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God is Love...

Catechetical Center of Bangkok

30th Sunday of the Year
Sirach 35:12–14, 16–18; 2 Timothy 4:6–8, 16–18; Luke 18:9–14


Body prayer
Jesus prayed not only with his mind and with his heart
but also with his whole body.
Dorothy Day died in November 1980
at the age of 84.
Reporting on her death,
the New York Times called her
the most influential person
in the history of American Catholicism.

Since her death,
there’s been a movement to canonize her
for her personal life and her work
among New York City’s poor and destitute.
In her book From Union Square to Rome
she describes her conversion to Christ.
One of her first attractions came in childhood.
One day she discovered the mother
of one of her girlfriends kneeling in prayer.
The sight of this kneeling woman
moved her deeply.
She never forgot it.
In the same book she tells how,
in the days before her conversion,
she often spent the entire night in a tavern.
Then she would go to an early morning Mass
at St. Joseph’s Church on Sixth Avenue.
What attracted her to St. Joseph’s
were the people kneeling in prayer.
She writes: “I longed for their faith. . . .
So I used to go in and kneel in a back pew.’’
Eventually
Dorothy Day received the gift of faith
and entered the Church.
And this brings us
to today’s readings.
Both the first reading and the gospel reading
talk about people at prayer.
One of the things that Jesus underscores
in his parable about prayer
is the posture of the penitent man as he prays.
He remains at a distance,
casting his eyes down and beating his breast.
It’s no accident that Jesus underscores
the prayerful posture of the penitent man.
One of the things about Jesus’ own prayer
was the importance he attached to the body
when he prayed.
Jesus prayed not only with his mind
and his heart but also with his whole body.
For example,
Jesus knelt in the Garden of Gethsemane.
And when the prayer became more intense,
he prayed face to the ground. (Matthew 26:39)
Jesus also prayed
with his eyes raised to heaven.
We find him praying this way
before the miracle of the loaves
and also at the Last Supper. (Mark 6:41, John 17:1)
Finally, Jesus prayed out loud.
We find him praying this way
as he hung on the cross
during his crucifixion. (Mark 15:34)
This brings us
to ourselves in this church today.
How do today’s readings
apply to us personally?
If we are having trouble praying,
maybe it’s because we don’t imitate Jesus
and pray with our body,
as well as with our mind and our heart.
To understand how praying with our body
can help us in our prayer,
let’s look more closely at three ways
Jesus prayed with his body.
First, Jesus knelt.
A teacher of a boy’s high school once remarked
that he was surprised
at the number of young men in high school
who kneel at night to pray.
Someone else said about kneeling,
“I don’t kneel down because I feel reverent.
I kneel down to become reverent.’’
The important thing in prayer
is not whether we kneel or don’t kneel.
The important thing is that we find a posture
that helps us pray better.
And this means we should experiment
until we find the best posture.
Besides kneeling,
Jesus also made use of his eyes in prayer.
In the 1960s John XXIII gave each
of the astronauts a St. Christopher’s medal.
When Ed White, a Protestant,
arrived at Launch Pad 19 on June 3, 1965,
for the Gemini-4 space flight,
he put his medal in a special pouch
on the left leg of his space suit.
White said that his Catholic partner
on the flight, Jim McDivitt,
lived up to popular Catholic practice
and hung his medal
on the instrument panel of the spaceship.
Once they got in orbit and were weightless,
Jim’s medal floated about lazily in the cabin
on the end of a short chain. Ed said:
“[The sight of the medal reminded us]
not only of the prayer Pope John had said . . .
but of the prayers of fellow Americans.
It’s hard to describe
the feeling that comes with the knowledge
that 190 million people are praying for you. . . .
It makes you feel very . . . humble.’’
Applying this to prayer,
we learn that the position of our eyes,
or what we see as we pray, can help us acquire
the attitudes of trust and reverence,
which are essential to prayer.
Finally, besides kneeling
and making use of his eyes,
Jesus also made use of his voice in prayer.
Back in the 1960s
television commentator Bill Moyers
was President Johnson’s press secretary.
One morning
the president asked Moyers to say grace
before they began their breakfast together.
Moyers had hardly started when Johnson said,
“Louder, Bill, louder!
I can’t hear what you’re saying.’’
Without lifting his eyes,Moyers said,
“Mr. President, I am not talking to you.’’
That story helps us realize
that we pray to someone,
not just to ourselves or in our imaginations.
Praying out loud can help us pray better,
just as it helped Jesus pray better.
This brings us back to today’s readings
and the message they hold for us this morning.
Today’s Scripture readings,
the story of Dorothy Day,
and the example of Jesus himself
show us how important it is to pray
not only with our mind and our heart
but also with our body.
They suggest
that if we’re having trouble praying,
maybe it’s because
we’re not involving our body in our prayer.
Finally, they invite us
to experiment with our body in prayer,
to see how, perhaps,
it can help us pray more reverently
to our Father in heaven.
Let’s close
with a prayer:
Lord Jesus, at the Last Supper,
you raised your eyes in prayer.
In the Garden of Gethsemane,
you knelt in prayer.
On the cross, you prayed out loud.
Teach us to pray as you did,
not just with our mind and our heart,
but also with our whole body.

