The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Homily: Wednesday 8th Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: Sir 36:1, 4-5a, 10-17 • Psalm 79 • Mk 10:32-45

Prayer has got to be the most unusual form of communication in which we humans engage. In prayer we speak to someone we can’t see or hear…at least we can’t see or hear Him the usual human way, with our eyes and ears. And so one of the first things we discover is that prayer demands both faith and hope, for without them we really couldn’t pray, could we?

And then there’s the object of our prayer. The One to whom we pray is the God who made us, our Creator, who is both omniscient and omnipotent. This makes things even more interesting. Since God knows everything, even our thoughts, we can tell Him nothing He doesn’t already know. And so no prayer ever surprises God.

But still, Jesus tells us, God listens…to every word of every prayer, to every meditative thought turned His way. He even listens to the contemplative, inexpressible yearnings of our hearts. And so, even though God knows everything and can do anything, we still ask Him for anything and everything. And He doesn’t seem to mind. Indeed, Jesus tells us that He actually wants us to do so. He doesn’t even mind when we repeat ourselves and ask for the same thing again and again.

God sure is different from us, isn’t He? If someone tells us something we already know, we’re quickly bored. And if they continue to bore us, we usually make our excuses and leave. And if someone nags us about something, we try to avoid them. If we can’t avoid them, we often give them what they want just to shut them up…just like the corrupt judge in the Gospel parable. But God is different…very different. He takes patience beyond all normal human boundaries. He stays interested and fully involved in even the most uninteresting people and things. In fact, God is so unlike us, so inhuman, He’s… well…He’s downright God-like.

You see, God wants us to know this. He wants us to pay attention to Him, our Creator. He wants us to pray constantly in all that we do. He wants to be uppermost in our minds all of the time. And yet, how many of us actually do these things? How many of us engage in a constant, ongoing personal encounter with God? The Apostles certainly didn’t, at least not before Pentecost. Just read the Gospels and you’ll see. Indeed, we can learn a lot about prayer from the Gospels. Prayer, after all, is really a personal encounter with God, and the Gospels are just one encounter after another.

Today’s reading from Mark is no exception. Did you notice how James and John prayed? Those “Sons of Thunder” knew exactly what they wanted, didn’t they? And they wanted to make sure Jesus knew it as well. How did they put it? "We want you to do whatever we ask of you."

It would seem the brothers had an agenda, one that related directly to their image of themselves. It’s pretty apparent they were concerned not so much with God and His Kingdom, but with themselves. Like most of us, they wanted to sit not at Jesus’ right and left hand, but at the right hand of their own glorious self-image. There’s really no trace of praise in their prayer, no trace of thanksgiving, no adoration, no blessing, no intercession…It’s all petition, isn’t it? And worse, it’s an ego-centric petition; and, sadly, it’s one they don’t even recognize…at least not yet.

That too is interesting, isn’t it? And a little ironic. When they were in Jesus’ presence day in and day out, they recognized nothing. As Jesus remarked, they had eyes but they could not see. It’s only after Jesus leaves them, only after the Holy Spirit enlightens their hearts and minds at Pentecost that they come to understand what God is all about. Until then, James and John must wait to experience the grace needed to recognize the selfish quality of their prayer for what it is. Only then they will come to acknowledge this grace as a basis for mercy.

Yes, brothers and sisters, like James and John, we too are self-absorbed. And this self-absorption affects not only our prayer, but infiltrates every aspect of our lives and ultimately enslaves us. We are slaves, you know. That’s why Christ ransoms us.

Can we accept this fact, and turn to God in praise and thanksgiving? Can we join the Apostles and let the Spirit pray in us and create a thirst for the chalice from which Jesus drinks? Can we accept that, as Christians, as disciples of Jesus, we are baptized in the baptism of Christ's Cross?

Is your individual prayer the gift of yourself with Christ on the Cross? And, don’t forget brothers and sisters, this prayer of ours, this personal encounter with the risen Lord, Jesus Christ, must leads us to serve others in Christ’s name. Our service to those in need must always be the outgrowth of our prayer. Otherwise our prayers are only selfish ramblings, really no prayer at all.

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