Seventheenth Sunday of Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey
[Scripture Readings: Gen 18: 20-32, Col 2: 12-14, Lk 11: 1-13 ]
Last winter a freezing drizzle made highways dangerously slick. When one driver started down a steep hill, followed by a semi-trailer truck, his car hit a slippery patch of ice and went sliding out of control. When he hit the brakes too hard, his car spun around and he saw the towering bumper of the semi coming straight at him. Terrified, the driver cried out, “Oh, God, help me.” His car continued to spin, and with only a second to spare, it slid out of the way and off the road. But then his car plunged headlong down a very steep and deep embankment towards a large tree at the bottom. The driver cried out again, “No, No! Please, God, save me!” His wheels hit a bump that almost flipped the car over, causing it to pass on one side of the tree without a scratch. It finally stopped in front of some bushes. Very shook up, but safe, the driver whispered, “Thank you, Lord, thank you.” Were his prayers answered, or was he just lucky?
Albert Camus, a Nobel prize winner in literature, would call it pure luck. He believed we live in a meaningless, godless world, in an icy silence facing the towering eternal silence of a non-existent divinity. For Camus prayer is the hollow hollering of empty vessels in an endless cave.
But the great German theologian, Fr. Karl Rahner, taught that every prayer is heard by Christ, answered in the most exalted manner possible. (On Prayer, p. 77) Rahner contrasts the despair of Albert Camus to the hope of Christians. We believe our emptiness is being filled with God's life, even a share in his own divine nature (p.14).
Yet, for every driver whose cry for help is heard, why are there so many prayers that seem to go unanswered? Even the biblical prophet Habakkuk complained, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help and you will not hear?” Our cheeks are wet with burning tears, but there's no response. Why do the cries of abused children, the tears of exploited and betrayed women, the cries for mercy of people inhumanly tortured, the groans of all who suffer from abortion, murder, disease, hunger, injury and injustice all seem to go unheard? Is every war, every plague, every death proof that a petition was unanswered?
No, because Jesus promises: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; and whoever seeks finds; and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (Lk 11:9-10) “Not one of his promises will fail” (Sirach 47:22). Jesus said, “If you ask the Father anything in my name he will give it to you. Ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full” (Jn. 16:24). In answer to Habakkuk's complaint, “How long will you hide your face?” the Lord replies, “The vision awaits its time, yet it hastens to the end, it will not lie. If it seem slow in coming, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not delay” (Hab. 2:3) We ask for daily bread but wheat takes time to grow. We ask for healing, but flesh and bones need months to mend. We ask for patience, but virtues are formed by long repetition. Many good things take time. But when the time is past we forget the delay because of the joy we experience.
Prayer is never wasted. Jesus wants us to be as persistent as the man who kept knocking shamelessly on his friend's door at midnight. Once a three year old girl went to the store with her mother who told her, “I can't afford to spend money on chocolate chip cookies, so don't even ask.” She put her daughter in the child's seat of the cart and picked up her groceries. Passing the cookie shelves the child asked, “Mom, may I have some chocolate chip cookies?” She said, “Don't ask.” Heading toward the checkout counter she said again, “Please, Mom, just a few?” “No,” she replied. Waiting in the checkout line she knew that this was her last chance. She stood up in the cart and called out in her loudest voice, “Please, please, in the name of Jesus, could I have some chocolate chip cookies?” Everyone around laughed, but the mother and child left the store with several gift boxes of chocolate chip cookies. Keep on asking and you will receive; keep on seeking and you will find; keep on knocking and it will be opened.
Once I was with other students at an open air restaurant in Jerusalem. As we were eating a young Jewish girl ran up to her father to ask for something. She leaned affectionately against her father, and said, “Abba.” She said it with such tenderness and confidence. I could feel the love flowing between them. That's how Jesus prayed and wants us to pray, with familial love, to lean on our Father who desires to give us good gifts, especially the gift of the Holy Spirit who will wipe away every tear from our eyes, when death shall be no more, nor pain, nor crying any more, on the day when all our prayers will be answered in the most exalted way.