I wrote this prayer after hearing Wednesday’s Gospel (Luke 13: 22-30).
Our Lord says: ” Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘ Lord open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply, ‘ I do not know where you are from.’ ” (Luke 13:24-25)
Beloved Lord. I kneel before Your narrow gate and pray that it not close. I know I have no right, but I beg for myself and for all those who refused to know You: the arrogant, the violent, the ones who “set their mouths against the heavens” (Ps 73), the evildoers. ” How suddenly they are devastated; utterly undone by disaster ! They are like a dream after waking, Lord, dismissed like shadows when you arise.” (Ps 73).
I accept Your will, dear Lord, and throw myself at Your wisdom and mercy. Will the day come when You no longer know us? As we wail and grind our teeth and realize the error of our ways, will You look upon us one more time and have pity on us, and let us taste the scraps from that blessed table of Your Kingdom ?
Are You, Yourself, bleeding upon the cross, the narrow gate to our salvation? Is there a limit or an end to Your Love for those who don’t deserve it? Today I want to love You, but I kneel in the company of those ” who will be last”. Forgive me. Please forgive us.
To listen to this week’s homily, please select the audio file below:
Luke’s gospel, which we’re reading on the Sunday’s of this year, is a “gospel of prayer.” It sees prayer as central to the life of Jesus and central to our lives too.
In the gospels we’ve read the last few Sundays at Mass Jesus teaches us how to pray, but also touches on some of the difficulties we face when we pray. In last week’s gospel, the parable of the poor widow and the unjust judge, Jesus pointed to one difficulty. He tells us that we can grow tired of praying. For one reason or another, we give it up or it becomes occasional. Maybe we don’t think praying is doing any good. God isn’t listening, or we’re not good enough to speak to God. Maybe we think we can take care of ourselves. We don’t need the help of God. For these and other reasons we can lose our appreciation of prayer; we think it’s really not necessary, and we give it up.
Jesus offers the example of the poor widow who keeps knocking at the door of the unjust judge. She looks like she doesn’t have a chance in the world getting what she wants, but she doesn’t give up, she keeps going until the unjust judge gives her what’s coming to her. In the parable Jesus is also telling us: “God is the very opposite of the unjust judge. Don’t you think God, who made you and cares for you and loves you, hears your prayers? But–and here’s what’s often behind our difficulty– his answer comes on his time and now ours.
In today’s reading, the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican praying in the temple, Jesus points to another difficulty we can experience in prayer. Prayer is meant to bring us before God, but the Pharisee in today’s gospel seems more interested in himself than in God. His prayer sounds more like an exercise in positive thinking. He’s telling us how good he feels about himself.
“I’m not like the rest of humanity,” he says, as he runs through his credits. “I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.” He’s kept all the laws a good Jew should keep. He rates himself especially high as he looks at the publican standing at a distance, not even raising his eyes to heaven. “A disgrace!” he says to himself.
Prayer isn’t talking to yourself; it’s not speculating about life; it’s not getting away from things that bother you; it’s certainly not an exercise for feeling good about yourself. Prayer is going before God, “Our Father in heaven,” God who is beyond us, yet who invites us to come like a child, his own child, to speak to him.
Jesus says the publican–a “sinner” in Jewish public opinion at the time – prays well with his simple prayer: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” He’s heard by God and goes from the temple justified.
There’s no long analysis of himself and his sins in the publican’s prayer. He’s more intent on throwing himself on the mercy of God. Humble before God, God raises him up.
That’s what prayer is, humbly approaching God. Like Moses on Sinai, we take off our shoes before God who is all holy, but not distance. He is merciful, a God welcomes us and speaks what he wants in simple words we can understand, and gives us gifts we can’t measure.
Listen again to the words from our first reading:
The LORD is a God of justice,
who knows no favorites.
Though not unduly partial toward the weak,
yet he hears the cry of the oppressed.
The Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan,
nor to the widow when she pours out her complaint.
The one who serves God willingly is heard;
his petition reaches the heavens.
The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds;
it does not rest till it reaches its goal,
nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds,
judges justly and affirms the right,
and the Lord will not delay.”
Today, October 20th, we celebrate the feast of St. Paul of the Cross in the United States. A saint leaves a legacy, a blessing for the church and especially for members of communities he founded or inspired. What legacy did the saintly founder of the Passionists leave?
Paul of the Cross died October 18, 1775, a year before our American Revolution and fourteen years before the French Revolution. Twenty three years after his death, the French revolution spilled over into neighboring Italy and the Papal States. Napoleon imprisoned the pope, Pope Pius VI, religious houses and church resources were taken over by French forces; the Catholic Church in Italy, like the Catholic Church in France, was seemingly crushed by the French general and his powerful army.
