Sunday Sermon for July 24, 2016, the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary time, Year C
Readings: Gn 18:20-32; Col 2:12-14; Lk 11:1-13
In the Gospel readings today our Lord tells we are to ask and we will receive, seek and we will find, knock and the door will be opened. On too many occasions to count I have heard people quote this passage to me to state that God did not keep His promise. After all, they asked, sought, and knocked, but their prayer was not answered as they had hoped. I need to point out that in most of these occasions the people were asking for very reasonable things and not seeking millions of dollars by winning the lottery.
Depending upon what we are asking, there are various reasons why we do not obtain what we seek. St. James tells us that sometimes the problem is that we ask wrongly, that is, we are seeking something selfishly. Considering that unless we are at the heights of the spiritual life, there is literally nothing that we do that does not have something selfish in it, this principle could have nearly universal application. However, St. James qualifies it a bit more and makes clear that the problem is when we are seeking something for our passions. I would not think that praying that your children come back to the Church would fit into such a category.
At other times the problem is that we are too hasty in our desire. We are asking for the right thing, and we are even asking something that would be in union with God’s will, but we are looking at the end when there are still many steps that have to be taken before the end can be achieved. It is like a person looking at a building that is being erected and keeps stating that the building needs a roof. They could even provide a list of reasons why having a roof would be an excellent thing; all of those reasons would be correct. However, if only one floor of a multi-storied building has been built, it is necessary to put the rest of the floors in place before adding the roof.
Still others have the difficulty of needing to be purified. St. Paul reminds us in the second reading that our sins have been forgiven and the legal claims against us have been removed. This is absolutely true. However, there are effects of our sins that have to be purified. The sins themselves have been removed from our souls in confession, but some of the effects remain, e.g., weakness, attraction to the sin, attachment, etc.
St. Augustine said that if we have some honey that we want to put into a pitcher that is presently filled with vinegar, we first have to pour out the vinegar, but then we have to scour the pitcher to remove all of the odor and the remnants of the vinegar before putting the honey into the pitcher. If we want to fill our souls with grace, we first have to remove anything that would affect the grace in a negative manner as the vinegar would affect the honey. In these situations, the person’s prayer is going to be answered, but God has to prepare the soul before He can give what the soul desires.
Another reason we do not always get what we are seeking is because we are praying for other people who each have their own free will. God can answer our prayer for that person and offer the grace that person needs, but the person can reject it. It appears our prayer was not answered, but it simply did not have the hoped for effect.
When we look at today’s first reading, we hear about God’s determination to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham questions whether God will destroy the place for the sake of any innocent people who live there. As we know from the rest of the story, God got the innocent people out before the city was leveled. Sometimes we pray for someone to be healed and God allows the person to die. Why does He not heal them? It may be that the illness is the means to conversion and preparation for Heaven. It may be that the illness is keeping the person from committing some sin that they had been unable to overcome on their own. It may be that if God granted the prayer for the person to live, they would have lost their soul due to something they would have done in the future. Instead, if He takes the person now, the person will be saved.
In other words, God will always do what is best. Sometimes we are praying for something that is truly good, but not the best (even if we think it is). God will always answer prayers, but not always according to our ideas. Keep praying and trust!
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.