The most important day of my life was when I was baptized, because on that day my relationship with God and the Church was solidified. How happy a day, because in a world full of brokenness, violence, sadness, war, death, we always have the chance to be grateful that we have been given this eternal relationship with God. And whether it is Naaman or the leper who came back to Jesus, both teach us about the importance of thanking God, especially for what we might too easily take for granted. What are you grateful for today? Take a moment and tell God about it.
There are events that can shake one to the core. On Tuesday, one former student was shot by police. Another was a homicide victim. I knew them both. I taught them. I served two parishes there. It is one thing to hear about a shooting far away. It is quite another when the people are known. When something like this happens, how is it that people get through it? I’m suggesting with each other and with God.
Today’s gospel from Luke continues lessons on the topic of prayer, which we have been focused upon this week. The emphasis today is about the power of perseverance, which might seem to be undone by the words at the end of the gospel which can be seen as suggesting prayer is really easy. “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” But the rub is that while the one who asks, receives, they may get something different than what they asked for. The one who seeks might find what they did not expect. The one who knocks may find the door opens to a different place. But prayer is first and foremost about Jesus. And by asking, seeking, knocking, we know we are never alone.
I have been dreading the upcoming election season in the United States. I worry that the horrible way we are treating each other will get worse. As I consider a world where there is too much violence, where too often we retreat into our tribes and groups, that once again we will fail to be civil. And it is not just society. There is incivility in the Church, in fact, just about everywhere. What would happen if we made a decision to listen, to dialogue, and to get to know others we do not agree with? Let’s give it a try.
Today we have two readings that are quite different, and yet are interesting in the way in which they tell similar things about God. We have probably heard both before. The prophet Jonah is told by God to go to Nineveh, which at one time was the largest city in the world. Jonah does not want to go. In fact, he heads in the opposite direction. Martha and Mary are mentioned in more than one gospel. This story is probably familiar to us as well. Martha, the good hostess, is doing many things related to hospitality. Mary spends her time listening to the words of Jesus. Both Martha and Jonah become upset because Mary and Nineveh are not doing what they want them to do. Martha wants hospitality help and Jonah wants Nineveh to be destroyed. In the end, they both learn that they must allow God to be God.
Servais-Théodore Pinckaers, OP, a Dominican friar and moral theologian made an important distinction in the moral law. He contrasted the concept of license (we can do whatever we want) with purposeful choices that sometimes limit our license for a greater good. Parents who attend to their sick children in the middle of the night, even though the parents might prefer to remain sleeping, become an example of the second type of freedom — one that actually makes us more free. When we make the decision to follow Jesus throughout our lives, we may find ourselves being asked to limit our choices in some way, but we do so for the greater good of the eternal relationship with Jesus. In today’s first reading, the people hear the reading of the Law, which had the purpose of helping people to live a holy life. Yet, we can find even ourselves failing in sin. Our relationship with Jesus provides us with the means to be forgiven for sin, and because of God’s grace to strive ever more fully to embrace his way of life.
Life is pretty hard. Most people, probably all, have moments of difficulty. A loved one dies. A spouse becomes ill. A friend goes through a difficult time. A relative struggles to find a job. People in countries far away and down the street struggle with violence. Others are ravaged by poverty. There is no shortage of evil, difficulties and sin. And when these things happen, we can question how it is that God allows such suffering and difficulty. Yet God the Father sent his Son Jesus to die for our sins. To become one of us, to share in the experience of evil. And so when we find ourselves suffering because of sin, disease, evil, violence, poverty or suffering, we can rest assured we are not alone. Saint Therese of Lisieux, the saint we celebrate today, lost her mother at a very young age, and her oldest sister, who cared for her like a mother, died before Therese became an adult. Yet in the midst of this loss, she found the love of God, a love so powerful that even though she had never left Europe, she became the patron saint of the missions. She thanked God for helping her to love. We must know we are never alone, and in all our suffering we are always in the presence of God.
Notice. Notice Jesus. Notice Jesus in the poor. Notice Jesus in the person who really makes you angry at work. Notice Jesus in the person who is all alone. This is the message we see in the story of Lazarus today. How many times did the rich man walk by Lazarus? How many times did he see Lazarus in need by fail to take action? There would always be another time. There would always be tomorrow. I can always help Lazarus. This was true for the rich man until it was not. Take notice of Jesus today.
He kept trying to see him. Even King Herod, who was not really a very good person, at least in the actions we see him commit, was quite intrigued by Jesus. He did not really know what to make of Jesus, but he was intrigued enough to try to see him. It is the same Herod who felt the attraction of the words of John the Baptist. At some point, Herod could have made a life-changing decision. He could have come to believe in Jesus by submitting to God. But kings do not always submit. We might say the Herod was intrigued by the idea of a relationship with God, but could not bring himself to have such a relationship. Do we do the same? Or do we seek in our own lives not only to be attracted to Jesus, but to follow him?
Mary the mother of Jesus is never identified by name in the gospel of John. And while today’s gospel comes from the gospel of Luke, the message remains: we give the Mother of God such reverence first and foremost because of her tremendous faith. She trusted God. She believed in God. There were days like today in the gospel where she might have wondered about whether or not she was on the right track. But in all of this, her faith, her example, her life, all these things were ordered to God in a way that helped her to understand and know what was most important. May it be the same for each one of us.