Twenty-Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey

Scripture Readings: Gen 2:18-24; Heb 2:9-11; Mk 10:2-16

We see in today’s gospel the value Jesus places on a committed life in service to others. “In the beginning” this was the Father’s plan. Made in His image and likeness, we were meant to be “for” others. In our subsequent fallen nature we became selfish.  It became necessary to vow this self-giving. As Hans Urs von Balthazar noted, “True Love wants to outlast time. For that reason it wants to rid itself of its most dangerous enemy: its own free choice. Hence every true love has the inner form of a vow; it binds itself to the beloved.” This is the type of commitment intended for both marital and monastic ways of life “from the beginning.”  Keeping this commitment will bring us to “the Kingdom of God”.

Jesus goes on to tell us that the receptivity of children will help us reach the kingdom of God. In the previous chapter He had said that whoever receives the child in His name received Him and the One Who sent Him (Mk 9:37).  A child’s innocence, dependence, and trust will make us receptive. As Jesus said in yesterday’s gospel “although you have hid these things from the wise and the learned, You have revealed them to the childlike.”  It is not the knowledge and cleverness of adults we need to enter the kingdom of God. A biblical scholar illustrates this with a story about a man who died and went to the pearly gates of heaven. “Before I can let you in,” St. Peter said, “You have to get 100 points on a quiz. So tell me all the good things you did in your life and I’ll keep score.”

            “Okay,” said the man, “I was married to the same woman for over fifty years and was always faithful to her, even in my heart.”

            “Good! That’s worth 3 points!”

            “Three points!” said the disappointed man.

            “Well, I attended church every Sunday and tithed and volunteered there.”

            “Great!” said St. Peter, “That’s worth another point!”

            “Only 1 point?” said the dejected man. “Well, I also worked in a soup kitchen and started a house for the homeless.”

            “Fantastic! That’s two more points.”

            “Two points?” said the man angrily. “At this rate I’ll only get in by the grace of God.”

            St. Peter smiles and says, “Bingo! That’s 100 points! Come on in!”

Our vows help us to rely on the grace of God.

A child knows her limits and she know she can safely rely on the goodness of others to learn how to negotiate the changing demands of life. This “reliance on the goodness” is a dependence on the grace of God. A key doctrine of our relationship to God is that He is our Father and we are His children. This awareness involves a sense of dependence and self-abandonment in the same way a child does with her earthly parents. Then we are freed from the bondage of self so, like our Father, we can be available to be “for” others.

The dependence of the child is part of her created condition. Being created that way her self-abandonment can be either drawn or driven to something. God draws us. He draws us by our deepest desires.  Being drawn by our deepest desire we seek that which makes us feel right with God, which makes us feel we are being our truest self.  The Latter to the Hebrews tells us this “drawing” is a journey in which we follow our leader, Jesus, Who was made perfect by suffering. Under conditions of suffering we are wise to meet them with child-like simplicity. After all, this is not our journey; it is His journey.


Twenty-Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey

[Scripture Readings: Hab 1:2-3, 2:2-4; 2 Tim 1:6-14; Lk 17:5-10]

Early one winter evening a wet snow made roads dangerously slick. One driver started down a steep hill with a semi not far behind him. His car hit a patch of ice and spun around. He saw the massive front bumper of the semi coming straight at him. Terrified, he cried out, “Oh, God, help me.” His car continued to spin and with only a second to spare, it slid across the shoulder of the road. But then his car started plunging headlong down a steep embankment toward a large tree. The driver cried out again, “Jesus, help 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, finally stopping in front of some bushes. Very shook up, but safe, the driver whispered, “Thank you, Lord, thank you.” Were his prayers answered? Did faith and prayer move the car out of harm’s way or was he just lucky?

Albert Camus, a Nobel prize winner in literature, calls it pure luck. He believed life is meaningless, there is no God, and we are surrounded by the eternal icy silence of a non-existent divinity. For Albert Camus faith is a hollow cry inside an endless cave whose walls and ceilings are covered with our illusions.

