Fear of the Lord is a great virtue to have. Fear of disappointment is not. Fear of God is to be in awe of God; to have a degree of understanding of who we are before God. How big he is and how small we are. Try standing next to the guy who plays Center for the Boston Celtics. He’ll make us feel small.
But fear of disappointment fears that God is One who potentially will not answer a request we make in prayer. That we will possibly be rejected, ignored, humiliated, refused outright, maybe even laughed at because of the petition we make. “Did she just really ask me to do that? Oh, that’s a good one!”
If there is anything impossible for God, it’s making light of any prayer request we can make. However, I would say the more serious our request, the more sincere our request, the more serious it will be taken in heaven. Pardon the phrase, but God is dead serious. All we need to do is look at the Cross to accept the truth of just how serious God is about us.
Praying the Our Father is serious business. We’ve recited those words 10,000 times if we’ve done it once. The Our Father is part of every fiber and bone in our bodies. It was the one and only set of words my mother with Dementia never forgot. She would forget her own children’s names, and it wasn’t because there were too many of us to remember. But the Our Father was entrenched in her so deeply, that even a disease of forgetfulness could not do away with it.
The Our Father is a prayer where the virtue of fear of the Lord is at the heart of it. The awesomeness of God is contained in the prayer from start to finish. St. Augustine wrote 1600 years ago that every prayer request we can make is contained somewhere in the Our Father. It is the Mother of all prayers.
There are many who fear disappointment when seeking a favor from the Lord. That God won’t hear, won’t listen, he’s too busy for me, I’m not good enough to be considered by the Creator of all, and so forth. None of that is true in the eyes of God. God will not give us a snake when we ask for a fish. The Devil will do that. God won’t.
What is necessary in prayer is the virtue of persistence, which we heard with Abraham in the 1st reading. Abraham is interceding on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah, asking God to hold back his righteous anger against them if 50 righteous people are found in the city, dwindling that number down to just 10 righteous people. In this amazing conversation, there are two things that stand out; Abraham’s persistence, and God’s patience.
We are not to be one and done people of prayer in all our prayer requests…”I asked God, he heard me, I’m finished asking.” That’s a defeatist attitude and approach toward prayer. One and done may happen; I’ve had that happen, and I hope you have also. But persistence is necessary in prayer. If it’s missing, then it’s like trying to drive through Kelly Square with your eyes closed and expect not to hit anything. Good luck!
The Our Father is a prayer that reveals the awesomeness of God, his generosity and bounty, no trickery or false promises. But persistence must be ours, to the point where even a disease of the mind cannot take it away from us.
Talk about being put in your place! “Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” Poor Martha. This begs the question from these words of Jesus, “What is the better part? What does the better part look like, and what doesn’t it look like? What is the part that Jesus recognizes as being better for Mary rather than the Tasmanian Devil dance that Martha is doing around the house?
It’s a somewhat funny, instructive contrast between the 2 sisters; one sitting at the feet of the Lord, looking up at the face of Jesus. The other acting like the Tasmanian Devil running circles around both Jesus and Mary. I’m sure we all know which one we would prefer, knowing also there are times when being a little of both is a good balance in life and in our faith.
What is the better part?
First, the better part is possessing the virtue of prudence as part of our repertoire of virtues. Prudence being good judgment as connected to our faith in Christ. What are the things we may say or do in a given situation, or what do we avoid? Mary’s good judgment to sit down and spend time with the Lord by way of focusing her entire attention on Jesus is a prudent decision at the time.
Now, if Jesus arrived at the house of Mary and Martha (it sounds like Lazarus is away on vacation) and he planned on staying there for a few days, an extended period of time, and the entire time that Jesus was there, all Mary did was sit at his feet, then that wouldn’t be very prudent. It probably would have caused Jesus to say, “Mary, how about a little space. And stop staring at me!”
But since our Lord was most likely there for just a short while, maybe an afternoon, before he moved on to the next town or village, with Mary spending her time in rapt attention toward the Master, then it’s proper to say she spent her time very well. She was prudent. Her posture is one of prayer. Sitting at the feet of Jesus, and spending a few hours in prayer in the presence of the Lord is good balance.
Spending no time in the presence of the Lord in prayer, or not having a prayer life, is unbalanced for any professed Christian. There’s no feeding the spirit and soul. So when the soul becomes thirsty and hungry, it turns to the world for answers rather than our faith.
The opposite of that, spending three straight days in prayer without interruption, is also unbalanced. We are not to be obsessed with God. Mary’s posture and Mary’s decision to sit at the feet of her Lord is prudent because Jesus is not hanging around for very long. He has other work to do.
So be prudent with your faith in him. Seek that healthy, timely balance that deepens our relationship with Christ and with one another over a lifetime.
