Sunday, July 25, 2010

Homily for 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time

for the 17th Sunday
of Ordinary Time(Mission Appeal)
July 25, 2010
Luke 11: 1-13
Gen 18: 20-32
Church of the Holy Spirit, Cortland Manor, N.Y.

You’ve seen in the parish bulletin that this weekend there’s a mission appeal being made, specifically on behalf of the archdiocesan Society for the Propagation of the Faith. That’s why I’m here, altho I’m not a missionary. My usual congregations are the Christian Brothers and Ursuline Sisters in New Rochelle, the patients and staff at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Harrison, the Dominican Sisters in Mt. Vernon—all of whom my Salesian community in New Rochelle ministers to—and the Boy Scouts of the Westchester-Putnam Council, whose chaplain I’m proud to be.

The Salesians of Don Bosco are a great missionary order, with more religious men and women and lay volunteers in missions around the world than any other order today, except maybe the Jesuits. You’ve heard of the Jesuits, right? So we Salesians, who serve in 136 countries—not all of them missionary, of course—are happy to work with the archdiocese of New York to support what the archdiocese does thru the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.

Today’s gospel was about prayer, wasn’t it? It had 2 parts. 1st, the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. 2d, he taught them—us—that we have to be persistent in our prayer.

The prayer Jesus taught us is the one we call “the Lord’s Prayer” or the Our Father. We’re more familiar with St. Matthew’s slightly different version than with St. Luke’s, but it’s the same prayer: a prayer that God’s name be recognized as holy; that God’s kingdom come—among us, of course; that God provide for us; that God forgive our sins and we forgive others likewise; that God not let us be tested more than our faith can handle.

In the 2 little parables that Jesus uses about persistence in prayer, he compares God to a friend and to a father. But he says God is more than a friend, more than a father.

So what does that gospel have to do with the Society for the Propagation of the Faith? Why should you support the Propagation of the Faith financially or pray for the generous men and women who leave home and family for a parish, a school, a medical clinic in a remote mountain village or a crowded city slum in Latin America, Africa, Asia, the Pacific Islands? Because every Christian has an obligation to spread the Gospel, to “carry the light of Christ’s message,” in the words of Pope Benedict XVI.

What’s the purpose of Christian missionary activity? In relation to today’s gospel, Christian missionaries seek to extend the presence of God’s kingdom in the hearts of men and women; to introduce people to God who’s more than a friend, God’s who’s a father and more; to teach them to pray, to approach God confidently in prayer, to reverence him, to trust his goodness, to seek his pardon, to strive to offer pardon to others. Our prayers and financial support help missionaries do that and—apart from the witness that we give to our non-Christian neighbors by our words and deeds—are how we do our part to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. Most of us—like St. Therese of Lisieux—won’t go to foreign lands as missionaries. She is the patroness of the foreign missions because she prayed for missionaries.

Christianity and Judaism are the only religions that recognize our Creator, the all-holy God, as a father and friend. Only Christianity teaches that God has become an intimate part of our lives by sharing our human nature—thru the Son of God’s becoming man, thru everyday elements like water, bread, wine, and olive oil that make God present to us in a concrete and real, if mysterious, way. Only Christianity links our readiness to forgive our enemies with God’s readiness to forgive us. Isn’t reconciliation what we all want in the deepest parts of our souls? Isn’t it what the world needs? Don’t we want to be God’s friend rather than a stranger to him? Don’t we want that for every woman and man?

The Bible recognizes that Abraham was a friend of God, using that precise term to describe him (2 Chr 20:7; Is 41:8), altho not in today’s 1st reading (Gen 18:20-32). The Bible also tells us of how Moses used to speak to God face to face, like one man talking to another (Ex 33:11). Isn’t that a beautiful image of a relationship with God? Today’s 1st reading is a continuation of the story we heard last week (18:1-10). There’s Abraham speaking on most familiar terms with God, who in human form has visited him and enjoyed his hospitality. He opens his heart to Abraham, as a friend does. Abraham in turn speaks of his concern and pleads to God, like a friend, with honesty and confidence. Unmentioned in this particular part of the story is that Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family live in Sodom; that’s why Abraham wants God to spare the city. His plea, his bargaining with God if you will, is a model of intercessory prayer—persistent prayer, to use the word that Jesus uses today—a model of the free and open relationship that God wants to have with us, and the relationship that we want every person to have with God.

So the Society for the Propagation of the Faith asks you to pray for missionaries, like St. Therese; to give financial support if you can; to consider becoming a member of the Society; even to think whether you might be able to become a missionary yourself for a year or 2, as so many volunteers do, or for a lifetime, like Jesus’ apostles, like St. Francis Xavier, like Mother Teresa.

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