17th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Preached July 28, 2019; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
The word of God reveals to us a reality that is hidden from human eyes. So in today’s 1st reading God reveals to Abraham the moral standing of the city of Sodom in his presence. The word of God here also reveals the proper, fundamental response of the just man to the wickedness of Sodom, intercession, and the efficaciousness of that intercession, depending upon a minimum of justice (just ten just men) within the city.
So Abraham pleaded with God to spare the city for the sake of ten just men that might be found there, but the ten just men were not found and God justly destroyed the city, delivering Lot and his family from the ruin. The number of ten just men has since become a symbol of a society’s minimum ‘justice requirement’ in order to be spared the wrath of God.
Today, we live in a new Sodom and our mission is that of Abraham and the ten just men. To understand this mission we need to consider first the justice of Abraham and our own justice. Then we need to consider the intercession of Abraham and our own intercessory mission.
When Abraham interceded for Sodom, he was already counted among the just because he had believed in the promise of God, the promise that Christ the Savior would arise from among his descendants, and he received the sign of that promise in the covenant of circumcision.
Through the mercy of God, we have now received a much greater gift of justification through Jesus Christ, who wiped out our sins, nailing them to the Cross, as we heard in today’s 2nd reading.
As Abraham received the gift of justification before God through faith in Christ to come and the sign of circumcision, we have now received the greater gift of justification through faith in Jesus Christ, who has come, who was born of the Virgin Mary, and gave his life on the Cross for our salvation. But faith alone is not enough; we received the gift of justification through faith and the sacrament of baptism.
What is this gift of justification? This is not an exterior justice in the sight of men, but interior justice in the sight of God. It is not a justice that arises from our own good works, which would be worthless in the eyes of God, but an interior justice that bears fruit in good works, which are at once our own works and the work of God in us. The gift of justification is, in effect, the same as the gift of sanctifying grace, the inheritance that was lost by Adam and restored to us in Christ, the life of the children of God, a true sharing in the divine life and nature, life in the Holy Spirit, who teaches us to call out in truth to God, saying, Father.
In this new gift of justification, received through baptism, we did not only receive the life of grace, which can be lost through mortal sin and recovered through the sacrament of penance, but we also received the sacramental character of baptism, the indelible mark on our soul, the mark of belonging to Jesus Christ. This mark commissions us, who share in the life of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to share also in his saving mission as priest, prophet, and king. Jesus Christ accomplished his saving work without as, but he does not continue his saving work, here and now, without our collaboration.
The life of grace, the life of the Son of God in our souls, is lived out most especially in the life of prayer, through which all the baptized also fulfill their priestly mission as members of Christ, the High Priest, on behalf of the whole human race and, in particular, on behalf of the new Sodom in which we live today.
So we now turn to the example of Abraham’s intercession. What exactly Abraham was asking for when he interceded for Sodom? Surely he was asking that the city be spared and not destroyed, but what really did that mean?
He was not asking that the people be allowed to continue in their sins that cried to heaven for vengeance. Rather, he was asking for a time of mercy that would give the people an opportunity for repentance. The hope for repentance rests on the presence and witness of the ten just men. Had there been less than ten (and indeed there were less than ten in Sodom) then the judgment of God would come upon the city bringing death and destruction, as indeed it did.
Today, the new Sodom, persecutes those who possess within themselves the justice of Jesus Christ, the justice that comes by faith and grace. Today, the new Sodom, seeks either to corrupt those who belong to Christ or failing that to silence them and eliminate them. If it succeeds, there will be less than the symbolic ten just men – God knows the true number and quality of men needed – and the judgment of death and destruction will come.
So our mission, given to us as the baptized, marked with the sacramental character of baptism, the sign of Jesus Christ, is above all to live out the priesthood of the Son of God through the life of prayer and so fill out the symbolism of the ten just men for whose sake Sodom is granted a time of mercy for repentance.
But that means that before we can intercede for the Sodom in which we live, begging for the men of our day time and grace for repentance and conversion, we must ourselves truly live a life of prayer. That means we must ourselves repent of our failure to pray, of our failure to ask the Lord to teach us to pray, of our failure to listen to him, of our failure to desire, as our number one priority, communion with God in Jesus Christ.
Now, like the disciples who lived with him when he walked the paths of Judea and Galilee, we need to ask our Lord, Teach us to pray. We need to listen closely to the teaching contained in today’s Gospel.
The first word is Father. All true prayer begins here in the presence of God, the God who created us and the God who has made us to be his children in his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. It is only as sons in the one Son that we can truly pray to God and call him, “Father”.
If we are not there, if we do not yet have that connection or knowledge or awareness of God, then we must ask, seek, and knock, with insistence, with desire, with perseverance, begging God to send us the gift of his Holy Spirit.
St. Paul tells us: All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs of Christ, provided we suffer with him in order to be glorified with him. (Rm 8:14-17)
It is the Holy Spirit who gives to us this spirit of prayer as children of God. It is the Holy Spirit who gives us the spirit of prayer and whenever we turn to the Holy Spirit we need to remember also the Virgin Mary, Spouse of the Holy Spirit and Mediatrix of Grace, to obtain for us from the Holy Spirit this grace of true prayer. So also when it comes to living as children of God in Jesus Christ, we need to turn to the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, to form us in the spirit of sonship and teach us to live as did Jesus.
Jesus’ lesson on prayer continues.
So often we go to God saying, “Give me! Give me! Give me!” Jesus teaches us a different priority: Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come.
Our first intention in prayer must be the glory of God. Our first intention in prayer must be that God be known, that God be loved, that God be praised, that God be thanked, that the name of God be held as holy, that every thought and word about God might be filled with the greatest reverence.
Our second intention must be for the coming of his kingdom. This means that we set aside the pursuit of our own plans, that we stop seeking to establish our own order without him, but that rather we put a priority on letting him integrate us into the order of his kingdom, indeed that all men might be gathered into his kingdom, obeying his will.
Then we can ask also for what we truly need, our daily bread. Surely this means all that we need for the maintenance of our physical life, but is also includes our spiritual bread, the Bread of Life, the Body of Christ, given to us in the Holy Eucharist. We must cultivate a true hunger for the Bread of Life and when we pray “Give us this day our daily bread” we must ask to be able to receive communion worthily and with fruit. Here we discover that when God is truly glorified and his kingdom is established among us, it is not God who benefits, but we who are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavens. (cf. Ep 1:3)
If we are to receive communion worthily and with fruit, we must be free of sin. We must then beg pardon for the little daily sins we commit – as we do at the beginning of Mass – and we must beg to be delivered from such temptations that would lead us to fall into mortal sin, or for the grace of repentance and forgiveness, if we have already fallen into mortal sin, through which we lose the grace of God and become unfit and incapable of partaking of the table of the Lord in holy communion.
Finally, we must beg for the precious gift of final perseverance. So also we pray: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
This life of prayer, which is expressed in the “Our Father”, which should not be a matter of mere words, but the very shape of the Christian heart, is the life of the baptismal priesthood, through which we offer the invisible, interior sacrifice of prayer and praise to God through Jesus Christ.
In addition to the invisible offering of our spiritual priesthood of the baptized, we need also the visible offering and the visible ordained priesthood. In the celebration of the Mass, our invisible offering is made visible and brought into the unity of the Body of Christ, through very sacrifice of Jesus Christ, offered at that hands of the ordained priest, who represents the presence of Jesus Christ, the High Priest, after the order of Melchizedek, in the midst of his Church.
Let us pray, then, that my sacrifice and yours be acceptable to God the Almighty Father. The salvation of souls depends upon it.