Bottom line: prayer is the encounter of God's thirst with our thirst. Pray without ceasing. Rejoice always.
You notice I am wearing rose vestments for Guadete Sunday. Guadete means rejoice. Before giving the homily I want to mention something that causes me joy. It may surprise you. Earlier this year my sister reintroduced me to the practice of fasting. It's a long story. I talked about it at Generations of Faith. Basically I try to follow a "Daniel Fast" once a week. If you remember the Book of Daniel he ate only vegetables and water. I invite to join me in a one day fast this week before Christmas. It won't necessarily be easy but will strengthen your prayer, bring joy - and make your Christmas better. If you do the one day fast - or a partial fast - let me know how it goes. Now for the homily.
This Advent we focus on prayer as God's thirst and our thirst. An early Christian writer (Gregory of Nazianzen) said, "Prayer is the encounter of God's thirst for us and our thirst for him."
Our thirst for God springs from an inner contradiction: we live with gnawing misery, yet we sense a call to greatness. This contradiction means that genuine prayer motivates a person to reach out to those suffering. Because we know our inner poverty we identify with people in difficulty. We come to God with open, empty hands.
This Sunday we see a beautiful dimension of prayer. St. Paul says: Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. But how can we pray unceasingly? A fifth century African shows the way. He wrote a book telling the story of his life. It's not like a modern autobiography because he writes the book as a prayer to God. The book shows how everything can become part of a conversation with God. He brings in his anxieties, successes, conflicts, discoveries, frustrations, even his sinful behavior. It all becomes part of a dialogue with God. The book is called The Confessions of St. Augustine. I encourage you to read it or re-read it or listen to an audio version. The Confessions opens with this line, "O God, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless till they rest in thee."
Augustine shows how every moment can become a conversation with God. Now some will object that constant prayer will divide one's attention. Not so. All us have inner chatter. "I hope I don't blow it. What is he thinking about me? I wish I hadn't eaten that hamburger." You know what I mean. That inner chatter is what distracts us. But when a person focuses on God, he becomes more focused on the person in front of him: This person has an eternal destiny. I need to take him seriously.
I'm not saying I am good at this kind of prayer, but I do know that when I let go of the inner chatter and turn to God, I become more attentive to others. When I am aware of God, I connect better with others.
Maybe you're thinking: Well, there's people I'd rather not connect with. I can understand that. The Spanish have a saying, "No quiero verlo ni en pintura." I don't want to see him even in a picture. For a Christian that can't become a permanent posture. Permanent unforgiveness = hell. Last weekend we heard about how people confessed their sins and received forgiveness. Jesus forgives every sin. He has only one condition - the willingness to forgive others. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
This is hard. Always has been, always will be - but particularly in our society. Cardinal Francis George said we live in culture that tolerates everything and forgives nothing. People say, "I am very forgiving person but what he did was unforgivable." That attitude makes people think some sins are OK, others beyond the pale. They imagine that if they told the priest everything he would throw them out of the confessional. I've been a priest 46 years and I've never turned away any penitent. I may not be able to give full absolution, but always at least a blessing and a prayer.
Forgiveness is beautiful. One of the greatest joys is to extend and receive forgiveness. The poet William Blake wrote, "throughout all Eternity I forgive you, you forgive me."
At weddings couples often request chapter 13 of Corinthians. One line says that love bears all, hopes all, endures all. Paul is not saying we should never draw a line. He does so himself, telling the Corinthians to excommunicate a man behaving shamefully. He quarantines the man only in the hope he will change his life and come back. In the end he insists that love does forgive all.
Revenge brings temporary satisfaction but long-term misery. Forgiveness may cause temporary pain but it brings long term joy. So rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Next weekend we will see the great model of prayer and joy. Bishop Mueggenborg helped me see that person's secret. Don't miss it. Even though next Sunday falls on the day before Christmas, don't miss it.
For today remember that prayer is the encounter of God's thirst with our thirst. Pray without ceasing. Rejoice always. Amen.
From Archives (Third Sunday of Advent, Year B):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
Take the Plunge Bible Study (audio resources) *New Episodes*
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Fr Pat Freitag (and deacons of St. Monica)
Bishop Robert Barron
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru