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Homilies Ordinary Time

Saturday of the Twenty-seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

“Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus has just been given a great complement and he responds to it kind of brusquely, or at least it seems that way.  Earlier in this eleventh chapter of Luke, Jesus has taught the disciples to pray, teaching them what has become known as the Lord’s prayer.  Then there is the discourse on the need for persistence in prayer that we heard on Thursday.  Then a teaching on demons.  And now this.  From this point on in the chapter, Jesus will turn up the heat on the people’s prayer life.  Nothing less is effective.  Nothing else is acceptable.

And so we hear the same invitation: “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”  We have been taught how to pray.  We have been given tools in Scripture and in the Church.  So the question is, have we observed that teaching?  Has our prayer become persistent?  Is it the life blood of our relationships with God and others?  Does prayer sustain us in bad times and give us joy in good times?

Observing the word of God takes many forms.  Most likely, we think of the service we are called upon to help bring about a Godly kingdom on earth.  And that is important, make no mistake about it.  But that same word calls us to a vital relationship with our God, a relationship that raises the bar for all of our other relationships.  That relationship with God can be a blessing to us and to our world.  But we can only get there by prayer.  We have to make time for the one who always makes time for us.

“Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”

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Homilies Ordinary Time

Thursday of the Twenty-seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Listen again to those words of hope from the Gospel I just read:

“And I tell you, ask and you will receive;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives;
and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

The Divine Liturgist today is inviting us to find our hope in God, and inviting us to turn over our lives to God in hopeful anticipation that God will take care of our needs.  Sometimes I wonder how willing I am to actually do that.  It’s almost like I want to pray to God just in case I can’t fix things on my own or work out my needs by myself.  Kind of like a divine insurance policy.  Maybe your prayer is like that too.

But that can’t be the way that the Christian disciple prays.  We have to trust that God will give us what we really need.  He certainly won’t be giving us everything we really want.  And he probably won’t be answering our prayers in exactly the way we’d like him to.  And we will certainly find out that he will answer the prayers of our heart in his own time.  But he will answer.  He will give to the one who asks.  He will be present to the one who seeks.  And he will open the door to the one who knocks.

The Christian disciple must be willing to accept God’s answer in God’s time on God’s terms. When we do that we might even find that when God gives us what we really need, instead of what we really want, our lives are so much more blessed than we could ever have imagined. Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.

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Homilies Lent

Thursday of the First Week of Lent

Today’s readings

The readings for these early days of Lent are focused on teaching us how to accomplish the various disciplines of Lent – which really are the various disciplines of the spiritual life. The whole point is that we enter more deeply into the spiritual life during these days of Lent, with a view toward growing in holiness. Today’s discipline then, I think, would be persistence in prayer. 

In the first reading, we have Queen Esther, who is really between a rock and a hard place. The king does not know she is Hebrew, and worse than that, if she goes to the king without being summoned, she could well lose her life. But, she needs to go to the king to plead for the lives of her fellow Hebrew people.  So today, she prays that her life, as well as those of her people would be spared. Esther prayed for three days and nights that her prayer would be answered, and her persistence was rewarded.  She received the reward that Jesus promised when he said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

We, too, bring many prayers to our relationship with God.  We may or may not be rewarded with the exact gift we pray for; in fact, that rarely happens. But we will always be rewarded with the loving presence of our God in our lives. In fact, it could well be that God’s answer to our prayer is “no” – for whatever reason – but even in that “no” we have the grace of a relationship that has been strengthened by our prayerful persistence.

The Psalmist prays, “Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.” This Lent, may the discipline of persistence in prayer lead us to a renewed and enlivened sense of the Lord’s will and of his loving presence in our lives.

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Homilies Lent

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent

Today’s readings

The prophet Isaiah and Jesus speak today about the great power of words. Isaiah speaks specifically of the power of God’s word, a word that will not return empty but will go out and accomplish the purpose for which God sent it.  We see the word that the prophet speaks of here, of course as the Word – “Word” with a capital “W.”  That Word is Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, who comes to accomplish the salvation of the world, the purpose of God ever since the world’s creation.  Indeed, that Word would never return to the Father empty or void, but instead filled with the richness of God’s beloved children – you and me, the ones he came to save.

