17th Sunday Ordinary Time C

A snake or a fish?

On August 6, 1945, Tadashi Hasegama, aged 14, was seated with some schoolmates on a riverbank about one mile from the center of the city of Hiroshima, Japan. Suddenly, the kids heard U.S. bombers overhead. Instinctively, they threw themselves face-down upon the ground. A moment later the first atomic bomb exploded. It sent forth a lurid yellow light, and flying balls of fire struck Tadashi and set his clothing afire. He plunged into the river, but pain stabbed every part of his body. When he crawled out of the water he found his skin hanging from him like ribbons.

Fortunately, his father found the lad and took him to a Jesuit residence hard by. The superior, a Spanish priest named Pedro Arrupe, took Tadashi in and gave him whatever first aid he could. For weeks the boy was in a critical condition, his body full of sores and infection. The Hasegamas, who visited him often, were Buddhists, but they were touched by the Jesuit’s remarks about God, Jesus Christ at the crucifixion. When the priest suggested baptism of Tadashi, they were not opposed. After baptism Tadashi slept for a whole week. When he finally woke up, his wounds were almost healed.

In today’s parable, our Lord teaches God’s fatherly concern for each of us. He says that our heavenly Father, no more than an earthly father, would give his son a snake when he asked for a fish. We can carry the parable a little farther, however, then say that sometimes God does give us what looks like a snake, but then turns it into a fish. Tadashi’s trials eventually bore the fruit of faith, baptism and finally a vocation to the priesthood. When an editor at St. Anthony’s Messenger recently interviewed Father Tadashi, now a pastor at Hiroshima, he found him a man who blamed the sinfulness of mankind rather than the American bombers for the destruction of Hiroshima. Naturally, he is a strong opponent of nuclear warfare, but not so much out of fear as out of hope that men may henceforth cultivate peace.

Thus God gave Tadashi tribulation, but by means of tribulation, true Christian wisdom.

-Father Robert F. McNamara

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Q434: How can I learn to pray better? I am not very good a praying, compared to some “prayer warriors” that I know.

I don’t know how many of you have been on a spiritual Retreat, or purchased books on Prayer. I have been a Retreat Director on several occasions, and I notice that one goal of many Retreatants and spiritual book-buyers seems to be to draw closer to God through prayer – an excellent goal! But I also notice an unnecessary concern to learn “how” to pray better, or “what words” to use, or “what posture,” and so on.

Jesus gives us great advice in today’s Gospel (Luke 11:1-13). First, he teaches us to keep it Simple and Meaningful. Never worry about “what” to say; just say what is in your heart. The Lord’s Prayer is probably the simplest prayer there is, with very few words. But when prayed sincerely from the heart, it is all that is needed. Worship the Father; ask for your real daily needs, including forgiveness; forgive all with whom you hold resentments; and ask God not to test your faith right now – because you might fail!

Second, Jesus teaches us to Trust that our Father hears and answers each and every prayer. There are no exceptions! So “ask away”! [Remember that Abraham (First Reading, Genesis 18:20-32) was bold enough to ask God to save an entire town, even if there were only a small handful of virtuous people to be found there.] Our Father always responds in the most lovable and just manner possible. Perhaps we might think our request went unanswered? Not so – we need to see with the “eyes of faith” that our Father cares, hears, and answers. In case you doubt, Jesus gives two great examples: no loving Father would give his child a scorpion or a snake in response to a simple request for bread and eggs!

We believe that we indeed have a loving, caring Father in heaven! And so we have the courage to pray the Our Father at the very beginning of the Communion Rite at each Mass. The next time (and every time thereafter), pray it with meaning, from your heart!

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! “When” can we pray? It is possible to offer fervent prayer even while walking in public…or seated in your shop…while buying and selling…or even while cooking. [St. John Chrysostom, quoted in CCC #2743.] The important thing is: DO IT! BELIEVE the words in today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps. 138:1-3,6-8).

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Q590: Why was Abraham haggling with God over the sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah?

Today we have two readings that emphasize persistence in petitionary prayer. In the First Reading (Genesis 18:20-32) Abraham sounds and acts like a camel trader. He keeps negotiating the price needed to avoid the destruction of the sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. His haggling with God is about the number of righteous people needed to save the city. The dialogue reveals not only God’s compassion and response to prayer; it also reflects Abraham’s compassionate heart and his concern for his nephew Lot, who lives in Sodom. Comforting is the observation that even if only a handful of virtuous people can be found in the city, it will not be destroyed – the lesson being that the morally just person(s) is really the true life of the entire community.

The Gospel (Luke 11:1-13) is also about persistence in prayer. This section of Luke has been called a basic catechism on prayer, and rightly so. Jesus teaches us how to pray; he urges us to be persistent; and he wants us to believe and trust that the Lord really does hear and answer our prayers. There is nothing in the words of Jesus that tells us what posture to use during prayer, or how long the period of time ought to be for our daily prayer. The most important element is not the prayer technique, but simply that we pray—and that we are faithful in making this the very highest priority in our daily activities.

St. Alphonsus Liguori once said these famous and sobering words: “Those who pray are certainly saved; those who do not pray are certainly condemned” (CCC 2744). He was spot-on (as our British friends say), because one’s faithfulness to daily prayer is a prime measure of one’s relationship (or lack thereof) to God.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Our Father knows what we need before we ask him, but he awaits our petition because the dignity of his children lies in their freedom. Pray daily to know His will (CCC 2736); ask him confidently for your true daily needs; and give him thanks.

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Ask and You Shall Receive

In today’s reading from Genesis, Abram is portrayed as the man of God interceding for others.  The writer uses the familiar image of the Middle Eastern bazaar with buyers and sellers haggling over prices.  But Abram knows that God is just and merciful and his haggling is based on that knowledge.  Jesus’ message in the gospel also stresses God’s goodness and mercy to give us assurance that every prayer is answered.  He compares God to the human father who gives his children what is best for them.  So in the Lord’s Prayer he teaches us what to ask for.  There seems to be the implication in the images Jesus uses that while God will always answer our prayer, his answer may not be what we expected.  If we ask for a fish he will not give us a snake, but if we are foolish enough to ask for a scorpion he may well give us an egg. If he gives us a cross he will give us the strength to carry it.

Lord Jesus, teach us to pray as you did.  Teach us to ask for the best and help us to see that whatever God gives, in one way or another, will ultimately lead to good.  Father, in heaven, we have put our hope in you, but we often lose our way; help us to turn to you afresh, show us where we are and where we should be, today and always.

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