Sunday July 29, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Genesis 18:20-32) Reading II (Colossians 2:12-14)
Gospel (St. Luke 11:1-13)
In the reading today, we hear about perseverance in prayer. In fact, the Lord makes that absolutely clear in the Gospel reading. After teaching His disciples about praying the Our Father, He then goes on to use the example of the man who receives a visitor. We have to understand that, in Middle Eastern hospitality, if a visitor comes in you feed him, you take care of his needs, you look out for him. If a visitor comes in the middle of the night, then you take care of everything. You make sure that you get some food out for him, you prepare a place for him, and so on.
So, we hear about the man who does not have anything to feed his visitor with. He goes to a friend and asks for three loaves of bread. We would not necessarily understand it because the man says, "My children and I are already in bed. I cannot open the door." You have to understand what a home looked like at that time. The house was probably about the size of most of your living rooms. The homes were built in a sort of horseshoe. There were several homes within that horseshoe and out in the middle courtyard the people would cook, do the laundry, and things like that. The little home that they had was just one room. They would roll out mats on the floor and that is where the people would sleep; so there would be somebody sleeping right in front of the door.
What the man is saying is: If I get up to get you the bread, I am going to have to wake up the people who are lying on the floor sleeping and I am going to have to get them out of the way so we can open the door. He did not want to do that. But the Lord says that even if he will not do that out of friendship, he will do it because of the persistence of the man who is asking. If the man keeps asking, eventually he will get tired of listening to him and will get up, get the bread, and give it to him. This is simply the example of a friend.
The Lord goes on to tell us that when we pray we are not talking just to a friend, we are talking to our Father. We see that juxtaposed with the first reading: Even though Abraham is recognized as being righteous, it was not yet understood that God was Father. While we can never, ever lose sight of the fact that God is the Almighty King - Saint Teresa of Avila would call him "His Majesty" - we must always remember the absolute majesty and glory and power of God. She says, "We must never forget Who it is that we are addressing in prayer." In other words, we do not want to come to prayer, sit back and very nonchalantly (and sometimes very arrogantly) carry on with God as though, somehow, we are just equals and we are just chatting with a friend. We are, indeed, talking with the closest friend that we have - but He is also God.
When Abraham says, "Please, Lord. Let not my Lord grow angry with me, even though I, who am but dust and ashes, dare to speak." We do not need to go to prayer with that attitude because Jesus tells us that God is our Father. We want to approach our heavenly Father with the reverence and the respect that we owe to Him. Yet, not with a nonchalant attitude. And not praying in the way that so many do, where they go into prayer and ramble on aimlessly. When they are done with their time of prayer, they really could not tell you what it was that they talked about with God. All they were doing was filling dead air space - there was no prayer.
So we need to make sure we remember Who we are praying to. And we need to be aware of what it is that we are asking. We must also be always aware of who it is that is asking. We must always keep in mind our position with God. We are, indeed, His children; but we are His children not because we were worthy to be His children, but simply because He loves us so much that He has made us His children.
That is the point Saint Paul is getting at in the second reading. "God," he says, "has obliterated the legal bond that was there against us." What does that mean? It means that the Law, with all of its precepts, has been done away with; not the moral law, but rather the ritual law, the ceremonial law. We are no longer slaves; but rather, we are sons and daughters.
Jesus tells us that, too. He says, "I no longer call you slaves, but friends, because a slave does not know what his master is about. I call you friends because I have made known to you everything that I have from My Father." But we are more than just simply friends, we are members of Jesus Christ. As Saint Paul says, "You were baptized into Him, so you were baptized into His death and His resurrection. You already share in the fullness of the life of Jesus Christ and the Person of Jesus Christ." That is why we can have the audacity to actually call God "Father."
Did you ever think about that? It is something that our mothers teach us on their knees from the time we are little children - to pray as Jesus taught us and say "Our Father." We are so accustomed to it that we do not really stop to think of what it means. But what audacity to call God "Father." We can understand calling Him "Your Majesty." We can understand calling Him "The Holy One" and "The Mighty One" and "The Immortal One." We can understand calling Him "The One Who Knows All Things" and "The Glorious, All-Powerful God." We can understand the awe that we need to have in His presence. But to have such a familiar manner to be able to call Him "Father." That is how much He loves us. It is not just that we are friends with Him; it is not just that we have been reconciled to Him, it is not just that we have a relationship with Him, somehow; but we are His own children.