The prayer that Jesus gives us today, the classic prayer that echoes in our hearts in good times and in bad, is a prayer with a specific purpose in mind.  That prayer, if we pray it rightly, recognizes that God’s holiness will bring about a Kingdom where his divine will will be done in all of creation.  It begs God’s forgiveness and begs also that we too would become a forgiving and merciful people, just as God is merciful to us.  Finally, it asks for help with temptation and evil, something with which we struggle every day.  It is the prayer above all other prayers, the prayer that unites us to the Father’s will for us, the prayer that contains every prayerful attitude or thought.

Today’s readings are a plea that God’s will would finally be done.  That his Word would go forth and accomplish God’s purpose.  That his will would be done on earth as in heaven.  As we pray those familiar words, they can often go past us without catching our attention.  But today, maybe we can slow down just a little, and pray them more reflectively, that God’s will would be accomplished in every place, starting in our very own lives.

Because to God belongs the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.

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Homilies Lent

The First Sunday of Lent

Today’s readings

The devil wants more than anything for us to forget who we are.  He really didn’t care if Jesus ruined his fast by turning some stones into bread, or if he killed himself trying to test God, and he certainly had no intention of making him king of the world.  What he wanted, what he really wanted, was for Jesus to forget who he was and give himself over to him.  And we see in the first reading that that’s how it all started.  The serpent didn’t care what tree Eve ate from, he just wanted her, and Adam, to forget who they were, to forget that they were beloved children of God and that God would take care of them.

So if I could suggest a motif for our Lenten prayer, it might be “Remembering Who We Are.”  That’s why we have the Cross up here, front and center.  I want us to see that in the Cross, God gave us the very best he had, and that when we take up our own cross, God sustains us and makes us more than we could be on our own.  Just as Jesus remembered that he was God’s Son and that he came here for a reason, and that reason was to save us from our sins, so we have to remember that we are sons and daughters of God, and we are here for a reason.  The devil will try all sorts of tricks to get us to forget that.  He will throw at us job difficulties, serious illnesses, the death of loved ones, family strife, and the list goes on and on.  He will tempt us with the latest gadgets, the job promotion, the opportunity to get rich quick, and that list goes on and on too.  He wants us, really wants us, more than anything, to forget who we are.

Because if we forget who we are, the devil’s job is an easy one.  If we forget that God made us and redeemed us out of love for us, then he’s got his foot in the door.  Once that happens, hell looks like something mysterious, enticing and exciting.  It feels like living on our own terms, looking out for number one, and doing what “feels right to me.”  And that’s awesome, except of course, that it’s hell.  And the glamour fades and the excitement turns to rancor, and we’ve wasted our lives chasing after stuff that doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.

The antidote to this hell of our own making, is letting go – giving what might even seem to be necessary to us, and trusting that God will give us what we need.  That can be the treasure of Lent for us.  In fasting, we can let go of the idea that we alone can provide what is necessary for our survival.  God can feed our hungers much better than we can, if we will but trust in him to do it.  In almsgiving, we can let go of the idea that everything is ours if we would just worship the one who cannot give us what we truly need.  God gives us what’s really necessary in life, and eternal life besides.  And in prayer, we can let go of the fading pleasures of this world and of Satan and take on the enduring luster of a life lived as a son or daughter of God.

And so I would like to suggest a program of retreat for these forty days of Lent.  It’s nothing new; I didn’t create it.  It’s what the Church gives us every Lent, and I feel like if we want to remember who we are, we should take it on in its entirety.  So this retreat consists of the three things I just mentioned: fasting, almsgiving and prayer.  And our parish gives you so many resources for choosing something to do for each of them.  You may have seen our Lenten tear-out sheet in today’s bulletin.  Take a look at it, post it on your fridge, and plan to make this Lent a good one.

For fasting, you might consider giving up what’s really taking hold of you.  Maybe it’s some kind of food, but it could be technology, binge watching on Netflix or YouTube, or shopping for yourself on Amazon.  What would it be like to set whatever that is aside and let God give you what you really need?  Giving up these distractions, we can focus on our soul’s hunger for God.

