate prophets to death. Elijah alone is left.

So God says that he will be “passing by” which in biblical language means that God will be doing a “God thing.” God will be revealing his presence. And so we have the story: there is a mighty wind, an earthquake and even fire. But Elijah only recognizes the Lord’s presence in the tiny whispering sound. After everything that had happened to him, mighty wind, an earthquake and a fire were just more of the same. But when there was that tiny whispering sound, Elijah heard the Lord speaking to him loud and clear. Then and there he receives instruction on how to move forward.

In our own prayer lives, it’s good to be attentive to the tiny whispering sound. We too have a noisy life – not because we are running from our enemies like Elijah, but more because we have created enemies to a recollected life. The television, the phone, the computer, all of that and more vie for our attention in every moment. And then we lament that we can’t hear God’s direction, can’t figure out what it is we’re supposed to do in this situation or that.

In my own life, I just recently created a little space in my room for a prayer altar. It has my bible, a painting of the Crucifixion of the Lord, a statue of Saint Patrick and one of the Blessed Virgin, and a candle. Now, when I want to hear the Lord, I can turn off everything, settle into a chair, and reflect. And the Lord has been speaking, was all along to be honest. Just now I’ve created a space, like Elijah’s cave, where I can hear him. God is always doing a “God thing” among us. We just have to make it our care to notice.