And second, the better part that Mary chooses over Martha is the blessing of a holy, peaceful relationship with the Visitor from heaven. Mary’s better part of spending time with Jesus establishes a holy relationship with him. This is something we really need to reflect upon at different times, especially in a fast-paced world, and not only at the end of our lives. Is our relationship with Christ a holy relationship? Since we have no capacity to create any degree of holiness for ourselves, a prudent question would be, “Are we inviting God’s holiness to transform our thinking, our actions and decisions, our way of relating with our neighbor?”
Martha is so busy and downright confused in her maniacal work habits that she has little time to ground herself in God’s desire to make her holy. Holiness takes a lot of hard work. But not the sort of hard work Martha is performing. She has the energy to become holy. But it’s misdirected energy. We see this in politics all the time.
Jesus says to her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.” I think Jesus would have liked to have said, “Martha, Martha, stop hanging out with the Tasmanian Devil so much! Take a chill pill, Martha! Slow down, Martha…You’re not at the Indianapolis 500!” Instead, the Lord was kind to her.
So, there’s a couple things to ponder this week as connected to Christ our Savior. Is there a good, healthy balance in our relationship with the Lord? Are we prudent in how we spend time with him, and how we teach our children about him? Because if we’re balanced with God, we’re going to be balanced with the people we encounter each day. If we’re unbalanced with God, either no time or little time spent in prayer, or being obsessed with God, then we will be unbalanced with the people we encounter each day. We will be Martha in this Gospel; the Tasmanian Devil.
And second, is our relationship with God a holy one? It doesn’t have to be perfect on our part, because there are times when we will face the worst that life will bring. But are we open to God’s holiness building up our spirits, even in the midst of struggle. Pray for such holiness. It prepares us for the day of sitting before Christ in the Kingdom that never ends.
When the guy left Jerusalem to head northeast to Jericho, he was probably in a good state of mind. Even though he knew from hearsay that the road he would be traveling was a road known for robbers and brigands, he felt pretty safe because of the number of other people who travelled the same road. Even though many other people would travel southwest (not the airline, but direction), there was still the fact that each day hundreds of people travelled the road that goes up to Jerusalem. All roads, from whatever direction they came, travelled up to Jerusalem because it sits on a hill. So when people left Jerusalem, they travelled down from the holy city in whatever direction they happened to travel.
So, the guy felt pretty safe because of numbers. There’s usually safety in numbers. The odds were with this traveler that he would be in close proximity to strangers over the length this trip that was about 15 miles on a straight line. But the robbers knew the road better than this traveler. They knew the exact hiding spots, from where they could make a quick hit on an unsuspecting traveler, knock them over from behind, rob them of their goods, and jump back into the shadows off the road. And do so within a minute. They had their routine down to a science, with perfect timing. The perfect timing of evil, which becomes someone else’s pain and misery.
So naturally, about 4 miles in, when all seemed to be going well on his trip to Jericho, where the walls came tumbling down centuries before, this guy’s walls came tumbling down when he got hit over the head from behind, robbed, and left for dead. As he lay there in a pool of his own blood, with blurry eyesight, he caught a glimpse of what looked like a priest from Jerusalem. He thought for just a brief moment, “This man of God will help me back on my feet.” But he crossed to the other side and kept moving on after giving the victim a look of horror. He danced the priest shuffle to the other side of the road.
The victim thought, “He looked like a priest. He dressed like a priest. He smelled like a priest. He even had his own set of golf clubs. But he didn’t act like a priest. He must have been impersonating a priest, because I know a priest would not leave me dying on the side of the road.”
He found out otherwise. The true victim in that moment when the clear vision of the priest met the blurry vision of the one who was robbed, the true victim was the priest. His soul was victimized in the eyes of God, who sees everything.
And the same happened with the Levite, one who held at the time both religious and political responsibilities. An influential person. He also gave the victim of robbery a glimmer of hope as he approached. But lo and behold, he too left the guy on the ground in pain, leaving him disappointed as the passerby did the Levite shuffle to the other side of the road. The Levite, in that moment, became the true victim, who will be accused by God at a future date as to why he did the Levite shuffle to the other side of the road. We can hear the many excuses. And God at the end saying, “Why don’t you do Levite shuffle down to Purgatory for a few centuries.”
This story is in Jesus’ top 2 parables, in my unworthy estimation. It’s up there with the laborers who came into the vineyard to work for the Lord late in the day, receiving the same pay of eternal life as those who showed up at 9:00 in the morning of their lives. Both parables are deeply and richly connected to our salvation, our faith, our good works that flow from our faith, and just a general attitude of compassion and care toward someone who is hurting.
Are there men and women who call themselves Christian who hold little regard for the pain and plight of others? If so, they’re blind to the expectations and actions of Jesus Christ, and they live in their comfortable bubble, just like the priest and the Levite. To come out of their worldly bubble is to upset the cart that carries their reputation, their comfort, their false sense of peace, and their 401-K’s.
But fortunately we have some Samaritans, that despised race. The race of people at the time of Jesus who knew little about God or goodness. Yet, the Samaritan is the one who does not allow himself to become the victim, but treats the true victim with compassionate action. Not only with compassion, but compassionate action. There’s a mega-huge difference between the two.