For almsgiving, maybe tie it in with your Friday abstinence.  Eat a simpler meal on Friday, perhaps come to our parish fish fry, but bring some food for the food pantry.  Summer will be coming and food pantry shelves tend to be emptier then, so your donations can make a real difference.  Or consider making a donation to Catholic Charities, and especially consider the Daybreak Shelter.  Our parish provides a meal for the homeless every other month, and this month it’s this coming Tuesday and they can use your help: check the sign-up sheet in the commons to see what is needed.  Those are just a few examples of almsgiving that will really make a difference.  The saints tell us that almsgiving covers a multitude of sins, so it can really be an important piece of our Lenten repentance.

And for prayer, I’d like to encourage you to attend a daily Mass once a week during Lent.  We have our usual daily Mass at 7:30 Monday through Saturday, but also have a Mass and video at 7pm on Tuesdays, and a simple beginning of the workday Mass at 6:15am on Thursdays.  The Mass and Eucharist are the source and summit of our lives as Christians; I encourage you to deepen your relationship for our Savior who gave his life for you by attending an additional Mass once a week.

Fasting, almsgiving and prayer remind us that we are beloved sons and daughters of God who are always taken care of by God, if we let Him; that when we give of ourselves, we all become more; and that as we become more our prayer leads us into the life of God himself.  May we have a blessed, and joyful Lenten retreat, never forgetting who we are, all of us, sons and daughters of God.

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Homilies Ordinary Time

The Twenty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

In my first priestly assignment, at Saint Raphael in Naperville, there was a huge football program for elementary school kids called Saint Raphael Football.  It was not just a team, but a league, and lots of surrounding churches had teams in the league.  You couldn’t live in Naperville and not have heard of Saint Raphael Football. So once in a while, in a social setting, someone would ask me what church I was from, and I’d tell them, Saint Raphael.  And they would say to me, “Oh yes, we go there, our son is in that football league.” I always wanted to tell them, “How nice. By the way, we also celebrate the Eucharist there.”  Maybe I should have.  Today’s gospel reading makes me think I should.

We – as a society – have it all wrong.  Our priorities are all messed up.  I think we’re in real danger, now more than ever, and today’s Liturgy of the Word is a wake-up call for us to get it right.  We live in a society that has not just lost its moral compass, but has actually taken pains to bury it away and never look at it.  Everyone seems to think that something is okay if it works for them in their current circumstance, regardless of how it affects others, regardless of how it affects even them in the long-run.  That’s why you turn on the news and hear about shootings everywhere, and that’s why we have politicians vying with one another to see who can support abortion in the strongest possible sense.  As Saint Theresa of Calcutta once said, “And if we can accept that a mother can kill her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?”  In many alarming ways, our moral compass has been buried for so long that we hardly know what it looks like anymore.  

So this homily is probably going to come off sounding kind of harsh to some of you, but if I don’t say what I have to say, I’m not doing my job as your priest.  And I know, really I know, most of you get this.  So please indulge me; if this doesn’t apply to you, please pray for someone who needs to hear it, because you know someone who does.

When Jesus is asked whether only a few will be saved, he deflects the question.  His answer indicates that it’s not the number of those who will be saved – that’s not the issue.  The issue is that some people think they will be saved because they call themselves Christian, or religious, or spiritual, or whatever.  It’s kind of like the people I talked to who considered themselves practicing Catholics simply because their children played in a football league that was marginally affiliated with us.

Jesus says that’s not how it works.  We have to strive to enter the narrow gate.  So what does that mean?  For Jesus, entering eternity through the narrow gate means not just calling yourself religious; that would be a pretty wide gate.  It certainly wouldn’t mean saying that you’re basically a good person, since that criterion is pretty subjective, and so widely misunderstood. The narrow gate means actually practicing the faith: taking time for prayer and worship, receiving the Eucharist for strength, living the gospel, reaching out to the needy, showing love to your neighbor.  It means making one’s faith the first priority, loving God first, worshipping first, loving others first.  Because “some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

And I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s hard to do that.  Saint Paul says today that we have to strengthen our drooping hands and weak knees; Jesus says that many will attempt to enter that narrow gate but won’t be strong enough to do it.  That narrow gate of love is hard to enter: it takes effort, it takes grace; it takes strength, and we can only get that grace and strength in one place, and that place is the Church.  That’s why Jesus gives us the Church: to strengthen us for eternal life.

