[Homily. Assumption Chapel. 24 Sept 2022.]
Yesterday we reflected in our first readings on the wisdom of Qoheleth; the wisdom of being content with life in an unchanging world lived from the hand of God. That was wisdom we said which called forth a deeper wisdom. Some of that deeper wisdom is expressed in our Gospel readings yesterday and today from the 9th chapter of Luke.
First, the opening phrase, “once when Jesus was praying in solitude…” (Lk. 9:18). The gospels show Jesus in his public ministry fully absorbed by his mission of preaching the Kingdom of God and accepting in life what the rule of God entails. That was the wisdom that Jesus preached in such declarations as: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will weep for joy.” (Lk 6:20-21). Or: “To you who hear, I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Lk 6:37). His preaching was supported by his healing: he healed the centurion’s slave (Lk 7:1-10); he raised the widow’s son (Lk 7:11-17); he healed the daughter of Jairus and the woman with a hemorrhage (Lk 8:40-56). He preached the Good News of the Kingdom of God being fulfilled in himself even when for doing that the Jews and religious leaders wanted to murder him (Lk 4:16-30). We must appreciate that as driven as Jesus was to do the will of his Father in preaching the good news, in healing, and even in confronting the religious establishment that resisted his teaching as blasphemy and eventually killed him, Jesus needed to pray. Oftentimes throughout the night in solitude with God. His disciples certainly noticed this, as we do today.
Perhaps we should allow ourselves to be awed by this prayer of the Word of God who from the beginning was with God and God. It was a prayer which brought the pressures of the ministry in a difficult world to the Father, a prayer which praised, but also asked for guidance, if not for relief. “Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as in heaven” (Lk 11:2). Or later: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me, still not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22: 42). In the end, his prayer for relief yielded to total obedience to his Father’s will. Appreciating Jesus absorbed in prayer, perhaps our prayer today should be the same as Jesus’ disciples, “Lord, teach us to pray…” (Lk 11:1). “Teach me to pray. Teach me to pray like you do.” Personally, when I have difficulty with prayer, this is my humble prayer. I know: Jesus does teach us to pray, the Father listens and lets his face shine on us, the Spirit encourages and helps us to understand.
Possibly, personal prayer could help us answer the question that Jesus puts to his disciples: “Who do the crowds say that I am? … But who do you say that I am?” The Lord is not asking you to reply from your knowledge of history, not even from your conceptual knowledge of theology. The Lord is asking you to reply from within, from your lived experience of him, from the history of your interaction with him, from the outcome of your having asked him over and over again, as St. Ignatius urged, for an intimate knowledge of him. Who is this Jesus whom you know from your mother, from your father, from the helper in your household, from your parish community, from your school community, from your life in the world which too often ignores him? Who is this Jesus who dies to be part of your life, who lives anew to be a more intimate part of your life, who prays for you from the heavenly sanctuary that you may fully partake of divine life, life to the full” (Jn 10:10).
Indeed, personal prayer may also help you understand what Jesus said and the disciples could not understand. From yesterday’s gospel: “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised” (Lk 9:22). And from today’s gospel, soon after the account of the Transfiguration where against the shadows and darkness he encountered in his mission divinity broke through in light (Lk 9:20-36), Jesus again announces: “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men” (Lk 9:44b).
In Luke’s Gospel, the crucified Word from the Cross was, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” (Lk 23:34). Perhaps in the consciousness of our many sins, our many shortcomings, our many unfulfilled promises, our prayer might echo that of the good thief, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom…” (Lk 23:42).
In the quiet of our prayer may we hear Jesus’ personal reply to each of us…