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Trust and perseverance

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

Jesus Christ is true God and true man.

By His human nature He is united with all of us, without distinction. We share with Him in our common humanity.

By His divine nature, He is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit, the other two persons in the one true God. There is a perfect and eternal communion among the three persons of the Most Holy Trinity. The bond of love that exists from all eternity between the Father and the Son is so intense and so deep, that it is a person in itself.

That is why the importance of prayer in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ is so prominent.

The Lord, who is in perfect communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit, seeks spaces, finds moments to establish an explicit dialogue of love with the Father. We find Him often at prayer, especially during key moments in His ministry. At the supreme moment of His Passion and Death, the Lord prays.

To contemplate Christ at prayer must have been so moving for the disciples that, as the Gospel passage proclaimed this Sunday tells us, they asked Him to teach them how to pray.

The Lord’s answer is immediate. He teaches them the Our father, as He also does in the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel according to St. Matthew.

He does not simply give them a formula, a text, truly perfect and unbeatable which has been the object of wonderful commentaries and insights such as those of St. Cyprian, St. Augustine, and even contemporary theologians such as the Belgian Dominican priest, Servais Pinckaers.

In addition to the text of the prayer, the Lord offers very important and certainly needed instructions as to the way and the attitude we ought to keep when we pray.

If the passage proclaimed last week highlighted the importance of contemplation and adoration in our relationship with God. This week the emphasis is in trust, petition, and perseverance.

We know with certainty that God loves us passionately. We only have to look at a crucifix to be moved by the radicality of the love of God for us. If we contemplate our lives with a supernatural look, we will realize that the grace of God has been a work always, even in those moments when we walked away from Him.

The popular text of the footprints in the sand is well known. In it the Lord lets the author see his past life as a path on the sand in which there is only one set of footprints during the difficult moments. In the face of the reproach of the author, the Lord replies that there is only one set because precisely in those moments He has been carrying him on His back.

One of the reasons why that text is so popular and finds echo in our hearts is that all of us in some way, intuitively realize that we have experienced the love, mercy, and presence of God during moments of tribulation in our lives, even if we may have thought at that particular moment that the Lord was distant or was not listening to us.

That is why it is essential to persevere in prayer, especially in moments of aridity and difficulty.

A poet once said that prayer has wings. Indeed, the Lord does not let down. If He is ever late in answering it is not because He does not care about us, rather it is because He respects human freedom and as the good Father He is, knows when and how to provide for his children.

Unlike our earthly parents, the knowledge God has of us and of reality at large is perfect, that is why he never errs. That is why we can be sure of the truth of the words of St. Paul in the Letter to the Romans, chapter 8, verse 28: Everything is for the good of those who love the Lord.

In addition to His goodness, His being omniscient enables Him to know better than us what is good for our salvation, the most important project of our existence and the reason why we exist.

We were created by God out of love and for love. As St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross said, love is our eternal life. Therefore, even when our prayer of petition is not answered or the answer is not what we hope for, we must trust that the Lord, far from disengaging, give us a stone or a scorpion, is doing what is best for us. Even if he allows for something that is a cause of pain, He will make sure in some mysterious way to make good flourish, develop, and prevail.

Examples abound. It is obvious that the Lord did not want his brothers to sell Joseph as a slave. Yet, He allowed it. Years later, it was Joseph himself who saved them from starvation.

A person I admire on account of his intelligence, honesty, and the dignity in the face of suffering and even slander, introduced me to Garth Brooks’ song, Unanswered prayers.

Its refrain goes like this: “Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers. Remember when you are talking to the man upstairs. And just because He doesn’t answer, doesn’t mean he don’t care. Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”

And then it goes on to say: “I guess the Lord knows what He is doing after all.”

Of course, the Lord knows what he is doing and why he allows things to happen.

Like Abraham in the first reading, like many others through history, including people who were very active in the world such as St. Teresa of Calcutta or contemplative Christians such as the Discalced Carmelites in Hialeah, we must pray without ceasing as St. Paul says, with confidence and perseverance. As pope Francis often says we must be like beggars before God, even when it comes to trivial matters.

Of course, we also must allow some time for prayer of adoration and for listening, since prayer is always a dialogue, never a monologue.

July 4 marked a new anniversary of the death of Fr. Alfie Kelly, pastor of St. Patrick in Buenos Aires. He was murdered in 1976 in the parish rectory together with two Pallotine priests and seminarians. Pope Francis was his spiritual director for some time. The diary of Fr. Kelly, which has been preserved is a treasure holding thoughts and experiences of a man who, as Pope Francis said, was in love with God. In it there is an entry that I often ponder in my own heart: “I have to do myself what I tell others to do: pray more.”

Indeed, all of us need to pray more. Trusting. With perseverance, with insistence, as the Lord Himself reminds us in the Gospel for this Sunday.

Fr. Roberto M. Cid