That’s not the best news, however, because so many people these days settle for simply calling themselves religious, or being “spiritual” – whatever that means.  They’ll play football on the team, but won’t make an effort to come to Church to receive the strength they need to live this life and to enter eternal life.  It is here, in the Eucharist, freely given by our gracious Lord, that we receive the strength we need to love, the strength necessary to live our faith and be united with our God.  It is here, in the proclamation of the Word, that we find instruction to live as disciples and are more and more conformed into the image of Christ.  But it’s hard to get to Church because Billy has a soccer game, or Sally has a dance recital, or because Mom and Dad just want to sleep in after a really trying week.

But those decisions, friends, have eternal consequences.  So let me be clear: God is more important than soccer, or football, or cheer, or whatever sport you’re playing; God is more important than the dance recital, and as for sleeping in on Sunday, well, as my grandfather used to say, you can sleep when you’re dead.  And it’s not like it’s an either/or proposition: people don’t have to choose between soccer and Mass or dance and Mass or even sleeping and Mass.  Certainly not in our section of the world.  This parish has Mass nine Masses on Saturday evening and all day Sunday, in three languages, all the way from 4pm on Saturday to 6pm on Sunday.  If those don’t work, there are a bunch of parishes within a short driving distance that have other schedules.  There’s probably a church within a few driving minutes of every football or soccer field in the area; I know a lot of families choose to take that option when schedules are hectic.

The point is, we make time for what’s important to us.  And eternal life is the only thing that we have of lasting importance. So we have to build up the strength to get through that narrow gate one day.  We’ve got to worship God with consistency; we have to live the gospel with consistency.

We’re not going to be able to say one day: “We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets and we played football on your team.”  We can’t just call ourselves Catholic; we have to live our faith.  We have to worship and pray; we have to reach out to the needy, stand up for truth and justice, make a real effort to love even when it’s not convenient to love, or even when the person who faces us is not as loveable as we’d like.

All of this requires commitment and effort and real work from all of us. We have to strive to enter through that narrow gate, because we don’t want to ever hear those bone-chilling words from today’s Gospel, “I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, you evildoers!” The good news is we don’t ever have to hear those words: all we have to do is nourish our relationship with Jesus that will give us strength to enter the narrow gate.  After all, the narrow gate is love, and the love of God in Jesus is more than enough to get us through it.

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Homilies Ordinary Time

The Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Teach Us to Pray

Today’s readings

Today’s liturgy is a call to persistent prayer.  Prayer is a tool that we must hone and use and perfect over a lifetime of discipleship. Sometimes our prayer life may be rich: we hear what God wants for us and we find ourselves connected to God throughout the day.  Sometimes our prayer life may seem to be dead, or at least dormant, or even kind of stagnant: we don’t seem to hear from God, our prayers seem to be rote repetitions of useless words, we seem to just be going through the motions.  What is important for the Christian disciple to know though is this: however our prayer life may be unfolding: it is important to pray, no matter what, no matter how it seems to be going.

There are three things at stake in our prayer lives which I’d like to focus on today.  First, prayer must be persistent.  Second, prayer must be part of a relationship with God. And third, does God really answer our prayers?  The first two issues are issues that every disciple, every pray-er, must learn on their spiritual journey.  And that last question is one that every disciple, if he or she is honest, probably has to answer or struggle with this question at some point in their lives.

