Saturday, October 16, 2010

XXIX-Sunday in Ordinary time

XXIX SUNDAY Ex 17:8-13;: II Tim 3:14- 4:5;Gosple: Luke 18: 1-8

A rural newspaper had been running a series of articles on the value of church attendance in its Sunday Religion column. One day, the editor received a letter which read: "Print this if you dare. I am trying an experiment. I have a field of corn which I plowed on Sunday. I planted it on Sunday. I did all the cultivating on Sunday. I gathered the harvest on Sunday and hauled it to my barn on Sunday. I find that my harvest this October is just as great as any of my neighbors who went to church on Sunday. So where was God all this time?" The editor printed the letter, but added his reply at the bottom: "Your mistake lies in thinking that God always settles his accounts in October." We who believe in the power of prayer often wrongly think that our persevering prayers will force God to act when and how we want Him to act, according to our timetable and according to our desire.

Today’s readings are mainly about perseverance in prayer. In the first reading, Moses, after sending Joshua to fight against the Amalekites, is presented as making tireless intercessions with constancy for the victory of Israel’s army. Both Moses and the widow in this gospel story teach us how we should pray in time of urgency.
In the first reading the urgency is more obvious, for if there is not a speedy resolution, then there is defeat. Amalek has come to wage war against Israel, and Israel must defend itself then and there. To wait is simply to allow oneself to be slaughtered. There also seems to be a degree of urgency in the widow's plea for a just decision against her adversary. She does not seem to be able or willing to wait for the judge to take action in his time. She wants resolution now. Her persistence was a very public event and the entire community witnessed the widow’s repeated encounters with the judge. By publicly badgering the judge every day, the woman was trying to shame this shameless person. Finally the unjust judge was forced to yield. There are no hopeless situations; there are only people who have grown hopeless about their situations.
Two frogs fell into a bowl of deep cream.They tried every way to get out of there, but could not. One was wise, and cheery. The other one took a gloomy view and resigned to its fate and drowned without trying. The merry frog said: "I can't get out, but I won't give in; I'll swim around till my strength is spent, then I will die more content." And as he swam, his struggling began to churn the cream and finally a layer of butter was formed and he was able to hop out stepping on the layer of butter. Success is for those who persevere in their effort. Constancy in prayer is faith in action which leads to success.

The early Christians found themselves in such an apparently hopeless predicament. Soon after Jesus left them they found themselves persecuted and oppressed by the Jewish religious hierarchy. What encouraged them to endure the persecution was their belief that the Second Coming of the Lord was soon to take place. They believed it would coincide with the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. But when in AD 70 Jerusalem fell and the Temple was destroyed yet Jesus was nowhere to be seen, the Christians found themselves in a big crisis of faith. Have they hoped in vain? Will the Lord ever come back to reestablish justice, to vindicate the innocent and put their enemies to shame? Should they continue hoping and resisting the injustice of their oppressors or should they just join them since they can't beat them? In other words, the early Christians found themselves in the situation of this widow who, without her husband, her lord, had to wage a campaign of passive resistance against injustice and oppression without knowing when it might come to an end. That is why the parable ends with the words of reassurance and a probing question: And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth? (Luke 18:7-8)

The practical implication of the parable for daily Christian living is given, namely that we "ought always to pray and not lose heart" (verse 1). Prayer expresses our hope and nourishes our faith. If we only pray when we feel like it, or when we are facing a crisis, we will never be constant in prayer - our prayer will depend on our mood. But then we will never develop that mature confidence in God that makes us spiritually strong, wise, and solid. We will remain spiritual infants - crying when we want something, and oblivious to God when we don't.
Just as the judge would not have acted unless the widow had pleaded with him, God also has decided to make his graces depend (at least in part) upon our prayers. "Ask, and it will be given to you," our Lord pointed out earlier (Luke 11:9). "Search and you will find..."

Sometimes our lack of confidence in God comes from not understanding why he sometimes delays answering our prayers.
Why does he delay?
There is no reluctance on God's side. It is about us. We do often ask God for things out of mere politeness and for the sake of good form. In the ‘Prayers of the Faithful’ at Mass, especially, we slip easily into this. The very things we prayed for yesterday, thinking they would make us comfortable were not really things we needed for our life. So we have to ask many times before we know what we want, or before we know with our whole being that we want it. Would I go through fire and water for it? If not, I don’t really want it; I would like it but I don’t want it. If I really wanted it, God would give it immediately, granting that it was God's providence for me.

God doesn't want us to become spoiled children. Spoiled children get everything they ask for right when they ask for it. And as a result, they don't value anything they get. Human nature tends to value what it has to work for. This also applies to our spiritual life. God wants to give us spiritual gifts, lasting, transforming, eternally valuable spiritual gifts, but he won't give them to us until we are ready to receive them.

