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Homily for Sunday, June 23, 2024

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time |

[Father Paul]

When I was in the seminary, I had to do a funeral service for a baby who died just after he was born. It was a full funeral service without a Mass, including visitation at the funeral home. While I was at the funeral home, the baby's older sister would have been five or maybe 6. She was very sad, and she said, "I'm mad at Jesus." So I knelt beside her and said, "Why are you mad at Jesus?" "Because I was so excited to have a baby brother, and I prayed to him to help me. I didn't pray for a new bicycle or toy; I just prayed for my new brother. And now he's taken him away from me." All I could do to answer her was to say that when I got to heaven, Jesus was going to have some explaining to do. 

I wonder if that's how the disciples felt in the boat—the storm and the winds around them. Where's Jesus? Why isn't he helping? We sometimes think that way, too, when the storms of life surround us.  

There's a lesson here for us in the book of Job that we read this morning. If you are still getting familiar with the story, I encourage you to read the entire book. It starts with God and the Devil conversing; God says, "Look, see how wonderful my buddy Job is down there." And the Devil says, "No wonder, look at all the blessings he has. Take those blessings away and see if he still loves you." God then says, "Ok, do what you will, but don't harm him physically."

So, it starts. First, Job loses his donkeys to some foreign attacker, then he loses his sheep and his servants, then his camels, then his son's house collapses, and all of his sons and daughters are killed. Then Job was very upset; he tore his garments but said, "Naked I came into this world, and naked I go out, the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed by the name of the Lord." He still didn't sin or charge God with any wrongdoing. So, Satan says to God, "Sure, but these are just possessions and family and friends. 'All that people have, they will give to save their lives. but stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.' Very well, God said, don't take his life. So he was covered with sores. Finally, his wife even said to him who survived, by the way, and said: "Curse God and die." And yet God still wouldn't curse God. "Shall we receive the god at the hand of God and not receive the bad?" In all this, Job did not sin with his lips. 

Then his three friends came to him, convinced that he must have done something terrible to deserve all this, or his ancestors did - and they go on like this for most of the rest of the book. And then, towards the end, Job says to God, come on, what gives?

And God answers Job out of the whirlwind: where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? And the lord restored Job's fortune twice as much. 

I wonder if the disciples felt a bit like Job, like the little girl, or even ourselves. There they were in the boat, with storms, waves, and danger all around them. And where is Jesus? He's doing nothing to help them. He's asleep. 

So they wake him. This is prayer. At first, they try to solve their problems without him, but the issues are just more significant than they are. And, of course, he helps them because he is bigger than their problems. And he is bigger than our problems. "Where were you when I laid the foundation for the world?" He asks us. In our arrogance, we think we are more important than God; we're not. 

"His omniscience is aware of all that is necessary and useful to us. St. Thomas answers that no doubt, out of pure liberality, God does bestow upon us innumerable unasked and unsought benefits. Still, there are some which He will grant only at our request, and this is for our own good, namely, that we should place our confidence in Him and come to acknowledge Him as the source and origin of all our goods. When we pray, we cherish the hope of being heard and are less exposed to forget God. As it is, we forget him all too often; what would it be if we never felt the need to reach out to Him, even in our distress? For good reasons, then, God demands of us prayer in the form of petition."

In other words, God knows already what we need, and it is within his power to give it, but he wants us to ask Him, and by asking him, we acknowledge our dependence on him. We may object, well, that's not right, that's not fair. What, that God wants to draw you closer to Him? It's more than fair; it's beautiful. There is absolutely nothing more wonderful than God's love and friendship. And God answers Job out of the whirlwind, "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the world? "

My conclusion as to why God doesn't answer intercessory prayer is that whether or not God answers prayer in the way we hope, the act of asking itself will always draw us closer to Him who loves us.   Here is one man's experience of what that love feels like in St. Augustine. Maybe you have felt this way yourself; maybe this is how the disciples felt after the storm: 

"Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace."

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