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The Bold versus the Cynical
Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary (Our Lady of Victory)
Jesus said to his disciples: “Suppose one of you has a friend to whom he goes at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him,’ and he says in reply from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.’ I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence. And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”
Opening Prayer: I come to you today, Lord, believing firmly that you care about me and are interested in my life. I take comfort in the words from today’s first reading: “the Lord listened attentively.” I know you are listening to me, right now. You are loving me and smiling upon me, because, as you remind me in today’s first reading, I am “yours, your own special possession.” Teach me, Lord, to hear your voice and follow wherever you lead.
- Expectations: What do I expect from God? Jesus makes it abundantly clear that we should expect from God much more than we can possibly imagine: “How much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” A merely human father knows how to give good gifts to his children. Our heavenly Father is infinitely more loving, attentive, wise, and powerful. He is infinitely more committed to us, to our welfare. Even the best of human fathers is only finite in his capacity to love and provide. God is all-loving, all-powerful, all-present. What a difference it would make if we believed with all our heart and soul in this truth that Jesus has revealed so energetically! When we look at the lives of the saints, we see an unbridled faith in God’s infinite goodness and commitment to us. That faith frees them from the shackles of earthly fears and insecurities. It unleashes the gifts of the Holy Spirit so that they experience more and more fully the divine goodness they believe in and spread that goodness around them. We all believe in this infinite goodness and loving interest of God. But we can believe in it more fully, more radically. Faith, like all Christian virtues, is a gift and a task. We have received the gift; now we need to exercise it more consciously, intentionally, and regularly so that it can grow and bear the fruit God wants it to.
- Ask, Seek, Knock: Whenever the Jewish rabbis repeated one concept three times with three different words, it was a sign of extreme emphasis. That is what Jesus did in this case. He used two parables–the sleeping friend and the fish/egg vs. snake/scorpion–to illustrate how we must entrust ourselves and our needs to God, and so enter a true childlike relationship with him. And then he exhorted us to be very demanding with God by asking, seeking, knocking. Jesus knows that our hearts burn with deep and passionate desires–for meaning, for happiness, for peace, for wisdom, for counsel, for love, for blessings–our hearts are furnaces of desires! And they are thus because God has made them thus. Ours is not a religion that promises peace only by extinguishing desires. On the contrary, Jesus invites us to feed our good desires by expressing them insistently to the One who can fulfill them. Life itself, with all the yearnings it gives us, is God at work within us. Every good desire we experience is like a promise from the Lord—he wouldn’t give us hearts that yearn so much if he wasn’t able to satisfy beyond all expectations the yearnings we experience. As the Catechism puts it (1718): “This desire [for happiness] is of divine origin: God has placed it in the human heart in order to draw man to the One who alone can fulfill it.”
- The Cynical Seduction: We have all prayed to God for so many things. We have asked him for so many graces and favors; we have sought and knocked so often, just like the importunate friend in the parable. But it seems that more often than not our petitions are ignored. Doesn’t it? Be honest. So many problems, so much suffering, so many difficulties and failures, sins and sorrows—if God really is the Good Father who wants to give us more than we even know how to ask for, why is life such an unending flow of tears and tribulations? If only we remember one thing, we will never get stuck in cynicism and discouragement. If only we remember what Jesus told Pilate just hours before he sacrificed his own life to redeem us from sin, we will learn to obey St. Paul’s bold injunction to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always! I shall say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). Jesus told Pilate, “My Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). The fulfillment he yearns to give us is much deeper than we realize, although he sometimes allows us to glimpse it even in earthly terms, as he did when answering the prayers of all Christendom in 1571 at the Battle of Lepanto (commemorated by today’s memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary). And so, when he doesn’t answer our askings, seekings, and knockings the way we expected, we can be sure that it’s only because what he has in mind is better than what we had in mind. And with that assurance, our hearts will never be seduced by the siren calls of soul-squelching cynicism.
Conversing with Christ: I will never give up on you, Lord. Just as I know you will never give up on me. I know that for you “one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day” (2 Peter 3:8). I renew my commitment to follow and obey you every single day of my life, no matter what. I will never stop asking, seeking, and knocking for the fulfillment of the longings you have placed with me. And I will never stop renewing my faith in your infinite goodness and in your personal commitment to my holiness and everlasting happiness. Thank you, my Lord! May your name be ever blessed!
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will compose my own “act of faith,” my very own prayer, written in my own words, that I will pray every day for the next week in order to exercise and thereby increase my faith in your omnipotent goodness.
For Further Reflection: St. John Henry Newman’s Mission Prayer and River of Wisdom: A Retreat Guide on the Rosary.
Written by Fr. John Bartunek, LC.
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