And sometimes, getting ready means growing in the awareness of our need for God's help. And there's no better way to do that than to have God delay in giving us what we ask for. In other words, the more we pray for what we need, the humbler we become, and the humbler we become, the more spiritual gifts God can pour into our hearts.
St Augustine explained it like this: Suppose you want to fill some sort of bag, and you know the bulk of what you will be given, you stretch the bag or the sack or whatever it is. You know how big the object that you want to put in is, and you see that the bag is narrow, so you increase its capacity by stretching it. In the same way, by delaying the fulfillment of desire God stretches it, by making us desire, he expands the soul, and by this expansion he increases its capacity. God sees time whole, and, therefore, only God knows what is good for us in the long run. That is why Jesus said that we must never be discouraged in prayer. Instead we have to leave the answer to God’s decision saying, “Thy will be done.”

Persistent prayer reshapes our hearts to God's original design. Such prayer does not change God; instead, it changes us. Sincere and persistent prayer makes us ready to accept His will. In Priests for the Third Millennium, Bishop Timothy Dolan observes that prayer must become like eating and breathing. We have to eat daily, not stock up on food on Monday, and then take off the rest of the week. Do we take ten deep breaths and say, “Good, that’s over for a while, I won’t have to breathe for a couple of hours?” No. SO our prayer also should be regular and constant.
Some times God fulfills our needs in ways we haven’t even dreamed of.
There was a good lady who lived next door to an atheist. Everyday, when the lady prayed, the atheist guy could hear her. He thought to himself, "She sure is crazy, praying all the time like that. Doesn't she know there is no GOD!" Many times while she was praying, he would go to her house and harass her, saying, "Lady, why do you pray all the time? Don't you know there is no GOD!" But she kept on praying.

One day, she ran out of groceries. As usual, she was praying to the Lord explaining her situation and thanking Him for what He was going to do. As usual, the atheist heard her praying and thought to himself, "Humph...I'll fix her. He put a bag of groceries at her door and waited behind the bush to see what the lady would do. The next morning as the lady opened the door she found the groceries and said: O Lord, thank you for sending me these groceries. Immediately the atheist guy came out of the bush and proclaimed, it is not God who sent it to you, I put it here for you. See I told you there is no God. The lady shouted again Alleluiah, thank you God not only for sending these groceries and but you made Satan to pay for them.

God is intimately present in all the turmoil and terror of life, vindicating those who cry out in faith. God is, in fact, with us, even before the cry for help leaves our mouth. God is present, experiencing our pain and distress, and Jesus is the guarantee. Let us ask God today to make us strong in our faith, unwavering in our hope, and persistent in our prayer.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

XXVIIth Sunday in Ordinary time

XXVII SUNDAY HAB.1:2-3; 2:2-4; II TIM 1:6-8, 13-14;: LUKE 17: 5-10

The story is told of a man who fell off a mountain cliff. Half-way down the cliff he succeeds in grabbing a branch of a tree. There he is, dangling on the branch, unable to pull himself up yet knowing that by letting go of the branch he would definitely fall to his death. Suddenly the man gets an idea. He looks up to heaven and shouts, “Is anyone up there?” A voice comes from heaven, “Yes, I am here. I am the Lord. Do you believe in me?” The man shouts back, “Yes, Lord, I believe in you. I really believe. Please help me.” The Lord says, “All right! If you really believe in me you have nothing to worry about. I will save you. Now let go of the branch.” The man thinks about it for a moment and then shouts back, “Is anyone else up there?”
Is the man in the story a believer? O course he believes that God exists. He believes in the power of prayer. He believes that God is able to help him and save him from his predicament. But he does not take God on His word. Many of us laugh at the story because we can recognize ourselves in this man. We believe in God, but when the going gets tough and things do not work out as we expect we take matters into our own hands or look for help elsewhere. We believe, yes; but we are people of little faith
The apostles too were men of little faith. They believe in Jesus and follow him, but when they see the soldiers approaching in the garden of Gethsemane they abandon Jesus and flee. They are men of little faith. The big difference between us and the apostles is that whereas we often see ourselves as keeping the faith all right, the apostles see themselves as men of deficient faith. They know their faith lacks something.
In response to the request of the apostles to increase their faith, Jesus tells them the parable about the unprofitable servant who comes back from plowing the field and proceeds straight away to prepare supper for his master and to wait on him while he eats. Only after the master’s needs are fully satisfied does the master then give the servant leave to attend to his own need for food and rest. How does this parable answer the request of the apostles for an increase of faith. Jesus is saying that if we have mature faith we would put the will and pleasure of God first in our lives at all times. If we have faith we will not grumble and complain that we have been working for God all day long, now we are tired and it is God’s turn to attend to our needs. Rather we will forget ourselves and work ourselves to death in God’s service, knowing that God will come to our aid when and how He deems right.
Faith for my deliverance is not faith in God. Faith means, whether I am delivered now or not, I will stick to my belief that God loves and cares for me. This is the mistake of the young man caught in the mountain cliff. He has faith in his own deliverance, not in God’s infinite power to save and His unfailing love for him. God’s unconditional love for us demands only one proper response from us, our unconditional love and service of God. So many of us Christians today believe that true and mature faith consists in our ability to obtain miracles from God. The truth that today’s gospel shows us is that mature faith consists not in how much God attends to our immediate needs but in how willing we are to serve God unconditionally, without counting the cost.
Faith is believing and trusting in God. Faith is like a muscle, you have to exercise it every day to make it strong. My faith will grow stronger if I exercise it by trusting in God each and every day. Faith is not faith if kept in reserve for emergencies. Faith is lived daily and shapes the way we think and behave. It is about receptivity to God's presence in our daily lives and it is seen in our faithful behaviour.
The size of faith doesn’t matter because God is the one doing the moving. If it is my faith that moved the mountain, then the bigger the mountain the more faith I would need to move it. The bigger the obstacle the more strength I’d need to climb it. The more serious the illness, a faith even greater would be required to overcome it. The more serious the sin the more faith I would need in order to have it forgiven. That kind of thinking, kind of makes sense, but that’s not how faith works. In fact, faith doesn’t do the work at all. God is the one doing the work through faith. Think of faith as the key that opens the door to God acting in our lives. If I have a bigger key ring than you do, does it matter? The size of a key ring doesn’t matter – key rings don’t open doors but it’s that little key on the ring that opens doors. Even a little faith opens the door for God to move the mountains and trees and even our hearts. That little faith is the little opening for God to enter our life to do the work in our life.

