Today, Malachi and Luke talk of coming days, death, the end of the temple, wars, insurrections, even the end of nations and the fighting of nations. The earth itself will suffer quakes, plagues, and famines. Look back in history and all these things have occurred in the past centuries and in every lifetime and generation. Rejection and persecution of believers has occurred throughout history, even at the time of Christ’s birth if we recall the innocent children slaughtered by Herod. Christ himself suffered rejection and persecution and even experienced betrayal and felt abandoned.
Christ said these were signs of the times, and yes they are. They are signs in all times of the fallen nature of humanity. What age or country or century has eliminated these times and signs from the world? What victory has ever given peace to the world? Was there ever a time that a true Christian was immune from ridicule, rejection, whether from family, friends, or a state or country. Has sin been removed from the world?
Keep in mind that each day is new, but the last was an end. Each moment is an end time where someone will not face another. Each of us faces an end time whether it be days or years. The signs are there for us to see. Christ says these things are bound to happen not just at the end of all times but in every time. God is a God of Love, certainly not a human being, and so we must realize he is not subject to anger and other emotions. Sin and evil come from the freedom his creatures receive and abuse. God loves and forgives and embraces all who ultimately reach out to him. Punishment or being cut off from God is what we do by the choices and things that we do.
The sign of our times at the moment are not far from Malachi and Luke today. As Christians we are called to witness Christ’s message of love, forgiveness, healing and the life of Jesus Christ. We have all put on Christ, now is the time to step up and be the light of the world. Jesus said: “Follow Me.”
The story of the Pharisee and the tax collector is one we have heard often over time. It is paired with the reading from Sirach about God as a just judge, looking out for everyone and Paul in Timothy explaining how he gave his life to the Lord. If we turn to the gospel story, we first should realize that the Pharisee was not a bad person. All the acts and sacrifices he describes are good works and even expected of someone of his place in society. Yet, in the end Jesus criticized the Pharisee because of where he was and what he said. His prayer is full of “I’s”. His concern is for himself, his well-being, not for others or the community. His list is one of what would be expected of a Pharisee, a form almost of self praise. The tax collector on the other hand, was in a way fearful and acknowledged that as a sinful man he was unworthy. His prayer was to ask for God’s mercy. In the end, Jesus said the tax collector left justified in his prayer. God judges in his own way and time. He is a just judge who knows each of us intimately, knows who we are and how we think. He knows our actions and how we relate to others. He judges us not only on what we are expected to do, but also when we fall short of what we can and should do. It is ironic, that in almost all that we do, we can never reach perfection. In our faith and in our love and actions toward others, we can always fall short. I once had a professor who called it the uneasy conscience of a Christian, always asking and suggesting, “can I do more?” Should we be satisfied saying I did the best I could? Sometimes we must be, while at other times, we just might be called to keep going. In all our lives, everyday brings different and even new things into our lives. How we meet and live our lives meeting new things and people and challenges is how we witness and live our faith. Using our prayer life in a humble, realistic way seeking God’s mercy will lead us also to justification.
Today we are reminded in our readings about prayer and also about being witnesses or preachers of the Word. In a sense, both are difficult to talk about, as it seems today the world is caught up in a constant flow of information and endless streams of people’s thought and hopes and aspirations and these are not always means of a moment of prayer or a chance to witness. Yet, the electronic age is not the answer to the contentment of humanity. If anything it has created difficulties we never envisioned. For example, even in our enlightened age, we run into situations and times that are definitely beyond our control and apart from anything we can do. Illness, life-threatening diseases, even death are in our lives and our only feeling possible is really helplessness or the realization that there is nothing we can do. Really, is that so? How immersed in the times have we become that we forget our Faith. Is anyone of us immune from remembering that Jesus said ask the Father. Life is more than an endless stream of information. Life experience, contemplation, prayer in time of hopelessness and hardship is a normal and ready response. It is what our faith calls us to do. The stories of Moses and of the widow are meant to remind and show us that God hears the prayers of his people, and he cares. Prayer is meant to be a normal thing, a daily thing, a communication with our unseen God who in many ways touches and moves us through life with a helpful guidance leading us to him. Prayer is many faceted and done in many ways, in the silence of our heart, with others, in private, in public, but always in some way God hears and we need to be open to him.
Also in our life of faith we are called to witness to the Word, to Jesus’ teachings throughout his time on earth and through his church which has remained to carry on his message. His Body and Blood present to all of us and our food for eternity is here for all of us to strengthen us and help us to continue to witness and preach his word both in our lives and at times even in our speech and conversations with others. Whatever we do for others, to witness or to just extend what is a show of love and concern is to share the word of Jesus.