So, first, prayer must be persistent.  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 our first reading.  This reading has always intrigued me, ever since I can remember hearing it as a child. God intends to destroy the city of Sodom because of its pervasive wickedness. Abraham, newly in relationship with God, stands up for the innocent of the city, 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. What I love about this reading is Abraham’s line, “See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord, though I am but dust and ashes!” Here he prefigures the kind of prayer Jesus has in mind for us, we who also are but dust and ashes. The prayer Jesus teaches us is amazingly familiar, and I mean “familiar” in the sense of being close to God. 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. Because of this, we can pray, “Father, hallowed be your name…”

And this leads us to the second issue at stake for the praying disciple: prayer must come out of a relationship with God.  Abraham may have been somewhat presumptuous to speak to God the way that he did.  But if he didn’t know God, if he didn’t have a relationship with God, well, then his conversation would have been completely offensive, wouldn’t it?  And everything that Jesus teaches us about prayer in this Gospel presumes relationship. The prayer he gives is that of a community praying to its Father God.  The parable that he gives following that prayer tells of one neighbor begging another to help him provide for and unexpected, but not unwanted, guest.  All that we are taught about prayer is that prayer is to be an expression of our relationship with God, or else it’s a useless exercise.

I once heard an apocryphal story of a woman who was not religious, never prayed, never worshipped. At one point in her life, she was going through some very hard times, and decided that she should pray.  Not really knowing how to pray, she reached for the dusty old Bible on her shelf that someone had given her years ago but she never really opened.  She decided to open it 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.”

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 neither 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.  Abraham learned that, and Jesus knew it well.

The final issue is a sensitive one.  So often, parishioners will tell me, “Father, I’ve prayed and prayed for (whatever the issue is) and I don’t seem to be getting any answer from God.”  Whether you have a sick loved one, or a child who’s gone the wrong way, or a marriage that is troubled, or a job situation that is unhappy, or any one of thousands of other problems, you may have asked something like, “Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?” Today we’re hearing that we should be persistent in our prayer and that God will answer the prayers of those he loves, and so you may well be asking yourself, “What good does that do?” These are questions I get all the time, and I can understand them, having asked them a time or two myself. So let me give you my take on it with a parable out of my own life.

When my dad was dying a few years ago, I was absolutely positive that he was going to be okay. If I had my own way, of course, I would have prayed that he would live many more years, but I knew that was selfish. God had made Dad for himself, and I knew that he was going back to be with God. I wanted nothing else for him than that he would be free of pain and happy forever. I was positive that was what was going to happen. So was Dad. Just before he died, he looked up at the nurse who was attending him and said, “It’s going to be okay.” And of course that was true.

How did he know it was going to be okay? Well, he knew he’d be okay because Dad was a man of prayer. He went to Mass with my mom every Sunday and very often went to weekday Mass after he retired. He prayed his rosary and daily prayers every day. He and I used to go every Holy Thursday to pray before the Blessed Sacrament together. His wonderful life was immersed in prayer and he had no regrets. Everything was going to be okay. And because he was a man of prayer, I knew that I could let him go and that God would take care of him. Prayer is like that; it’s contagious. His example of persistent prayer was one that led me to my vocation.

The point is this: praying persistently doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is going to come out the way we want it to, but it does mean that 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.

One final note: praying persistently, as we care called to do, does not mean praying constantly for just one thing. It means praying in all ways: praying in adoration before our beautiful Savior, praying in contrition and repentance for our sinfulness, praying in thanksgiving for our many blessings, praying in supplication for our needs and the needs of all the world. It means praying, above all, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”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.

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Homilies Ordinary Time

Thursday of the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

So today we learn that just because we call on the Lord, that doesn’t mean that the Lord is at our whim, someone we can summon in the same way as we press a button on the remote and the television comes to life. That’s what the whole nasty business with Abram and Sarai was about. Instead of trusting the Lord’s promises that God would make Abram the father of many nations, they took matters into their own hands and then were displeased at the result. That’s what happens when we forget to trust in God and instead trust in ourselves and in our own ability to do something clever.

The same is true for the scribes and Pharisees, and also for the wanna-be followers of Jesus. They might claim mighty deeds in Jesus’ name, but Jesus can see their hearts and knows that they are not really open to the fullness of the Gospel. Simply crying, “Lord, Lord” will not get them into the kingdom of heaven. If they’re not willing to set their house on the rock solid foundation of Christ, they will not stand, and they will fall apart with the first of the storms.

