Friday, July 23, 2010

Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

St. HENRY CHURCH 7/25/04

Genesis 18: 20-32 Colossians 2: 12-14 Luke 11: 1-13

Prayer! Abraham had a direct, forward, no-holds-barred
conversation with God.
And Jesus teaches those of us who have trouble
striking up a conversation with God
a more formal way to pray in a monologue.

Jesus’ formula goes something like this:
We pray that God’s name be hallowed,
In this we express our own reverence for God.
We also include our own subservience to God,
that we wish to be in his kingdom,
not that we demand that God be in our kingdom,
This is what might be called the praise part
of Jesus’ formula for prayer.
Abraham included this element of subservience in his prayer:
“See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord,
though I am but dust and ashes.”

Then we get to the petition part, the asking part.
We ask that we be given our daily bread
that we be forgiven our sins, as we forgive others,
and that we not be put to the final test.
Abraham petitioned;
he asked for mercy for the innocent of Sodom.

There is third segment to prayer: our listening for the answer.
Certainly Abraham listened to God’s answers;
One can tell that from the progression of Abraham’s petitions:
First 50? Yes. Then 45? Yes. Then 35? And so on.

Listening for the answer to our prayers!
That begs the question, “Does God answer our prayers?”
It seems that Abraham had it pretty easy,
He heard God’s voice directly with the answers.
We are not so lucky to hear God’s voice
with immediate answers to our prayers of petition.

I dare to say that each of us can recall an instance
where we have prayed for something
and not found our prayer answered with what we wanted.
It may have been something major
like a new job that didn’t come through,
or a cure for an illness
that eventually took the life of a loved one.
I had prayed that my mother’s
Parkinson’s Disease would be cured.
It only progressed further.
Or it may have been something minor that we prayed for:
a victory in a basketball game,
a new car,
a date for the prom,
times when we knocked and that door seemed to remain closed,
prayer without an answer.

The latter part of today’s Gospel is Jesus’ teaching
on how God answers our prayers.
Understanding this latter part can help us
to tune our ears to hear God’s answers to our prayers.
During a previous assignment at a parish with a school
at one of the school Masses, the passage that states:
“Ask and you shall receive. Seek and you will find.
Knock and it shall be opened to you”
was in the Gospel, probably Matthew’s version.
After reading the Gospel,
I walked down in the aisle among the 5th through 8th graders
and said, “It sounds pretty simple.
Whatever you want just ask God for it,
and it will be given to you. That’s what it said.”
I looked over at one of the fifth graders;
she had this disagreeing look on her face,
and was shaking her head.
I said, “You mean it’s not that simple?”
She just nodded her head in agreement.
It’s not that simple; and yet it is that simple.


*In today’s Gospel passage “God” is always referred to as “Father.”
Our God is there for us not as a power-figure,
but as One who loves us as a father loves his children.
as One who has our greatest well-being in mind,
One who seeks to have us become
all that we are meant to become.

Many of us as parents and all of us as children
have experienced “No”
to requests for things WANTED most,
for things we perceive as being NEEDED to live –
that new bike, car, dress, or computer.
And so it is also that God, at times,
says “no” to what we WANT,
even when it seems we NEED it to survive.
I really WANTED my mother to get better;
it would have meant a lot less trial and tribulation for me.
It would have made my life simpler; I NEEDED that.

Jesus states that a father would never give his children scorpions when they ask for eggs;
neither would a father give his child a scorpion
when the child asks for a scorpion.
You might say that our getting the answer we want,
is all in what we ask for.
Jesus tells us what to ask for:
our daily bread
(which actually means enough bread to get us through this day)
the forgiveness of sins,
and strength in the hour of temptation.

Basically, Jesus is teaching us to pray for those things
we really NEED in life –
what we NEED for life in this world and for the world to come.

It is not that the Lord is saying
that the WANTS of life are not important;
but the Lord is saying that the NEEDS of life
have a greater precedence over the WANTS of life.
God is always faithful
in making sure we have what we need -
what we need in order to share in divine life, in eternal life.
God will give us anything and everything we need
to become what we are meant to become, one with him.
The answer to my prayer was whatever it was that I need
to be able to deal with my mother’s Parkinson’s Disease
in a Christ-like manner.
Each of us in our own lives, if we reflect long enough,
should be able to see that,
when it appeared that God did not answer our prayer,
he in fact did answer it, and the answer was
“No, but I will give you what you really need
in the big picture of things.”


