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Bishop's Homily for the 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

October 20, 2019

[St. Joseph Church, Hilo (Installation of Pastor)]

A priest friend of mine is fond of saying, “If you are not willing to work for something you are praying for, then don’t bother praying for it.”  I believe that thought bears some reflection in light of today’s Scripture readings.  The fact that God became human applies, of course, to the person of Jesus Christ himself; but it also has much to do with those who constitute his Body, the members of his Church.  In Christ God and humanity are forever wedded.  Our Christian faith was born of the people of Israel, and the name Israel, which was first given to the Patriarch Jacob means “one who wrestles with the Lord.”  The Lord delights in our engaging with him, and we do that in prayer and in the works we do in his name.

In our first reading we see that the people of Israel were threatened by the people of Amalek.  Prayer was extremely important in the battle, and Moses held up his hands – with the help of Aaron and Hur – but the warriors still had to do battle.  The Lord could have sent lightning or some other disaster to defeat the Amalekites, but he wanted to bring together prayer and action to win the battle.

The widow in Jesus’ story is not just praying for justice from the privacy of her home, hoping that God will just make it happen for her.  She invests herself in the prayer by going to the judge and wearing him out, so that, even though he did not respond out of duty, he responded to her plea just to get her off his back.

So, it is very important that we pray for the sick, and many people can tell you how prayer has been a great source of healing for them.  Yet prayer also needs to be accompanied by visiting the sick, caring for them, and providing appropriate medical treatments.

This month of October is dedicated to life, and it is extremely important that we pray for an end to abortions, physician assisted suicide, and the possibility of slipping into euthanasia.  Our prayer teaches us that we are not completely in charge; that God must be the agent of change, because we may not be capable of accomplishing all we want to accomplish.  At the same time, if the Lord is to answer our prayers, he needs us to reach out to mothers who are afraid of having a child for any number of reasons, helping them spiritually, emotionally, and financially.  He needs us to influence our legislators so that our laws reflect our respect for life in all its stages.  If our prayer against physician assisted suicide is to be effective, we need to accompany those who are suffering and remind them that our suffering can be redemptive, and that obedience to the voice of the Lord can lead us into eternal life.  The combination of prayer and action is extremely important.

Today is World Mission Sunday and we rightfully pray for missionaries to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.  But our prayers will be most effective when they lead us to realize that we are all called to be missionaries.  How many of our Catholic brothers and sisters no longer come to join us at the table of the Lord, and are we not to be missionaries to them, to invite them back, to listen compassionately to the reasons why they left, and to witness to them by our own commitment to come and worship every Sunday?  How many of our neighbors are living without hope and without vision because they do not know Jesus Christ and his saving love?  And who will tell them if not us?  So while we must pray diligently that the Lord will send more laborers into his abundant harvest, we must also realize that we are those laborers.

We know that sometimes our prayers are answered immediately, but usually – as our readings remind us – they may take some time.  This is why we are reminded that we need to be persistent.  Sometimes this is the Lord’s way of deepening our desire for what we are seeking.  Sometimes it is his way of engaging us in ways that we can bring about by our own commitments and actions what we are praying for.  Sometimes the delay may be a way of purifying our intentions so that we never think, on the one hand, that all we have to do is snap our fingers and God will jump; and on the other hand of thinking that we can accomplish everything on our own.

One of the most important things a pastor does is gather his people to pray in praise and worship in the Eucharist and in the other sacraments.  It is our communal recognition that we need each other to keep those hands held up in hope that God will grant us the victory.  There are so many enemies to our souls, to our family life, to our self-acceptance, and to the true welfare of our children and our society.  Only God can defeat these enemies, so our prayers to him are essential.  But he normally defeats them through the swords of perseverance, hope, and love that are lived out by us human beings.  Therefore, to engage in real prayer is to be really engaged in what will accomplish the desire of our prayer.  This is the beauty of wrestling with God that delights God and that will truly help us serve our neighbor.