This call, this witness we give is often just being who we are. Are we following Jesus, are we being faithful to his word, to his example, to the actual call he has made to all of us? Faith calls us to give witness at all times because we believe.
The parable in today’s gospel reminds us of a few weeks ago when we were introduced to the unjust steward. Today we meet the unjust judge or a man who did not fear God or any human being but was concerned only with himself. As an example of prayer, Jesus introduces the widow who seeks only justice from this judge. The only thing going for this widow was her ongoing persistence to receive what was rightfully hers. In the end, the widow received her judgment because of what might happen to the judge if he refused her. So Jesus says persistence is important in prayer and it will lead to success.
While this story is very encouraging, prayer itself is a difficult thing to address. We see many examples of prayer all around us. Yet what does it mean to pray? One thing prayer is not is a lot of words yet on the other hand words are what we use to communicate. Prayer is really putting ourselves in God’s presence or making ourselves available to him. Through the centuries we see examples of many ways that people pray from the religious and monks in a convent or monastery to people in their daily lives at home or in church, at work, or simply taking a moment aside. What is important is the giving over ourself to God in mind and heart. This giving is helpful for God knows the needs and desires of our heart and life all ready. Faithfulness and persistence is important to him. Miracles and extraordinary things happen in our lives, but most often God looks after us in mundane ordinary ways that just keep us and maintains us day-to-day.
Many years ago, as a young priest, my first assignment was for a summer at a parish which served a large hospital. One thing we did was to take communion to the patients every day and administer whatever sacraments they requested. As you can probably imagine, with the enthusiasm of a new ministry, I visited the people listed as Catholic and the others who were in the same rooms when I met a gentleman who was listed as Catholic but said “no thank you, I want nothing to do with religion, I gave it up years ago”. After visiting I left him, yet I promised to return. After leaving, I met his wife and daughter in the corridor who were surprised he had even talked to me. They said that they had been praying for thirty years for his return to God, but they had given up hope as now he was dying. Well as my time continued, I saw this man each day at least for a short time each day and we talked but still he remained removed from God. On my next to last day that summer, when I greeted him, he said Father, its time. It was then he received all the sacraments he had missed over many years plus the ones to prepare for his dying. The prayers of his family had been answered and that very night he passed on to eternal life. A Miracle? Perhaps. Years of prayer had brought Christ’s love to all of them. Their vision of what they wanted might have been different but in his own way Christ brought them together.
Prayer can be hard because we have this thing about results. Prayer can so seem to be one way communication. Who of us can claim to hear God’s voice. Our prayers are answered such as how we are cared for in one way or another. Our needs are not always satisfied the way we envision but somehow things work out. None of us is guaranteed a direct line to God. Through out history, many of the great mystics and saints tell of aloneness and emptiness of their prayer life. Think of Jesus himself on the cross. He said “Why have you abandoned me?” The thing to remember is that he never abandons us. He is always there listening and looking over us even if we don’t feel it. Often times we won’t see the results of our prayers but much good will come of them for ourselves and for those we pray for.
Today, the readings talk of prayer and communication with God. Prayer can be communal, liturgical or personal. Abraham’s prayer today was in the form of a negotiation or bargaining. Ultimately, he lost when ten righteous people couldn’t be found. Jesus sums up how to pray in what we call the Our Father or Lord’s prayer. We see Luke’s version in the gospel today. Prayer by analogy is often seen as a child asking a parent for one thing or another. The gospel points out that as in human terms persistence counts as God like a parent wants the best for his child. Often this means that what is received is not always what is requested, but ultimately what is best for the person. We all know that not getting what we want is part of growing up and part of the human condition, part of how god cares for us. However, God looks after us and hears and opens the way for us as we go forward, even if the path is unknown.
Personal prayer is communicating with God. In this day and age the idea of communicating is complicated or so we think what with electronics, and Facebook and twitter and all the other social media. Texting even seems to have replaced talking in some people’s reality. Really, how often in our day do we experience silence, the lack of sound other than the human voice? When and where can we best think and express ourself, our thoughts, our wishes and concerns to God. It is something we do in our own self in our own mind. Perhaps in the car, turn off the radio and communicate as we drive in a long commute. Many times in our day at work or at home, why not take a few minutes to lift ourselves up by drawing into ourselves. Prayer is not complicated, but a way to know God by turning our thoughts, our mind and heart to him. We can voice our concerns and wishes and needs and turn them over to him. Like the analogy He listens and in some way will reply if we persist.
As we grow and develop, we will come to see prayer is a way of life, of action, of forgiveness, of doing for others as they do for us. Together we seek and knock and God will always open the doors for those He loves.