How God answers our prayers can be found in the statement,
“your kingdom come.”
To pray for God’s kingdom to come
is to pray that each of us will live according to the will of God.
God answers our prayers through our submitting to God’s will
AND through others who submit themselves to his will.
It didn’t read, “Give ME each day MY daily bread.”
“Forgive ME MY sins.
as I forgive everyone in debt to ME.”
It’s not just about me and God;
it is also about me and my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Could it be that God intends to answer our prayers
through the actions of other people?
What if THEY choose not to cooperate?
Could it be that God is answering other people’s prayers
through us and our actions?
What if WE choose not to cooperate?
Is it then a case of God not answering our prayers,
or a case of our not responding to God’s answer?

God is always answering with what we need,
seeking to “give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”
It is only through the Holy Spirit
that we are able to respond to God’s answer to our prayers.

Here’s a little treatise I found on God’s answers to prayers
and some of his expected responses:

**I asked God to take away my pride, and God said no.
He said it was not for him to take away, but for me to give up.

I asked God to make a handicapped child whole, and God said no.
He said her spirit is whole. Her body is only temporary.

I asked God to grant me patience, and God said no.
He said that patience is a by-product of tribulation.
It isn’t granted. It’s earned.

I asked God to give me happiness, and God said no.
He said he gives blessings. Happiness is up to me.

I asked God to spare me pain, and God said no.
He said suffering draws you away from worldly care
and brings you closer to him.

I asked God to make my spirit grow, and God said no.
He said that I must grow on my own.
But I will be in heaven someday because I believe.

I asked God to help me love others as much as he loves me.
God said, “Ah, at last. You finally have the idea.”

I now pray that I can do in love for Christ
and for my brothers and sisters
whatever is needed for them.

May we each seek God’s gracious gift of the Holy Spirit,
accept the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives
and grow in God’s love for us
and our love for each other.

* Middle portion adapted from Homily by Jeffrey Kemper at the Athenaeum Preaching Website for 17th Sunday in OT Year C, July 25,2004

** Taken form “A World of Stories for Teachers and Preachers” by Willima J. Bausch #68 P 213.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Deacon Jerry Franzen Cathedral 7/18/10
Genesis 18: 1-10a Colossians 1: 24 - 28 Luke 10: 38-42

Last week the Good Samaritan, today Martha and Mary,
two familiar stories, very different, yet connected.
The Good Samaritan is the prime example of Christianity in action,
stepping up, going out of his way to help
while others passed by the injured person, did nothing.
Today we have Martha trying to be that disciple of action,
while her seemingly lazy sister, Mary,
just makes herself comfortable at Jesus’ feet.
Jesus affirmed Mary’s choice, and, in the words of my students,
Jesus told Martha to “chill.”

We all know of Marthas and Marys.
The Marthas get things done in a timely fashion
and in good order.
They are the ones rushing around, filling in where necessary.
Volunteer organizations depend on Marthas,
Parishes can function to their fullest extent only because of Marthas.
In a suburb of Chicago,
there is the parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Peace.
At one time there were so many things going on in that parish,
that some called it the parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Motion.
Undoubtedly this parish has more than its fair share of Marthas.

And we all know of the Marys.
They are distinguished by their inaction, often labeled as lazy.

Who did Jesus seem to side with
when Martha challenged him to correct Mary’s behavior?
It was Mary.
Jesus said that she had chosen the better part.
How do we understand this – where do we fit in this story?

I thought that we were to be like Martha, looking out for others,
trying to do what is needed,
using the gifts and talents God has given each of us.
Obviously that’s not the whole answer.
What is Jesus teaching us here?