In May of 1810 the situation got worse. Napoleon declared an end to the Papal States and ordered the new pope Pius VII to be imprisoned in Savona, Italy. His police led thousands of religious from their religious houses back to their homes and told to start another life. Among them were 242 Passionists, the community Paul of the Cross founded in the previous century.
The old church was dead, the emperor said. He would replace it by a new one of his own. In that thinking, the Passionists too were dead; they would hardly have a role in Napoleon’s church. Of course, the church didn’t die and neither did the Passionists.
Historians usually credit the brilliant diplomacy of Cardinal Consalvi, the pope’s secretary of state, for keeping the church alive and getting it on its feet again after Napoleon’s defeat in 1814. But diplomats weren’t the only people responsible for the church’s restoration. Most of the credit belonged to ordinary believers who kept the faith and remained loyal.
The same was true for the Passionists. We certainly gave the church an inspirational figure at the time, St. Vincent Strambi, the Passionist bishop and first biographer of Paul of the Cross. Before Napoleon’s troops invaded Rome in 1798 Pius VI asked Vincent to preach in the city’s four major basilicas to strengthen the Roman people. After Napoleon’s defeat, Pius VII called Strambi to Rome again to preach a 9 day retreat of reconciliation–not everybody stood up to the French invaders.
But besides Strambi, what kept the Passionists alive were certainly those ordinary religious who were driven from their monasteries and came back to continue the work that St. Paul of the Cross envisioned a century before. They were the faithful ones, faithful to what they learned from him.
Paul of the Cross not only preached the mystery of the Passion of Jesus; he lived it. He held on to his dreams through hard times. Humanly speaking, the Passionists, the community he founded, should have gone out of existence many times, from its tenuous beginnings to the years it waited for acceptance by the church. The mystery of the Cross was present in its birth, its growth and its life.
Now as then, the Passion of Jesus brings life, not death.
The North American Martyrs, eight Jesuits and their associates who were killed by warring Indian tribes in the 17th century, are the first saints of North America and we celebrate their feast today. I’ve visited Auriesville in New York State and the Midlands in Canada where they were martyred; both places are stirring reminders of heroic faith and bravery.
The missionaries came to the New World expecting a new Pentecost among the native peoples of this land, but it didn’t turn out that way. Instead, disease and political maneuvering made the native peoples suspicious of the foreigners and the seed of the gospel seemed to fall on hard ground. The martyrdom of the eight Jesuits is witness to that resistance.
Letters back to France from the early Jesuits–marvelously preserved in “The Jesuit Relations”–often express the disappointment the missionaries felt over their scarce harvest. But it didn’t stop them; they were well grounded in the mystery of the Cross.
Not far from Auriesville, near Fonda, NY, is the Indian village called Caughnawaga. In the spring of 1675, after the Jesuits were killed in Auriesville in 1646, Father Jacques de Lamberville visited Caughnawaga . The priest entered a lodge where a young Indian girl Kateri Tekakwitha was alone because a foot injury prevented her from working in the fields. She spoke to him of her desire to receive baptism and on Easter, 1676, the young Indian girl was baptized and took the name Kateri, after St. Catherine of Siena, the mystic and a favorite patron of Christian Indian women. She was 20 years old.
Her uncle and relatives in the long house reacted to her conversion to Christianity and pressured her to marry and follow their ways, even when opposed to her beliefs. The early Jesuits considered it a miracle for a Christian to resist family and tribal pressure such as Kateri experienced in Caughnawaga. Yet, her early biographer says “She practiced her faith without losing her original fervor and her extraordinary virtue was seen by all. The Christians saw her obeying their rules exactly, going to prayers everyday in the morning and evening and Mass on Sunday. At the same time she avoided the dreams feasts and the dances,” practices endangering her belief. (The Life of the Good Catherine Tekakwitha, Claude Chauchetiere, SJ , 1695)
Father de Lamberville finally recommended that Kateri escape to the newly-established Indian Christian village in Kahnawake near Montreal, where she could live her faith more easily. In 1676, aided by other Christian Indians, she made the dangerous journey northward. There she lived a fervent life of prayer and faith; she died and was buried on April 17th, 1680.
She was canonized as a saint October 21th in Rome by Pope Benedict XVI. “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.” (Tertullian)
Pablo Picasso, “Mother and Son with Handkerchief”, 1903
If there was a man named Silence, what would he say?
If there was a man named Trust, what would be his worry?
If there was a man named Hope, what would he miss?
If there was a man named Love, what would his mother’s name be but Mary?
Yesterday I met a mother who just buried her son. Just the two of us on a city sidewalk. The cars, the buses, the children leaving school, even the woman close by and working in her garden…they all kept moving.
If there was a man named Hug, what else would he do?