And so we disciples have to be careful about our relationship with Christ. It’s not something we can neglect and expect it to be deep and rich enough to lead us to eternal life. We have to be people of integrity, spiritual people who know who our Lord is and who are open to the fullness of his teaching. He teaches with authority, not as the scribes of old, nor as the so-called authorities of our time – like Oprah or Dr. Phil.  If we want teaching with authority, all we have to do is open the Bible, take some time in Adoration, or devote ourselves to prayer, and then fall in love all over again with our Lord who gave himself for our sakes so that we can all be one with him in the kingdom that has no end.

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Homilies Lent RCIA

Presentation of the Lord’s Prayer to the Elect

Today’s readings: Hosea 11:1, 3-4, 8e-9 | Psalm 23 | Romans 8:14-17, 26-27 | Matthew 6:9-13

Today we did the RCIA presentation of the Lord’s Prayer to the Elect at our evening Mass. There are special readings for that, as above.

Where do you go when you’re at the end of your rope?

Bob was not accustomed to praying and didn’t really have a relationship with God.  But life, as it often does to us, started piling up: job concerns, health scares, relationship problems – everything.  And so he knew he couldn’t make it all work on his own.  So in his desperation, he looked at the old Bible he got for his first Holy Communion, and took it down off the shelf. Dusting it off, he realized he didn’t know where to turn so he decided to just open it up, point to a verse, and see what God had to say to him.  So that’s what he did, and on opening the Bible, he read “and Judas went off and hanged himself.”  

Now, obviously, we know God didn’t want Bob to go off and hang himself like Judas did.  But the point here is that Bob was doing it wrong: you can’t choose not to have a relationship with God and turn to prayer only when everything else fails.  That’s never going to work.  Prayer, for the believer, is an ongoing conversation with the God who longs to be intimately involved in our lives.  And so, the important thing is to work on that relationship first.

That’s why we are presenting the Lord’s Prayer – one of the great treasures of our faith – to you, the Elect, so late in the process.  You’ve been in this for a year or more, or almost two for the children, and we are less than two weeks away from the Easter Vigil, that night on which you will receive the sacraments.  And only now do you receive this treasure of prayer.  Why?  Because you had to work on the relationship first.  Praying authentically isn’t something you can do right away.  You have to come to know Jesus and in him, see the Father, before you can have that intimate conversation that we call prayer.

And the prayer we are giving you isn’t just any old collection of words.  This is the prayer that our Lord Jesus himself gave to us. He literally says “this is how you are to pray.”  And in that prayer, he covers all kinds of different prayers.  “Hallowed by thy name” is a prayer of praise to God who is the source of all holiness.  “Thy kingdom come” is a prayer that our world would be transformed into what God intends it to be.  “Thy will be done” is a prayer that opens ourselves up to God’s will for us and allows him to enter in and do what is best.  “Give us this day our daily bread” is a prayer that we would be filled up, not so much with what we want, but what we truly need, each and every day.  “And forgive us our trespasses” prays that we would be forgiven for the many ways we turn away from God, both in what we do and what we fail to do, while “as we forgive those who trespass against us” prays that we would be as merciful as God has been merciful to us.  “And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” is a prayer that we would continue to walk in God’s ways, and not give ourselves over to the evil one.

It’s a wonderful, complete prayer, and a prayer that very significantly begins with a statement of relationship: “Our Father…”  We pray not to a distant God who created us and then backs off to watch us get messed up in our own foolishness, but instead to God our Father.  That’s the kind of relationship God wants us to have with him: one that depends on him as a child depends on a parent, a relationship that sustains us and advocates for us in our need, but also corrects us in our wandering, and shields us from what is truly evil.  It’s a relationship that we can’t live without, a relationship that is there on our best days and also when we’re at the end of our rope.  It’s a relationship that the Church wants for all of you, so that you’ll never have to decide how to use that dusty old Bible you’ve left up there on the shelf.

Remember: this is how you are to pray:  Our Father, who art in heaven…

Categories
Homilies Lent

Thursday of the First Week of Lent

Today’s readings

If we take one thought out of Lent, 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 a Savior.