Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 23, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Sir 35: 12-14, 16-18 / Ps 34 / 2 Tm 4: 6-8,16-18 / Lk 18: 9-14
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon
Has frustration or doubt crept into your prayer life? Two weeks in a row, the Church’s readings have emphasized prayer. The theme last week was perseverance in prayer, illustrated by that great scene with Moses having to hold up his arms for the Israelites to win the battle (Ex 17: 8-13). The battle went on so long that two others had to hold up Moses’ arms for him, and so the battle was won. Jesus assured us in last week’s gospel that God will “speedily” answer our prayers (Lk 18).
This week’s theme for prayer is, “God is a good-good Father.” In the gospel, we meet the sinful tax collector praying, “O God be merciful to me, a sinner (Lk 18:13).” He was justified, Bible-speak for “made right with God.” St. Francis de Sales reflected on this and wrote, “Alas! Since the goodness of God is so immense that one moment suffices to obtain and receive His grace, what assurance can we have that he who was yesterday a sinner is not a saint today (Barron 408/Introduction to a Devout Life)?” May we share in God’s goodness and make the apologizing other person right with us as speedily as God did the tax collector!
The reading from Sirach describes God’s goodness. He is just, “knows no favorites,” listens to the oppressed, the orphan, and the widow (Sir 35: 12-15). Let’s put these Bible words into American English. For oppressed, think beat down or abused or unfairly treated at work. For orphan, think orphan and those rejected by or cast out of their family. And for widow, think widow for sure, but I would add widower and people abandoned by their spouse against their will. In all these downtrodden states of life, we long for goodness.
That longing wisely and often takes the form of prayer. The author of Sirach writes that our prayers reach heaven when we “serve Him and are lowly (Sir 35: 16).” That describes St. Paul in the second reading, in his letter to Timothy, which Paul was writing as God’s servant and as a lowly prisoner. Paul said his friends abandoned him. But then, echoing Sirach, he writes, “but the Lord stood by me and gave me strength (2 Tim 4:16).” In this stressful situation, St. Paul is able to see God’s grace and goodness.
King David, who wrote today’s 34th Psalm, obviously had a similar distressing life experience to Paul’s proclaiming, “The Lord is close to the broken hearted; and those who are crushed in spirit He saves (Ps 34: 18).” I have heard many sad life stories over the years. However, as the song says, we have a “good, good Father,” and He answers all prayers.
I’ll share one such story of prayers answered. At this past summer’s mission trip to the mountainous, southwest corner of Virginia, near the UVA Wise campus, I met a man named David. Our group of teenagers and chaperones went to his home in the middle of the mountains on Father’s Day. Our mission was to rebuild his deck and to add a wheelchair ramp to it, all in God’s name. David only had one leg. He had almost died three times, including a motorcycle and a car accident, as well as in surgery. He had been a rough and tumble coal mine worker. He told me he used to relish a good fight, but in his own words, he would get dangerously violent and couldn’t stop himself.
We invited him to pray with us each day when we arrived, when we did our lunch scripture reflection, and before we left each day, and he always participated. He often joked and laughed with the youth, who affectionately called him Big Dave. One time, while the others worked, He and I had a deep spiritual conversation. When I asked him if he thought God made good come from the loss of his leg to rescue his soul, the only way God could get through to such a rough and tough son of a gun, David teared up, looked off into the distance, and just nodded yes. For a few minutes, David was too choked up to speak.
At the end of the week, his deck was fully restored, complete with a safe ramp for his wheelchair. At our week’s ending banquet, David took the microphone and told all the priests and seminarians, chaperones, Deacons, and youth that when those teenagers showed up at his house on Father’s Day, it was the best Father’s Day he had ever had. He wiped away tears while giving each of the teens and us chaperones a hug before saying goodbye. All of this was an answer to someone’s prayer. David knows his good, good Father who visited him on Father’s Day, rebuilt his deck, made him laugh and cry, and affirmed his dignity.
King David, Paul, the tax collector, and Big Dave all had been made lowly by a checkered past and all experienced God’s grace born by the winds of someone’s prayer. But prayer doesn’t just transform the lives of those prayed for, but also of those who pray for them. And that brings us to the all-important question at this point in every Mass, “How do I respond to today’s readings, this homily, and the sacramental grace we are about to receive?”
Here is something to try this week. You know how an athlete will warm up and get their mind focused before competing? Fr. Thomas Dubay suggests we approach prayer in a similar fashion (Dubay Prayer Primer). Here’s one way to do that. Start your prayer by telling God that He is a good, good Father who answers every prayer and sends grace wherever it is needed. Follow that with a prayer of recollection, recalling the times in your life He cared for you. Recalling those times will cheer your heart and strengthen your faith so that you can finish your prayer in confidence that it is being answered. Remember that Jesus said that even a tiny bit of faith can move a mountain (Mt 17:20-21).
Here are a few gems of wisdom for amping up your prayer. St. Theresa of Avila said, “…it is impossible to speak to [God] and to the world at the same time,” so give Him your undivided attention. To get centered on God like that, Bishop Barron prays the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” He suggests breathing in on the first part and out on the second part. Father Dubay says we need to go to Mass; the liturgy has sacramental power that nourishes our prayer. He adds that while praying, don’t think much, but love much. And St. Augustine, putting a different spin on today’s reading from Sirach, reminds us that, “To pray well, one must live well.”
I’ll close by sharing some wisdom from my spiritual director, Carrie McKeown. She noticed that I prayed a lot for healing of my lung disease and for help overcoming it so I could be a good husband, father, Deacon and manager. So, she asked me a simple question, “Do you believe God takes care of you?” This is one of those questions that is tempting to answer quickly but bears more fruit if we examine our life in light of it. It’s ok to pray for your own needs, but my prayer was leading to aggravation with God, not restfulness in His goodness.
St. Margaret Mary Alocoque (who developed the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus) said it this way: “Keep your heart in peace and let nothing trouble you…for God’s dwelling is in peace.” Padre Pio and other saints have said similar things. If I’m stressing instead of seeing God’s grace like St. Paul did in prison, do I always believe God takes care of me? Since that time a couple of years ago, I mostly pray for others and sure enough, God has taken care of me. This is a key to being a wounded prayer warrior, knowing deep down God is good and cares for you. Let’s make Chris Tomlin’s lyrics our prayer this week. Lord, “You are a good good Father. It’s who you are, it is who you are…And I’m loved by you. It’s who I am, it’s who I am.” Amen.
- Dubay, Thomas S.M. Prayer Primer – Igniting the Fire Within. 2002 Ignatius Press.
- Bishop Robert Barron. The Word on Fire Bible – The Gospels. 2020 Word of Fire Catholic Ministries.