So, on one hand He is the King, and on the other hand He is our Father. If your father was the King, or if your father was the President of the United States, you would need to have two different ways of approaching him. In a familiar context, you would approach him as father; but in a public context, you would approach him as the King or as the President.
It is similar to what I told my own brothers and sisters when I was ordained. They asked, "Well, what are we supposed to call you now?" I said, "When we are together as family, you can just call me by my first name. But when we are in public, you call me Father because the people do not know that you are my brothers and sisters and we do not want to scandalize them. So then, you refer to me with an official title when it is public."
That is what we need to remember with God. While He is Father, He is also King; He is Sovereign; He is Majesty; He is majestic and glorious and all-powerful and awesome and everything else that we can say. We need to always keep that in mind when we approach Him. But not in such a way that we say, "Because He is King and all-powerful and all-awesome and everything else, I cannot possibly talk to Him. I have nothing in common with Him and He is far away from me. Therefore, I cannot come before Him. I cannot ask Him for any of my needs because He is beyond me."
No, He is not. He is within. And He has loved you so much that He has made you His own son or daughter and He has come to dwell within you. He wants you to ask. That is why the Lord says that those who ask will receive; and those who seek will find; and to those who knock, the door will be opened. But He also makes it clear that it is not just as simple as going to prayer one day and saying, "Lord, give me this," and it will be given. He talks about perseverance in prayer, so we need to continually pray.
Just ask yourself if you have ever asked God to make you holy. Then ask yourself why are you not there yet. Well, there are two reasons. First of all, it is a process and we need to keep going back to prayer and keep asking. But we also have to make clear to God how serious we are about it. Like the man standing at the door asking for the bread, even though it might not be given out of friendship, it will be given due to perseverance. If we show God that we are really serious about it, then we can be guaranteed that it will be granted.
Every single prayer that we pray is heard. And every single prayer that we pray is answered - not always in the time or manner in which we expect - but every single prayer is heard and answered by God. So the question is: How badly do you want it? Do you really want to be holy? Do you really want to be a saint? Do you really want to do God's Will?
On one level, of course, we are all going to answer "yes." But on the practical level, we know that the answer is really "no" because it means that we are going to have to give up some things. It means we are going to have to make some changes. It means that some things in our lives are going to be different. We may not be too terribly popular with people if we start doing it God's way. We are not going to be able to be money-hungry and be seeking all the material things. We know that there may be problems with health, problems with reputation, and problems with all kinds of other things.
We run up against those roadblocks and the Lord says, "Now, ask again. Do you really want it? Ask again, and ask earnestly." Do not go to prayer sheepishly and say, "Lord, maybe, I kind of think I sort of want to be holy." No, you go to prayer and say, "Lord, remove the block. Make me holy. Make me a saint." Recognize that you cannot do it by yourself. Tell the Lord you will do your part, but He needs to do it. And be willing to do whatever it takes.
See how you have to ask over and over and over again. Every time something new comes up, you have to face it. You have to make the act of the will to say, "I will do this. I want to do it and I need Your help to do it. Take this thing out of the way, whatever it is. No matter how important I think it is to me, if it stands between You and me, Lord, get rid of it." We need to persevere in prayer. We need to be able to show God that we really are His children and that we will do whatever it takes.
He has done absolutely everything on His part. Saint Paul says that He has removed it from us - even going so far as to nail it to the Cross. Every bond, everything that stood against us, He has removed. All that remains is our will. And He will never take our will away. He will ask us if we are willing to do it His way, if we are willing to sacrifice ourselves for Him, but He will never force it. So we must persevere like Abraham: continually going back to prayer, recognizing our own littleness, and recognizing our own unworthiness. Yet, recognizing that we are His children and knowing that God, who is our Father, if He has given us His Son will not fail to give us everything else as well - provided that we really, truly want it.
That is the only part that remains. Nothing remains on God's side. Nothing separates us, from His perspective. It is only us. It is only our will that stands in the way. The only question for us is: How badly do we want it? The Lord makes very clear that everything will be given to us if we persevere in prayer.
Note: Father Altier does not write his homilies in advance, but relies solely upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.