Sunday, October 16, 2016

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Ex 17:8-13
Ps 121
2 Tm 3:14-4:2
Lk 18:1-8

In the summer of 1969 The Doors released an album titled “The Soft Parade."  Critics do not list it among their best albums.  But Paul, one of my 'extended' roommates, brought a copy to Penn State in September of that year.  We came close to wearing it out.  Thus, for better or for worse, it is part of the soundtrack of my life, one that I still visit from time to time via the digital copy on the computer. (It is available on You Tube, I checked before Mass).  The title track, which is the last track rather than the first, begins with Jim Morrison saying in a deep, amplified, echoing, and sarcastic voice, “When I was back there in seminary school there was a person there who put forth the proposition that you can petition the Lord with prayer.”  He repeats, “petition the Lord with prayer” three times with more and more sarcasm dripping from each word.  He then screams in a hoarse voice, "YOU CANNOT . . PETITION THE LORD . . . WITH PRAYER.”  The sound fades into a beautiful melody.  By then the drugs had completely wrecked his brain and destroyed his soul.  Less than two years after the album release he would be dead of a heroin overdose.  Age twenty-six.  He was wrong.  He was very wrong.

You can petition the Lord with prayer. 
You should petition the Lord with prayer. 
You must petition the Lord with prayer. 

One rarely used English word comes to mind when considering the first reading and the gospel, both of which illustrate how to petition the Lord with prayer:  Importune.  To importune means to ask with urgency or persistence, to annoy, to beset with solicitations, to be troublesomely persistent.  Only the first of the definitions describes prayer: to ask with urgency and persistence.  One can never annoy or trouble God with prayer.  The entire psalter, from Psalm 1 to Psalm 150 is a long, continuous, and frequently importuning prayer.  The psalter is a model for how we are to pray.

The first reading is fascinating.  As long as Moses’ arms were raised in prayer the Israelites were winning the battle.  When they dropped with fatigue the situation changed.  But Moses had help.  Aaron and Hur supported his arms that were raised in prayer as long as was necessary.  So it is for us.  We cannot go it alone in prayer any more than Moses could.  That is why we are surrounded by a community of believers.  That is why we must ask for help with our prayer.  That is why we pray for others.  When others prays for us they are doing the same as Aaron and Hur, supporting our arms when we are too fatigued, too angry, too anxiety-ridden, or too overwrought to pray.  We do the same for others when we pray for and with them. 

The Gospel presents a different image.  The widow would not give up.  No matter what the unjust judge did she returned importuning until he gave her a fair judgment.  The judge’s motivations for giving that judgment, however, were less than pure.  He had no interest in or thirst for justice.  He gave the judgment because he feared that she might strike him.  His actions recall T.S. Eliot’s observation, “The final temptation is the greatest treason, to do the right thing for the wrong reason.”  God can never be unjust.  Jesus asks the rhetorical question: “Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night?”  In the context of this Gospel passage we know the answer without it being written.    

The responsorial psalm, Psalm 121, is among the most beautiful and poignant in the entire psalter.  Over seventeen years ago, Jesuit Father Paul Harmon was speaking to New England Province scholastics, young Jesuits still in studies.  This psalm was the topic of one of his talks.  Fr. Harmon's explanation, one I’ve not seen elsewhere, put this psalm into a new and deeper context.  He noted that when the psalmist looked up to the mountains he did not find comfort.  Rather,  he saw that he was surrounded by the fires of sacrifice to the baals, the pagan gods.  And he asked  “Whence shall help come to me?”  He had been abandoned by his people who followed not the God of the covenant but the au courant gods, the gods it was socially expedient to worship, the gods of money, power, influence, and fame.  The gods of political power.  And then the psalmist remembered,

My help is from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.” 

When the psalmist looked up into the mountains he did not have comforting visions of angels, pretty sunsets and cottony clouds.  He saw treachery. He saw betrayal by his own people, a people who had abandoned the God of their fathers, the God of the covenant.  He had to look interiorly, he had to pray, to realize that help did not come from the baals or from power.  He would not find his help in money, social status. or any of the other false gods of today.  His help would come only from the Lord, the Lord who created both heaven and earth.  It is an exquisite psalm. 

“I lift up my eyes toward the mountains;
whence shall help come to me?
My help is from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.”

Stay with that thought for the rest of the day.

Another busy week has ended.  A minor cold did not help matters at all.  On Wednesday I have an appointment with an optometrist to get checked for new glasses.  Apparently one cannot simply copy progressive lenses.  The good news is that while I am stuck with these reading glasses (I cannot describe how much I hate having to look over the top of them and how much I loathe being looked at over the top of a pair of glasses) when the new ones are ready I will have a back up pair.  Two for one sale.  I think I found the Slovenian equivalent of ForEyes. 

It was a week of mostly rainy damp weather, the perfect time to have a cold and not necessarily feel like going out anyway.  On Wednesday I went for coffee with a friend.  It was an interesting experience.  When we took a table at the outdoor cafe the waiter set an ashtray in front of us.  And ASHTRAY?!?  Haven't seen one of those in an eating establishment in years.  Even outdoors.  More surprising, however, was watching a number of young women at several different table, I assume students at the university, rolling their own cigarettes.  And they were tobacco cigarettes as evidenced by the smell.  Overall there seems to be more smoking here than in the U.S. despite large print black and white warnings on the front of cigarette packs as opposed to on the side as is true in the U.S.  While I still occasionally miss the physical action of smoking (I quite 38 years ago) I've no desire to actually light up or even take a drag.  I suspect the nausea would be overwhelming.  

The photos below are the result of some nocturnal wandering. 

The Butcher's Bridge at night.  I did not know that the walkway near the bridge was glass when I was here in January and February.  It was covered with wood.  Apparently what seemed like a good idea at the time resulted in very dangerous conditions in the winter when the glass became icy and slippery.  Alas, it isn't too easy to walk on when wet either.  And wet is a common condition in LJ.

An outdoor cafe along the river.  It was a fairly comfortable night.  However, even now, when the temperatures are dropping into the forties at night, Slovenians are sitting outdoors, bundled up, drinking beer or coffee. 

This street is limited to pedestrians.  The only way to differentiate the cafes is by the tables and chairs.  They are distinct for reach place

The cafe nearest our house.  I took a photo the day before Valentine's when there were several inches of snow on the tables and chairs. 

Ye Olde Tchotchke Shoppe.  I cannot describe how I much I loathe seeing the faux Olde Englyshe spellings in tourist traps.  My niece and I got close to hysterical laughter in Newburyport, Mass. many years ago when it seemed as if every store had that kid of sign.  We still call them:  Ye Oldee Shoppee.

 +Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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