Engaging the Gospel – Luke 21:5-19

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 21:5-19

While last Sunday’s Gospel focused on the resurrection at the end of time, today’s passage braces us for the wars, disasters, and persecutions that must be endured before the Lord comes again. But whatever suffering we experience, Jesus promises us that by our “perseverance” (sometimes translated as “endurance”), our lives (or “souls”) will be saved.

We should ask God for the gift of final perseverance. As St. Augustine (d. 430) observed in Admonition and Grace,

God willed that His saints should not…glory in their own strength, but in Himself, who gives them not only such assistance…but He also works in them the will to persevere….Aid, therefore, is brought to the weakness of the human will, so that it might be affected firmly and invincibly by divine grace (12, 38).

A current scholar of Augustine, Benedict XVI, has also spoken of the saint’s view of perseverance:

I return to St. Augustine: at first he was content with the grace of conversion; then he discovered the need for another grace, the grace of perseverance, one which we must ask the Lord for each day…

It seems to me that we must have trust in this gift of perseverance, but we must also pray to the Lord with tenacity, humility and patience to help and sustain us…and to accompany us day after day to the very end, even if our way must pass through dark valleys.

Address of February 17, 2007.

Question for reflection: When have I learned the value of perseverance?

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Engaging the Gospel – Luke 11:1-13

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 11:1-13

“The meaning of prayer in Christ’s ministry” is emphasized throughout Luke’s Gospel (Catechism paragraph 2600), but especially in today’s passage.

Jesus encourages us to pray persistently and confidently to the Father, trusting that He will give us whatever is best for us.

“Prayer and Christian life are inseparable” (2745). We must not only believe in our faith, and celebrate it at Mass, but we must also “live from it in a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God. This relationship is prayer” (2558).

“Prayer is the life of the new heart. It ought to animate us at every moment. But we tend to forget Him Who is our life and our all” (2697).

Hence the Church’s sacred Tradition helps us by setting out “certain rhythms of praying intended to nourish continual prayer” – i.e., “morning and evening prayer, grace before and after meals, the Liturgy of the Hours,” and of course Sunday Mass, along with the great feasts of the year (2698).

Even so, we often find it difficult to pray faithfully. “Against our dullness and laziness, the battle of prayer is that of humble, trusting, and persevering love” (2742).

Let us have recourse to the Holy Spirit, “the interior Master of Christian prayer…To be sure, there are as many paths of prayer as there are persons who pray, but it is the same Spirit acting in all and with all” (2672).

Question for reflection: How might I seek to deepen my prayer life?

The Power of Prayer: Saints Monica & Augustine

St. Monica provides a powerful case study of the value of intercessory prayer.

This devout Catholic woman, who lived in Roman North Africa in the fourth century, was grievously worried about her son Augustine. Living in a persistent state of grave sin, fallen into an heretical cult, and still not baptized, Augustine was a totally wayward youth in danger of losing his soul.

Monica poured out her heart to God, praying, fasting and weeping for her son. She kept up her persistent intercession over many years, despite all of her prayers appearing to go in vain.

But in fact, they were not in vain. Augustine eventually experienced a life-changing conversion, a heart-rending repentance. Washed clean in the waters of baptism, he not only turned away from sin, but sought the perfection of the monastic life and ultimately became the bishop of Hippo. Augustine turned his prodigious intellectual gifts toward the study of theology, leaving us a priceless heritage through his writings, and ranking as one of the most influential doctors of the Church.

We celebrate his memorial on August 28, the anniversary of his passing from this earthly life. But the Church remembers that there may well have been no St. Augustine without the constant prayers of his mother. Therefore we fittingly celebrate the memorial of St. Monica on the day prior, August 27.

Aside from giving hope to all mothers whose children are going in the wrong direction, Monica also offers an example to wives enduring difficult marriages. Her husband, a pagan named Patricius, was the cause of much suffering. But he was softened by her prayers and her steadfast Christian witness, and converted shortly before his death.

Beyond just being an encouraging model for us to follow, Monica stands ready and willing to help us now with her intercession before the throne of God. All of us – in heaven, on earth, or undergoing purification in Purgatory – are united in the Mystical Body of Christ, able to share spiritual goods in the communion of saints. Let us boldly ask Monica, Augustine, and our patron saints to intercede for us.

For more, see St. Augustine’s Confessions (Book III, 11-12, and Book IX, 8-13), and Catechism paragraph 2683.

Prayer Warriors of the Old Testament

Summary drawn from Catechism paragraphs 2568-97.

