Friday, July 23, 2010

Homily / Sermon for the 17th Sunday of the Year (C)

Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. (Luke 11:9)

So does God always answer prayer?

It is a fair question. When we are facing a difficult operation, or a worrying procedure; when a family member is undergoing tests or treatment; when there are disputes at work and someone is being bullied or treated unfairly: we might wonder.
We pray earnestly for world peace, for health and happiness; we offer masses and rosaries and novenas for our children, our grand-children; we pray for vocations, for the poor, for those who suffer from natural disasters: does God hear?
Sometimes it seems that the greedy do best, that dishonesty pays, that the good suffer. Is it really true that God hears and answers all our prayers?
There is of course a simple response to this difficult question: that God’s answers are not our answers, that his will is not our will: “Your will, not mine be done” said Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. And his answer may be Yes - of course. It may be No - this is not my will for you. It may be Not Yet - be patient. All this is certainly true, but perhaps a bit too simple
Perhaps, instead, we are making the wrong petition, or asking the wrong question.
Rather than ask - does God answer prayers, perhaps we should ask, Why do people pray in the first place?
You see, if you think God isn’t there - or it he is he can’t help - you really have to explain why so many people still pray. If prayers don’t get answered, then why do so many people still pray. And why do those who suffer most pray most - and those whose life is most comfortable, pray least?
This question we can answer.
God is not Santa Claus, to whom we send our requests. He is not one of the old deities of the Ancient World, who might be bribed by sacrifice or flattery.
Our petitions come from a much deeper need than just selfish concerns - remember that Jesus said to James and John, “Do you know what you are asking for”
Our yearning to pray comes not so much from our desire for this and that, the shopping list of prayers or petitions, but because we want to bring our whole life to him, our joys and our anxieties, or wishes for ourselves and our cares for others.
It is because we do not feel whole that we come to him for wholeness.
When we pray, we are praying with Jesus on the cross. We are joined with his suffering and his saving. And being in communion with him gives us a deeper satisfaction than the answering of any individual petition.
His love is strength and comfort and courage. His sacrifice is our hope and our salvation. In this life and the next.
That is what we really are asking for, that is what we truly seek: and he opens the door for us.

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