26 July 2013

'Lord, teach us to pray'. Sunday Reflections, 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

The Lord's Prayer, James Tissot

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)                                  

Readings(Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel Luke 11:1-13 (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he ceased, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." And he said to them, "When you pray, say: "Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive every one who is indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation." And he said to them, "Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; and he will answer from within, 'Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything?' I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him whatever he needs.  And I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for * a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

Blessed John Paul II singing the Pater Noster (Our Father) in Latin

Fr Patrick Ronan, from County Kilkenny in Ireland, was one of four Columbans jailed in China in 1952 by the Communist authorities for 'subversive activities'. Another Columban, Fr Aedan McGrath, spent nearly three years in solitary confinement in China between 1950 and 1953 because of his involvement in the Legion of Mary. All five were expelled in 1953.

Fr Ronan, known to his fellow Columbans as 'Pops', and his three companions, Frs Owen O'Kane, John Casey and Patrick Reilly, were called The Four Felons in a book published in 1958 that told their story. They were in the same prison but in separate cells and were often interrogated in the middle of the night, never knowing when they might be called out.

Unlike his three companions, Father 'Pops' always managed to sleep soundly, no matter how often he was awakened for an interrogation. When the four were eventually released and told to leave the People's Republic he learned why when they arrived in Hong Kong. The woman who had been principal when he was in kindergarten had been praying every day of his captivity for one specific intention: that he would sleep soundly.

Like the wonderful bargaining prayer of Abraham on behalf of his people in the First Reading today that woman's prayer was very down to earth and, like Abraham, she saw God as being down to earth too.

The Four Felons have all gone to their reward now. I was blessed to know two of them in the Philippines, Fr Ronan and Fr Reilly. I happened to be in Ireland when Fr 'Pops' died there in 1991 and his great friend and fellow 'felon' Fr Patrick Reilly told us a story at the funeral Mass that reminded us of the power of the very specific prayer of Fr Ronan's former teacher, though from a somewhat humorous angle. The four travelled home by boat from Hong Kong. The other three often had difficulty trying to waken Fr Ronan in the morning and suggested that he contact his friend in Ireland and ask her to stop praying for him!

I am often deeply touched by friends in the Philippines who ask me to pray for some particular intention, very often for a family member who is sick. When that person gets better they make a point of thanking me for my prayers. There's an reminder in this that, like Abraham, I'm called to pray for the people I serve.

And Pope Francis on the evening he first spoke to use as Pope reminded us of the importance of our prayers for him.

I truly believe that it is impossible for God to refuse to listen to prayer that is in harmony with his will. So many of us older people these days have family members and friends who seem to have fallen away from the Church and, in many instances, from the faith itself. There are two things we can do: live as followers of Jesus as intensely as possible and pray that their faith will be renewed.

The Scallop Shell, traditional symbol of El Camino de Santiago, The Way of St Jamesthe pilgrimage to Santiage de Compostela.

Let us remember in our prayers this weekend the victims of the train crash in Santiago de Compostela last Wednesday, the eve of the great feast of St James in that city named after him. Many on the train must have been pilgrims to the shrine of the Apostle.

Let us pray too for Pope Francis, for the people of Brazil and for all the pilgrims to World Youth Day Rio2013 as it ends this Sunday. The English version of the anthem for this year's WYD is sung by Ooberfuse, the British band whose lead singer Cherrie Anderson is Filipino-British, her mother being from the Philippines. This group has been doing for some years through the medium of contemporary music what the Gospel demands, as the song reminds us: 

Christ invites us:
'Come to me, be my friends'.
Christ, He sends us: 
'Go! Be missionaries'.

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