Monday, July 25, 2016

Persistence in Prayer for Forgiveness

XVII Sunday of Ordinary Time—C
San Jose Parish
Austin, TX

Persistence. Pestering, pressuring, persevering, persistence.  Pestering, pressuring, persevering, persistence in prayer. Pestering, pressuring, persevering, persistence in prayer for purification from sin. 
Today we hear Jesus exhort us to persistence in prayer for the forgiveness of sins. From the “Our Father”—“forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us”—to the childlike Abraham—what if there are only 50; or 45; 40 maybe; 35; less 20; how about 10; would you spare the cities?—we are to beg, borrow, and barter our way in prayer for the forgiveness of our sins. To entice us, Jesus puts out before us a carrot, the good hope of answered prayers. “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you”. “If you [fathers] then, 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?” (Lk 11:13). 
And yet, forgiveness evades us. It escapes us. Like a television series that is always “to be continued,” the struggle is never resolved; the plot only seems to thicken. Fleeting forgiveness. 
No matter how big or small, we keep committing the same sins. How many of us feel condemned to confess the same sins, over and over again? We make our examination of conscience, we are contrite and sorry for having done so, we go to confession, confess our sins (number and kind), resolve to do better, make our penance, and then…shortly, quickly we find ourselves back in the same situation. But, I say to you, do not let your hearts be troubled. Like the the friend in the parable, we must be persistent, nagging even, and keep asking. He will eventually give us those loaves of bread that we need. 
The virtue we need here is courage or fortitude, also one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Admittedly, it takes quite a bit of courage to be forgiven and to ask for forgiveness, again and again. It takes courage to follow Jesus. The same kind of courage or gumption it takes to wake up a friend in the middle of the night for a favor, and even more, when he says “no,” to ask again. This courage is a sort of audacity that knows, almost presumes, the Father will always forgive us our sins as long as we are contrite. And if we wear this attitude well, we will notice a sort of smirking joy that will creep out, a sweet smell of joy that will drift through the air. You can see this clearly if you ever go to a monastery. Rising at 4:00 am, praying and working the whole day, the monks constantly ask and pray for forgiveness from the Father. Its almost nauseating and oppressive, but if you look closely, you see the smirks and grins throughout the day. And wait especially until the beer comes out during their common meal. Silent though they are, for they cannot speak, they grin from ear-to-ear like a child on Christmas. Their joy is a fruit of persistently asking the Father for forgiveness.  
This courage, though, does not stop at our efforts to beseech the Lord for forgiveness. Indeed, the “our Father” continues with two essential aspects of our search for forgiveness. “Forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us and do not subject us to the final test” (Lk 11:4). While God’s love is unconditional, His forgiveness is connected with our ability and willingness to forgive others. Who wants to give to the stingy guy who never gives to others, anyways? Jesus pulls on this same logic in the parable of the unmerciful servant (Cf. Matt 18:21ff), and so tells Peter that he must forgive his brother “not seven times but seventy-seven times” (Matt 18:22). If we are to forgive like the Father, constantly and without fatigue. Such forgiveness of other takes a great deal of courage, courage to overcome the fear of the consequences that may result. This does not mean we are to ignore the reality. Forgiving someone who is wrecking havoc in your life does not mean allowing them to continue to do so. Sometimes this courage will have to provide us the strength to end or avoid a situation that is causing sin.
This is the second aspect of our search for forgiveness, avoidance of sin. “Do not subject us to the final text” we pray at the end of the “Our Father.” The same prayer that Jesus exhorted Peter, James, and John to pray as they fell asleep that fate filled night in the garden. “Get up and pray that you may not undergo the test” (Lk 22:46). Here we mean the avoidance of the occasion of sin. You know that group of friends that always gets you in trouble on the weekends, or that coworker whose mere presence raises the hair on your neck. These are tests. Now, some are voluntary, meaning we could choose to avoid them (and we should) and others are involuntary, meaning we cannot avoid them without some grave loss or harm caused to us, such as loosing a job. It will require us a great deal of courage to avoid the temptations we ought, and remain steadfast amidst the temptations we cannot. It takes courage both to leave behind a bad influence and to continue working a necessary job for an oppressive boss. If we wish to be forgiven and desire our prayers for forgiveness to be answered, we must take courage and forgive others and pray that we avoid such occasions of sin and temptation.   
Sloth, or laziness, due to fear and anxiety is our greatest enemy here. This discouragement is felt as an oppressive weight upon our chest, causing us to be sort of depressed or to give-in to despair. But, again I say to you, do not let your hearts be troubled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (Lk 6:21). Say with the psalmist, “why are you cast down my soul; why groan within me? Hope in God. I will praise Him still, my Savior and My God” (Ps 42:6). 
As St. Paul reminds us: “even when you were dead in transgressions…he brought you to life along with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions; obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims, which was opposed to us, he also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross” (Col 2:13-14). If God the Father can raise Jesus from the dead, how much more can He bring us back from the brink of sin. Indeed, “You were buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him” (Col 2:12). When we were baptized we became sons and daughters of God the Father. And a son, always a son. If our mothers and fathers know this truth, how much more will our Father in heaven always see us as His sons and daughters no matter how far and many times we fall. And even if we tire of asking forgiveness, the Father never tires of forgiving us. Let His patience be your persistence in prayer for forgiveness. Seek the Lord in confession. Seek to encounter the risen Christ in the sacrament of confession. And persistently pray for forgiveness. 

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