Here Jesus cautions us that it is the quality of faith rather than the quantity of faith that needs to be increased. That is why Jesus compares faith to a tiny mustard seed – a living thing whose power does not depend on its size, but on its life principle that is hidden deep within itself. Unless we understand this distinction, we run the risk of deceiving ourselves. We can easily end up thinking that the more prayers we say, the more faith we have. Or that the more good works we do, the stronger our faith becomes.
Faith is more like life itself. It is something that can grow in a qualitative sense and become deeper, richer and more fruitful. Faith is more than praying with bowed heads and clasped hands.

St. Paul tells us: "Bear your share of hardships which the gospel entails with the strength that comes from God." This is because it is in the fire of affliction that our faith is best tested. The book of Job bear testimony to this. It is this faith that can draw out the poison that is in every sorrow and quench the fire in every pain. Only with such faith can we trust the past to the mercy of God, the present to his love and the future to his providence.

It does not follow that faith will give us the power to literally move trees. But faith will give us power to cope with difficulties and attempt great things for the Lord. It is the power to persevere through difficulties, the power that comes from knowing that our Father is in charge.

The Responsorial Psalm we heard today gives us one sure way to activate the power of faith: "If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart."
Faith is practical. If we believe in God's wisdom, love, and power, we will obey him. We will follow where he leads. And he is always leading us somewhere - always making his voice heard. The most common way he does so is through our conscience. Our conscience is like an inner radio station that is always tuned to God's voice. But it's not the only station out there, and, unfortunately, it's not always the loudest. Sometimes we turn up the station of peer pressure and fashion really loud, or the station dedicated to self-indulgence, irresponsible pleasure, and other soothing but deadening sounds. The sounds that we usually hear loud and clear these days is the sound of death. Pronouncing death for defenseless for one’s easy comfort. Today is respect for life Sunday. Our faith demands respecting life in all its forms. At least 25,000 innocent lives are taken everyday the world over. We feel terribly over the loss of 4000 lives on 9/11; Six million lives by Nazis during world War II. We condemn them. But the most contemptible atrocity ever done on human lives is committed or being committed in these decades by promoting abortion. Does that pain me at all ? Do I condemn that ? If not, I don’t live my faith. Even though I may call myself a Catholic, I don’t believe what the Lord teaches me- to protect the life of the defenseless. President Reagan said: I have noticed that all who are for abortion are already been born. The un-borns can not speak for themselves. So it is the duty of those already born and living, to stand for the right to life of the unborn. Jesus said: I have come that you may have life, life in abundance. And he also said that the thief/Satan comes to steal and kill. So those who are up for abortion are Satan’s agents. Jesus is truly a liberating force. He liberates us from all that endangers our life.

This seventh is the feast of the our Lady of Holy Rosary whose intercession led to the defeat of the advancing Muslims on the Medittaranean Christian countries in the 1500s. Let’s pray to her that blinding scales from the eyes of all the spiritually blind may fall off, so that they may see the value of human life as God’s precious gift. That they may see that procured abortion, Euthanasia, Suicide, Doctor- assisted suicide, embryo destruction for scientific experiments are all evil in themselves which are to be avoided as children of God.