During this feast of the Presentation of the Lord, we glimpse Jesus as the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Covenant. As ever, our liturgy furnishes us with food for thought, which becomes food for prayer.

Today’s Gospel recounts the admirable faith of Simeon and Anna, thereby teaching us that we are heirs to their profound tradition of prayer, first revealed in the Old Testament and perfected in Christ. As the Word of God, the Old Testament continues to speak powerfully to us today, and we can learn a great deal from the school of prayer enshrined in its pages.

Abraham illustrates “attentiveness of the heart,” a willingness to listen to the Lord’s call and abide by His will, trusting even in the midst of his darkest test of faith.

When Jacob wrestles with an angel all night, he shows us the value of sticking with prayer, no matter how we struggle, so that we too might reap the rewards of perseverance.

We can easily relate to Moses’ uneasiness about the great mission God has for him: “he balks, makes excuses, above all questions.” But through this intense dialogue with God, “Moses also learns how to pray,” and he would go on to become a great intercessor, pleading with God to have mercy on his rebellious people.

Through Elijah and the other prophets, we realize our need to go beyond “excessively external worship,” to encounter the Lord Himself, and undergo true “conversion of heart.”

David is our model for soul-stirring repentance, as well as for offering prayers of praise. Traditionally attributed to David, the Psalms (literally “Praises”) are “the masterwork of prayer in the Old Testament.” Both personal and communal, embracing all dimensions of salvation history to the end of time, the Psalms are an integral part of the Church’s prayer: “The Psalter is the book in which the Word of God becomes [our] prayer,” for “the same Spirit inspires both….”

Engaging the Gospel – Matthew 15:21-28

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Matthew 15:21-28

While last Sunday’s Gospel cautioned us that we can sink through a lack of faith, this Sunday’s Gospel emboldens us with an example of great faith in action.

The Canaanite woman doesn’t become discouraged by Jesus’ initial refusals to hear her. Jesus, marveling at her faith, answers her prayer by healing her daughter. Through this delay, He teaches us the value of persisting in prayer, as Pope Benedict XVI has explained:

Her insistence in imploring Christ’s intervention is an encouragement to us never to lose heart and not to despair, even in the harshest trials of life. The Lord does not close His eyes to the needs of His children, and if He seems at times insensitive to their requests, it is only in order to test them and to temper their faith. This is the witness of saints; this is especially the witness of martyrs.

Angelus of August 14, 2005.

 Jesus’ silence may seem disconcerting, to the point that it prompted the disciples to intervene, but it was not a question of insensitivity to this woman’s sorrow. St Augustine rightly commented: “Christ showed Himself indifferent to her, not in order to refuse her His mercy but rather to inflame her desire for it” (Sermo 77, 1: PL 38, 483).

…Dear friends, we too are called to grow in faith, to open ourselves in order to welcome God’s gift freely, to have trust and also to cry to Jesus “give us faith, help us to find the way!”

Angelus of August 14, 2011.

We must not give way to feelings of “failure in prayer,” whether through disappointment, distractions, or lack of spiritual consolations, and we should never stop praying because we imagine that God’s not listening (Catechism paragraphs 2728-34). In fact, we are being called to a deeper trust: “filial trust is tested – it proves itself – in tribulation” (2734).

In the words of the fourth-century theologian Evagrius Ponticus,

Do not be troubled if you do not immediately receive from God what you ask Him; for He desires to do something even greater for you, while you cling to Him in prayer.

–quoted in 2737.

Question for reflection: How do I work through difficulties in my own prayer life?

Jesus Teaches Us to Pray

Jesus shows us how to pray by example, through His own prayers of love, thanksgiving, petition, and obedience to the Father’s will, and He also explains how we are to pray.

Understanding us better than we know ourselves, Jesus sees our struggles and shortcomings in prayer, and He wants to help us through them: “Like a wise teacher, He takes hold of us where we are and leads us progressively toward the Father” (Catechism paragraph 2607).

Jesus first calls us to true conversion of heart, then urges us to have faith, encourages us to ask for our needs with a “filial boldness,” teaches us to pray in His name, counsels us to embrace the Father’s will in all things, and emphasizes the importance of persistence and perseverance in prayer.

Whenever we feel inadequate in our prayer, we should never get discouraged. Instead, let us honestly open up to the Lord about our difficulty, and that in itself will be a true and heartfelt prayer.

Jesus’ most memorable prayer is the one He crafted for us to say – the “Our Father,” which we will examine in upcoming posts.

For more, see Catechism paragraphs 2607-15.