Sunday, October 9, 2016

Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 16, 2016

First Reading Commentary
We're all familiar with battles whether they influence us personally or our faith or our country or perhaps even have a worldly impact. The hands of Moses raised speaks to the human heart and says: "Lord, I offer this trial up to You - I trust You."  The Polish words which appear on the Divine Mercy image are: Jezu, Ufam Tobie (Jesus, I Trust in You). 
A rare television interview with then, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, aired on September 5, 2003.  He was asked his opinion of the root causes of the priestly abuse crisis.  What Cardinal Ratzinger identified as a specific element is a weakness of faith.  He said: "I think the essential point is the weakness of faith, because only if I am really in confidence personally with the Lord; if the Lord is for me, not an idea, but the Person of my deepest friendship; if I know personally the Lord and be in contact of love everyday in the Lord, if for me, faith is the reality.  It is the ground of my life; it is a most sure reality, and not some possibility - in this case, if I am really convinced and really in contact of love with the Lord, the Lord will help me in these temptations and I can even win what seems impossible." 
As human beings, we're weak enough as it is, but to make little to no effort to draw closer to our Lord Who loves us beyond our capacity to understand, then that can certainly make us a target for unthinkable evil.  But as Aaron and Hur supported Moses, so are we here for each other living out the Christian ideal. 
Jesus came to us through Mary; and it's not a bad idea to return the favor.  Simeon was in ecstasy when Jesus was presented to him in the temple through the arms of Mary.  John the Baptist leaped in the womb of his mother Elizabeth when the Presence of Jesus was detected in the womb of Mary.  At the wedding feast of Cana water was miraculously changed into wine by Jesus at the request of Mary.  Saint Alphonsus Liguori said: "Just as the vine in flower puts to flight serpents, so does the name of Mary force back the legions of hell." 
God's love is immense but not intrusive; He cannot force Himself upon us because that wouldn't be a loving act.  Evil's desire for us is usually done through means of deception and in some cases is compelling.  And perhaps this is why Scripture is so adamant about the dangers of being lukewarm.  Saint Paul instructs: "Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.  Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer" (Romans 12:11-12).  And an even more powerful and apocalyptic passage in Scripture on the topic of being lukewarm is: "Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will begin to vomit you out of My Mouth" (Revelation 3:16).  Buts arms raised in prayer daily is our initiative and drive to stay intimately close to our Lord.
Second Reading Commentary
Prayer and doing the work of the Lord is certainly a great way to stay close to Him.  But perhaps the most critical time for prayer is when you don't feel like it.  Jesus has done so much for us; why shouldn't we be inconvenienced for Him, especially when considering something as serious as the health of the soul?  Skipping prayer time is a natural, human desire to avoid inconvenience.  Passing on God's sustaining Presence and words, however, could leave one open for something far less desirable even when the mind is duped into believing that a particular temptation would be time well spent and perhaps more fun. 
Saint Paul promotes the value of Scripture which, of course, in his day would have been the Old Testament.  There's no reason to think, however, that Paul is suggesting that Scripture alone would suffice.  Elsewhere Paul is quite clear about what else is a key ingredient: "Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught" (2 Thessalonians 2:15) – and - Paul also refers to the Church as the pillar and foundation of truth (cf. 1 Timothy 3:15).  A healthy, balanced spiritual diet, then, is Scripture and Tradition as it is revealed and interpreted by the Christ-given authority of the Church.
Gospel Commentary
Praying constantly for the same need can be frustrating.  It's not that God doesn't hear us the first time, or the second time, or the hundredth time.  Our Lord has every intention of answering our prayers.  Knowing that He loves us beyond comprehension, patience and faithfulness are needed, believing that God's time is better than our time.  Certainly Saint Monica could attest to this as she prayed seventeen years for the conversion of her son.  And how were her prayers finally answered?  The Church was given the great Saint Augustine.  Certainly there has to be some discernment on our part when praying for the same need over and over; but surely praying for someone's conversion is a worthy prayer.  Jesus' parable about the need to pray always is pertinent for each and every one of us.  Saint Thérèse of Lisieux once said that no more than three minutes ever went by without her thinking of God.  Even a passing thought of God is prayer because it's a constant reminder of our invitation to Him to be ever-present in our lives.  While praying seventeen years for someone's conversion might seem exhausting, in addition to the importance of the prayer itself, the person offering the prayer is also strengthening their personal union with the Lord.  Even on the busiest of busy days, pausing frequently to acknowledge God's Presence is a beautiful prayer and takes only a matter of seconds to do. 
In the final verse Jesus asks the question: "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?"  This question can be applied not only to Christ's Second Coming but also to our own personal last breath.  Prayer requires faith which produces an ever-growing love and knowledge of Jesus.  To pray often is to seek a stronger bond of love as well as a greater desire to know Him very intimately.  When the Son of Man comes will He find faith?  When applied to our own final heartbeat, perhaps a more personal way of asking this question is: When I meet the Son of Man face-to-Face, will I already be well-acquainted with Him?