30th Sunday of the Year
Sirach 35:12–14, 16–18; 2 Timothy 4:6–8, 16–18; Luke 18:9–14
The gift God values most
Repentance is not only being sorry enough to want to
quit doing wrong, but also wishing we could change the
wrong we did.
There’s an ancient legend
that dates all the way back to medieval times.
It’s about a young woman
who died and went to heaven.
Her life on earth had been bad—very bad.
When she arrived at the gates of heaven,
she was told that she could be admitted
only under one condition.
She must return to earth
and bring back the gift
that God values above all other gifts.
The young woman returned to earth.
There she thought and thought about what gift
God values above all other gifts.
Then one day she came upon a young man
who had just died for his faith in God.
“Ah!’’ she thought,
“this is indeed the gift that God values most:
the blood of someone
who has died for his or her faith.’’
So she took a drop of the young man’s blood
and brought it back to heaven.
But when she presented it,
she was told that there was something
that God values even more than this.
So she returned to earth again
and thought and thought about what gift
God values even more than the blood
of someone who has died for her or his faith.
Then she came upon an old missionary
preaching God’s word among the poor.
“Ah!’’ she thought,
“this is indeed the gift God values most:
the sweat of the brow of someone
who has spent his or her life
bringing the good news of salvation to the poor.’’
But when she presented it in heaven,
she was told that there was something
that God values even more highly than this.
So she returned to earth once more
and thought and thought about what gift
God values even more highly
than the sweat of someone
who has spent her or his life
teaching people about Jesus.
Again, again, and again,
she went back to heaven with precious gifts.
But each time she was told
that there was still another gift
that God values more highly.
Finally, one day,
when she was about to give up,
she came upon a child playing at a fountain.
The child’s face was beautiful and innocent.
At that moment, a man on horseback rode up.
He dismounted to get a drink at the fountain.
When the man saw the child,
he remembered his own childhood innocence.
Then he looked into the fountain
and saw the reflection of his own face.
It was ugly and hardened.
As he stared at his image in the water,
he suddenly realized
how wrongly he had wasted the life
that God had given him.
And at that moment tears of repentance
welled up in his eyes
and rolled down his cheeks
and fell into the fountain.
The young woman took one of the man’s tears
and brought it back to heaven.
When she presented it, there was great joy
among the angels and saints.
This was, indeed, the gift God valued
above all others:
the tears of a repentant sinner.
That story fits in beautifully
with today’s gospel.
For the prayer that was valued most by God
in the gospel story
was the prayer of the repentant sinner.
Elsewhere in the gospel Jesus says:
“[T]here will be more joy in heaven
over one sinner who repents
than over ninety-nine respectable people
who do not need to repent.” Luke 15:7
Repentance has been described
as being sorry enough to want to quit
whatever we have been doing wrong.
But repentance is more than this.
It’s not only being sorry enough
to want to quit
whatever we have been doing wrong,
but also being sorry enough
to wish we could correct all the wrong
that we have already done.
A story, told by James Colaianni,
might help to illustrate.
Alittle boy was visiting his grandmother.
She asked him what he would like
for breakfast.
He replied, “Pancakes.’’
He then added that at home
he was allowed to eat only three at a meal.
“So,’’ he asked,
“may I eat as many as I want?’’
His grandmother said, “Yes.’’
After the boy had finished a dozen pancakes,
his grandmother noticed
that he had an unhappy look on his face.
“What’s wrong, Bobby?’’ she said.
“Don’t you want any more pancakes?’’
“No,’’ said Bobby,
“I don’t want any more pancakes.
I don’t even want the ones I’ve already eaten!’’
That’s a good feeling to have—uncomfortable,
but good.
The reason why it’s a good feeling
is because it’s a feeling of repentance.
It’s not only being sorry enough to want to quit,
but also being sorry enough
to wish that we hadn’t done
what we already did.
This is the kind of repentance
that the ancient legend talks about.
This is the kind of repentance
that Jesus talks about in today’s gospel.
Years ago
there was a Broadway play
about a young person
who dropped out of school,
rejected his family,
and became hopelessly hooked on drugs.
In an unforgettable scene in the play,
the young person looks up to heaven
and cries out in anguish and despair:
“How I wish life was like a notebook
so I could tear out the parts
where I’ve made all the mistakes
and throw them away.’’
Thanks to Jesus, life is like a notebook.
And thanks to Jesus,
we can tear out the parts
where we’ve made all the mistakes
and throw them away.
In his love,
Jesus gave us the sacrament of Reconciliation.
Through this sacrament,
we can tear out the parts of our life
where we made all the mistakes
and throw them away.
This is the message of today’s gospel.
This is the good news
that we celebrate in today’s liturgy.
It is the good news
that the gift that God values most
is the tears
of a repentant sinner.

