Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Prayer of Abraham

Last Friday night I gave a short talk at the Archdiocese of Milwaukee's monthly All-Night Vigil. My topic was based on the May 18 General Audience of Pope Benedict--Abraham and the Prayer of Intercession.

How did you learn to pray? What were your first prayers like?

I recall my mother kneeling with me beside my bed each night and praying for her and my father, for my sisters and other relatives, and for friends. Later, when I was tucked into bed, I might add a secret prayer--asking for something for myself, like a certain toy for Christmas. Sometimes I prayed in desperation, like the time my sister accidentally splashed dish water into Timmy the Turtle's bowl and he got very sick. I prayed that he would recover. He didn't.

When those prayers of desperation are not answered as we want, our faith is tested. That's especially true when we pray for important and good things--like the health of a loved one. When the loved one dies we ask: "Doesn't God hear?" "Doesn't God care?"

The answer is that God does hear every prayer and does care deeply for us, but sometimes the answer he gives to our prayers is the one that Jesus received in a garden called Gethsemane. Didn't the Father hear the prayer of his Beloved Son? Most certainly. Didn't the Father care for his Son? Yes. Then why? Why did the Father not take the cup of suffering and death away from his Son? Because God had a greater good in mind. It's truly hard to imagine, but God loved the sinful human race so much that he saved us through suffering and death, by sharing in our own suffering and death.

We're made in God's image and likeness. God is a Communion of Persons and as such God is Love Itself. Made in the image and likeness of Love, we're made by love and for love. That is our nature and our destiny. Through baptism we become children of the Father, brothers and sisters of Jesus, temples of the Holy Spirit. We are called to believe this and to act on it.

What does that mean, to act on this belief about our deepest identity? It means loving as God loves.

Do you love God? Do you have God's love in your heart? Do you share God's concern for the world?

This is what brings us here to the monthly All-Night Vigil. We come together to pray for the salvation of all. We do so like Abraham who, according to Chapter 18 of Genesis, begged God to save sinful Sodom and Gomorrah. As Pope Benedict said last May 18: "By voicing this prayer, Abraham was giving a voice to what God wanted." What God wanted was not destruction but salvation. God wanted to save those two cities and Abraham's prayer gave voice to God's desire. Abraham's prayer opened, as it were, a channel for God's merciful grace to enter those cities. Unfortunately, that grace did not find a welcome, for there was no one to receive it. All rejected it, clinging instead to evil.

God desires to save. This is why God sent the Blessed Virgin Mary to Fatima in 1917. When she appeared in July of that year, the Mother of God revealed to the three children a terrible scene--Hell. Photos of the children that were taken afterwards show how badly shaken they were. They committed themselves to praying, fasting, and offering sacrifices for the conversion and salvation of sinners. The youngest, Jacinta, was particularly moved by what she had seen. She did not want anyone to go to that place of definitive alienation from God.

We are not so innocent. At one time or another we have held on to anger, unforgiveness, bitterness, and hatred. You and I have probably wanted to see our enemies--personal, ethnic, or national--rot in hell.

Not Jesus. He came to save humanity so that no one would rot in hell. He prayed for his enemies who crucified him. The New Testament calls us to bless those who curse us, just as Jesus did.

This is the prayer that unites us to God. This is the prayer that unites us to one another each First Friday and Saturday. Over the years it has united many, some who are no longer with us physically. They are with us spiritually now in a powerful way, praying and interceding with and for us. Good and gentle and holy Father Redemptus is with us tonight, praying.

Our prayer is that God may have mercy on all and give to all the grace to be converted, to accept the salvation that Christ won for us on the cross. We strive to make this a pure prayer, a pure channel for God's merciful grace to enter the world, a channel not clogged by rancor or bitterness.

This is the meaning of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. These Two Hearts suffered for love of humanity, for sinners. The Heart of Jesus was pierced on the cross. The Heart of Mary was pierced by the sword of sorrow that only a mother could feel watching her own flesh and blood suffer and die that way. These Two Hearts continue to suffer for hurting humanity. They suffer for the terrible pains and sorrow people inflict on one another. They suffer for the consequences of sin that lead to self-destruction. Their suffering moves us to pray and do penance for the salvation of all those who suffer and for all who cause suffering.

Let us close with the words with which Pope Benedict ended his General Audience of May 18:

Dear brothers and sisters, the prayer of intercession of Abraham, our father in the faith, teaches us to open our hearts ever wider to God's superabundant mercy so that in daily prayer we may know how to desire the salvation of humanity and ask for it with perseverance and with trust in the Lord who is great in love.

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