The spiritual danger that sits in the middle of this world famous parable is the danger of having a heart for the downtrodden and those beat up by life’s blows, but do nothing at all to assist. This parable zeroes in on the importance and essential nature of Christian action. The priest and the Levite could have easily had compassion in their hearts as they shuffled to the other side of the road. But for Jesus, that is not good enough. That’s a self-righteous soothing of our hearts, where we can say to ourselves, “Well, at least I had compassion for him.” You know what that approach really is? It’s a decision that will send us off to Purgatory, when our souls are meant to be destined for heaven.
It’s a great parable. A parable that goes right to the heart of our Christian faith and answers the question, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The answer? Become a Samaritan on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Let your walls come tumbling down. And be a person of compassionate action, where we don’t settle for Purgatory, but reach for heaven by staying on the same side of the road as the victim.
When I was a UPS driver up in West Boylston, being the last route I had before my day of earthly salvation arrived and I left the brown uniform for a black one, I got to know the town pretty well over the course of 5 years. I know all the shortcuts, the back alleys, where the quiet spots were so I could enjoy an hour’s lunch each day in peace and quiet. I got to know many of the good people who either reside or work in the town. And, last but not least, I got to know which houses were haunted. Where spirits were supposedly still present in old homes. I know of at least two addresses in the town where people will say with a high level of certainty, “That house is haunted.”
It’s one of those deals where there’s no obligation to believe anything about such proclamations. Are there houses or other residences that are haunted in cities and towns throughout this great land that celebrates its 240th birthday on Monday? I would say definitely yes. I’ve heard from most reliable sources to think otherwise.
I use this image of a spirit being left behind in a residence or some other structure because it’s probably the most unnatural situation for any spirit to experience. When we die, our spirits and souls, we believe for good reason, appear in the presence of God to receive its judgment for eternity. And, off they go. Through the Pearly Gates, where there’s no sneaking past St. Peter; or, to the shadow of Purgatory; or, to the place we call Hades, along with a few other names.
But spirits left behind in the very places where they had a strong connection, usually where they died, seem to be in some middle area of existence. A place of spiritual wandering, instead of spiritual rest, where they are not supposed to be according to our religious beliefs. So I relegate such occurrences to our lack of understanding of all of God’s ways. What we can say with a level of certainty is that being left behind is both unusual and unnatural. Not only in spirit, but also in body.
Jesus sends out 72 disciples. That’s a large heavenly force being sent forth. They all leave their places of residence, their towns, their families, their crops and their boats. They leave quite a bit behind. Except for their families, everything else they leave behind is part of a passing world. Only human beings are created for eternity. Once Jesus sends them out, they can find everything else they need out there by way of people’s generosity. Thus, no money bags, no sacks, no sandals. ‘You’ll be given what you need out there!” Once they leave and go out to bring the Good News that the Kingdom of God is at hand for you, their entire focus is on Christ.
I use this image for us who are devoted enough and grace-filled enough to come to the Eucharist each week and listen to God’s word penetrate our lives. And we know how many of us Catholics like to sit in the same seat, section, or area each week. God help the person, or the stranger visiting from out of town, who arrives early to pray and takes your seat. Call the ambulance!
I can’t make light of this too much because I sit in the same seat every Mass. Just like many of you. However, what we do not want to do when we leave here is to leave behind our spirits. Although each of our spirits is wonderfully connected to the area where we sit each week, when we leave here we are to take our spirits with us in order to proclaim out there that the Kingdom of God is at hand for you. Unlike the spirits in haunted houses and wherever else, this we have much control over right now.
If we are not taking our spirit with us when we leave Church, be it the result of the forces of political correctness beating us down, or we’re too shy in personality, or we believe religion belongs here and nowhere else, then we’re not fully equipped for the Lord who sends us forth to bring his message of peace and salvation to a broken and violent world. We cannot be successful to any degree unless we take the spirit of our Catholicism with us, especially the Holy Spirit.
There may be houses that are haunted; this rectory over here may be one of them from my experience. There are very likely spirits left behind after a person dies, creating a situation that is unnatural, unusual, and most uncomfortable for all involved. Situations we fail to fully grasp because God’s ways are so far beyond our limited capacity to understand at times.
But as long as we are in the world, we are to be the light of the world by taking the light of Christ with us when we leave here, better known as our spirits. A body without a spirit may as well be a dead body, just like faith without works is a dead faith. Take all of our makeup into the world where we are sent by virtue of our Baptism. Into our homes; into our families; our places of labor; our spots of relaxation. If we take our bodies only, then we address our world in a bodily way only. That’s what atheists, God-haters, and politically correct people do. Where the world is seen in physical terms only; where the spirit is rejected. That’s most unnatural to the way of Christ, and how he sends us forward.
Take your spirit with you. Our spirits are necessary to share the Good News of our Lord. Some houses may or may not be haunted. Let your house, with your spirit, haunt this world on behalf of our Redeemer.