30th Sunday of the Year
Sirach 35:12–14, 16–18; 2 Timothy 4:6–8, 16–18;
Luke 18:9–14
Pharisee and the tax collector
What counts with God?
Jesus said, “[T]hose who humble themselves
will be made great.” Luke 18:14
Over a million people in Chicago
picked up the Chicago Tribune
on the morning of November 20, 1996.
The front page was given over
to the funeral of Cardinal Bernardin.
One of the stories described the funeral
cortege that carried the cardinal’s body
to Mount Carmel Cemetery.
Allow me to read an excerpt from it:
People came out to wait,
sometimes for half the day. . . .
From the downtown crowds three deep
to the prayerful man kneeling alone
on a West Side parkway,
an eerie, respectful silence followed the cortege
as it snaked through the city. . . .
At Wabash Avenue and Randolph Street,
a roller blader in a skin-tight
purple and yellow jumpsuit
stood with head bowed, hands in prayer.
In the 900 block of Madison Street in Oak Park,
a boy in a blue winter jacket
help up a sign he had colored on a sheet
of orange paper. “Bye Joe,” it said,
“you have everlasting life.”
And outside St.Martin de Porres Church,
youngsters held up a 20-foot banner
that summed up everything.
It simply said, “We love our Cardinal.”
Why did people—
Catholic and non-Catholic alike—
love and admire the cardinal so deeply?
The answer to that question takes us directly
to Jesus’ parable in today’s Gospel.
In it Jesus describes the tax collector
as showing forth the same two things
that people frequently cited when asked
why they admired the cardinal so much:
his humility and his prayerfulness.
First, take the cardinal’s humility.
This trait made people feel at ease
the moment they met him.
Observing his humility,
you immediately thought of Jesus’ words
to his disciples:
“[L]earn from me, because I am gentle
and humble in spirit.” Matthew 11:29
It was this kind of humility
that Jesus pointed to in today’s parable.
“[T]he tax collector
stood at a distance and
would not even raise his face to heaven,
but beat on his breast and said,
‘God, have pity on me, a sinner!’ ” Luke 18:13
At the Mass of the Resurrection
on the morning
of Cardinal Bernardin’s burial,
homilist Monsignor Velo
told a story that captured
the cardinal’s spirit of humility.
It was a story that brought a burst
of laughter and tears to the mourners.
It was a story that turned
a somber atmosphere into one
that the cardinal would have loved:
an atmosphere of celebration.
It seems that one summer
the cardinal was on vacation,
far from Chicago.
He was dressed in casual clothes
and walking down the aisle
of a supermarket, picking up items
to prepare for his evening meal.
Suddenly a man rushed over to him
and said excitedly:
“Oh, I can’t believe it’s really you.
What a surprise! What a big surprise!
“Do you have a minute?
Do you have one minute to see my wife?
It would mean so much to her.
She’s out in the car in the parking lot.”
The cardinal graciously obliged;
and the excited man led the way
down the aisle, past the turnstile,
and out into the parking lot.
All the while the cardinal asked himself,
“Who is this man and how did he
recognize me, dressed like this,
hundreds of miles from Chicago?”
Hurrying across the parking lot,
the man turned to the cardinal,
pointed, and said,“My car is over there.
And there’s Helen in the front seat.”
As the cardinal walked up to the car,
the man pulled open the car door
and said ecstatically to his wife,
“Helen, look who’s here!
Can you believe it? Can you believe it?
It’s Dr. Kresnick!”
And so the first thing people admired
about their cardinal was his humility
that made him enjoy
that episode so much.
The second thing people admired
and loved about Cardinal Bernardin
was his spirit of prayerfulness.
Again, recall how Jesus praised
the tax collector’s prayerfulness, saying:
“[He] would not even raise his face to heaven,
but beat on his breast and said,
‘God, have pity on me, a sinner!’ ”
Cardinal Bernardin once said
that before we can follow Jesus
we must experience conversion.
We must come to know and love him.
And one way to experience this
is to open ourselves
more fully to Jesus in daily prayer.
In his beautiful book The Gift of Peace,
which the cardinal wrote
during his final, fatal illness,
he humbly admits that
a turning point in his priestly life came
when he decided that “prayer on the run”
was not enough for a priest. He writes:
After all, if we believe
that the Lord Jesus is the Son of God,
then of all persons
to whom we should give ourselves,
we should give him the best we have.
So I decided to give God the first hour
of my day, no matter what,
to be with him in prayer and meditation.
And that’s what he did the rest of his life.
That brings us to each one of us here
and how today’s Gospel applies to us.
I don’t think we could do better
than to quote from the cardinal’s ending
to his book. He writes:
What I would like to leave behind
is a simple prayer that each of you find
what I have found . . . the gift of peace.
When we are at peace,
we find the freedom to . . . become
instruments of the Lord.
If we seek communion with the Lord,
we must pray.
One of my favorite prayers is attributed
to Saint Francis of Assisi.
Let us conclude by reciting it:
Lord,
make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that we may not so much seek
to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
It is in dying
that we are born to eternal life.