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The word this week

Prayer is not a purely human activity, but a communion with the will of God

Twenty-third Sunday of the Year: Wis 9:13-18B; Ps 90; Philem 9-10, 12-17; Lk 14:25-33 (Year C)

By on Friday, 6 September 2013

“What can man know of the intentions of God? Who can divine the will of the Lord?” This question, posed by today’s reading from the Book of Wisdom, lies at the heart of prayer, since it is in prayer alone that we seek to discern God’s purpose for ourselves. If we understand prayer as a purely human activity, then, from Wisdom’s perspective, it can never take us to God. “It is hard enough for us to work out what is on earth, laborious to know what lies within our reach; who, then, can discover what is in the heavens?”

For Wisdom’s author, our discernment and communion with God’s purpose is a gift of God himself, the gift of true wisdom. “Thus have the paths of those on earth been straightened and men taught what pleases you, and saved, by Wisdom.”

Perhaps when prayer seems frustrating and unanswered we should remind ourselves that prayer is something more than getting in touch with our own sometimes selfish desires. It is a communion with the will of God, and this comes not on our own terms, but as the gift of God’s own Wisdom.

This perspective of God-given Wisdom is surely necessary as Luke’s Gospel leads us into the demands of discipleship. “If any man comes before me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple. Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”

From a purely human perspective such demands are impossible and unnatural. How can we possibly sacrifice the human relationships that are most precious to us, that give meaning and security to our lives?

Jesus was trying to teach his disciples what lay ahead, and that in the many trials that they were to face they would have to choose not from human self-interest but from faith’s divine perspective.

From a human perspective it does not make sense to surrender father and mother, son and daughter. But from faith’s perspective, which puts God’s will above all things, this is sometimes demanded.

One example, taken from our own history, might suffice to illustrate this point. St Thomas More, under sentence of death, was entreated by both wife and daughter to recant and acquiesce in the will of his King. Here was a clear conflict between wife and daughter, and, as he understood it, the higher value of God’s truth. Thomas chose to remain true to God without in any way ceasing to love wife and daughter. This painful choice cost him his life and made him the martyr whose faith we seek to emulate. Discipleship was indeed costly for Thomas, in this case costing him not only the declared will of wife and daughter, but life itself. Let us pray that our faith might be enabled by the same grace.

Such grace only comes our way when, in the spirit of today’s parable, we allow our attitudes to be questioned by God. “And indeed which of you here, intending to build a tower, would not first sit down and work out the cost to see if he had enough to complete it?”

Human strength alone can never take on, let alone bring to completion, God’s loving purpose for us. If we are to remain faithful to his will, then the only possible, the only foundation, must be the grace that he alone can give.