But the great German theologian, Fr. Karl Rahner, taught that every prayer is heard by Christ, and every prayer is answered in the most exalted manner possible, (On Prayer, p. 77). Rahner contrasted the despair of Albert Camus to the hope of Christians. “We believe the universe is filled with God’s presence, and that we are called to share in God’s own divine nature” (p.14). “We do not live in an icy cave but in the sweet intimacy of family life in a home built by God. Of ourselves we are servants who can do nothing, but with even the smallest amount of faith we may make this magnificent boast with St. Paul, ‘I can do all things in him who strengthens me’ ” (Phil. 4:13).

Yet, for every prayer that is heard, why are there so many other prayers that seem to go unanswered, so many unmoved mountains? In today’s first reading the prophet Habakkuk expresses our confusion, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help and you will not hear?” Many cheeks are wet with tears, but there’s no response, only an icy silence. Why do our prayers for an end to abortion seem to go unanswered? Why did the cries for help of the ten year old boy who died on a farm in Dyersville last Tuesday after being caught in a corn wagon go unheard? Why are the cries for mercy of people suffering tortured unheeded? Why does disease, hunger, and injustice continue? Is every war, every plague, every act of terrorism and every death a proof that prayer goes unanswered?

Yet, Jesus promises: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed you can move mountains.” “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 everyone who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (Lk 11:9-10). Scripture tell us, “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. It takes time. But the day will come when we will rejoice. Even faith as small as a mustard seed has within it the power of the Holy Spirit to forgive the mountains of our sins so that we can share in God’s divine life and happiness.

Prayer is never wasted. Jesus wants us to be persistent and persevering like the man who kept knocking on his friend’s door at midnight asking for bread. Once a mother took her three year old daughter to the store with her and told her, “I can’t afford to spend money on chocolate chip cookies, so don’t even ask.” She put her in the child’s seat of the shopping cart and shopped for groceries. Passing the cookie shelves the child said, “Mommy, I want some chocolate chip cookies?” She said, “Don’t ask.” Heading toward the checkout counter she said again, “Please, just a few?” “No,” she replied. While they were waiting in the checkout line she knew this was her last chance. She stood up in the cart and shouted out in her loudest voice, “Please, please, in the name of Jesus, I want some chocolate chip cookies?” Everyone around laughed, and someone gave her a package of cookies as a gift. Keep on asking and you will receive; keep on seeking and you will find; keep on knocking and it will be opened, not always as we expect but in the most exalted way possible, prayer is infallibly heard and answered. It is never wasted, it never fails to receive a greater good from God.

Before Christ celebrated the first Eucharist and died for us, we were unprofitable servants, but he heard our prayers and died to make us friends of God, adopted sons and daughters, his sisters and brothers. Jesus did not teach us to say, “God, our Creator, hallowed be thy name,” or to say, “Teacher, thy kingdom come,” or, “Master, give us our daily bread,” or, “Judge of the earth, forgive us our sins,” or “Holy One, lead us not into temptation.” He invited us to come and sit at table with him, and to say, “Abba, Father.” Once I was sitting with other students at an open air restaurant at Ein Karim, where John the Baptist was born, near Jerusalem when a young Jewish girl ran up to her father and asked for something. As she leaned affectionately against his chest, her first word was “Abba.” She said it with such tenderness and confidence, just as we say, “Papa,” or “Mommy,” or “Daddy.” You could feel and see the love flowing between them. That’s how Jesus prayed and wants us to pray, with love and confidence, leaning 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. Death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor pain, nor crying any more, on the day when all our prayers are answered, when every mountain separating us from God will be wiped away, and every little boy and girl will be reunited with the parents who lost them at a tender age, and sorrow will be no more.

But even now in this time of patient endurance God hears our prayers by weeping with us in our sorrows, by suffering with us on the cross, by saving us from the worst of all evils, which is eternal separation from the family of God. This is not icy silence. This is the presence of God with tender, personal, saving love. When Jesus suffered agony in the Garden of Olives he asked that the cup of suffering and death might pass from him. It didn’t, or did it? In the letter to the Hebrews we read that his prayer was heard, not by escaping from suffering and death, but by rising from the grave and ascending to his Father. His prayer of agony in the garden was answered in the most exalted way possible. Was it pure luck? No, it was the will of a loving Father who infallibly answers all our prayers with the greatest of all gifts, eternal happiness with God.