This story of Martha and Mary
reminds me of one of my experiences of Work Camp.
For a number of years St. Paul and St. Henry Parishes’
youth ministry programs sponsored a summer activity
called “Work Camp.”
Adults and high school youth from these parishes went to the Prestonsburg, KY neighborhood to serve the needy.
I was fortunate to participate in this activity five times.
The group was spread out over about seven work sites.
We painted houses, built porches and wheelchair ramps, replaced roofs, laid carpet, installed windows, repaired floors, installed bathrooms. You name it we did it.
Incidentally, we worked out of St. Martha’s parish facilities in Prestonsburg.
On the surface it was five days of being in the role of Martha.
But there was a totally different element below the surface.
We were each there to grow.

We, adults and students alike, learned that we could do things
we never thought that we were capable of doing.
We learned from each other.
We also learned from the people we served;
we learned about their ways of life in Appalacia,
and about their impressions of us and our impressions of them.
At the various work sites there was always a certain tension
between the desire to serve and the need to learn.

“Don’t stop to talk to the owner of the house, we have work to do.
Don’t let that tenager measure the board;
have an adult do it so it is done correctly the first time.
Here, I know how to do that; let me do it”
As a work crew leader,
at times I was far too focused on getting the project done;
it was the Martha in me.

On the last day the whole group visited each of the work sites.
One year I was fortunate enough to visit the site of the house of Ocie Puckett.
The whole group managed to drive back to the end of the “holler” where she lived.
There was Ocie in the one dress that she owned,
so happy to see all of us.
She invited us all in to see the handiwork of the repairs to her house,
and to get a drink of water from her well.
And, as we did at each site each day,
we prayed with the owner before we left.
This was no minor event with Ocie.
She got down on her knees in the mud and led the prayer.
She prayed for everybody, her neighbors, the group gathered, the soul of her departed husband, the prisoners in jail, etc.
I seemed that no one was left out.
It was an experience of “sitting at the feet of Jesus” - for me to learn.


Tension between serving and learning.
That is the essence of today’s Gospel.
Martha’s desire to serve the Lord,
and Mary’s desire to learn from the Lord.
And Jesus said that Mary had chosen the better part.
Why? Because service without the proper reflection,
service without the frame of faith
is just rushing around doing things.

On a very practical level, one might put it this way:
You cannot provide for another’s needs,
unless you have learned of their difficulties –
unless you have listened to them.
It’s a matter of “first things first.”
A doctor cannot diagnose and prescribe treatment
without having listened
to the patient’s symptoms and complaints.
In a way, Jesus was telling Martha
that she could not serve him well,
unless she had listened to what it was
that he really wanted her to do.


The same is true for each of us.
We must first listen and continually listen to God,
to the words of Sacred Scripture,
to discern what it is that God wants us to do.
At each Sunday liturgy we sit at the feet of Jesus,
to learn how to serve him.
It is the time for us to discern whether
God is telling us to make some major changes
in the ways that we serve him.
Maybe God is calling you to a vocation to the priesthood,
diaconate or the religious life.
Maybe God is telling you
that you would be a valuable volunteer
at one of the social service agencies.
Maybe God is asking you to step out of your comfort zone,
do something totally beyond your perceived abilities.
But it doesn’t end here at this liturgy.
God came to Martha and Mary in the person of Jesus.

God also comes to us in the persons around us also,
and we must listen to God through them.
We all know that listening to another person can be difficult.
We often hear without really listening.
Our listening must be active listening, listening with learning.
Listening for God’s message in what others say
requires even more attention,
because we must discern that it truly is God
speaking to us through others.

The tension between serving and learning,
between acting and listening
is also a tension between giving and receiving.
Receiving is more difficult; it makes one beholden to the giver.
It cuts away our independence and validates our dependence.
Giving is power in recognizing the need of another.
The Marthas of the world can be so busy
doing good and necessary things
that they don’t realize how frequently and deeply
they themselves stand in need.
Jesus reminds us that rather than be distracted with much service
and be anxious and troubled about many things,
we would do well to stop and listen.
Eventually I realized that my Work Camp experience
was a lesson in stopping and listening,
a lesson in receiving rather than giving.

What we do here today -
our prayers, aloud and private, our singing on or off key -
our postures of standing, sitting and kneeling -
our reading, preaching and presiding -
our gathering as a community, our receiving Jesus within us-
these things are not what we do for Jesus,
to make him comfortable, to entertain him.
We do all of these things,
because they are our way of “sitting at the feet of Jesus.”
to receive from him the means of grace and the hope of glory.