Wrestling with God in prayer – Catholic homily outline for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

 John Martin "The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah" (1852)

John Martin “The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah” (1852)

Central Idea: Wrestling with God in prayer. Doctrine: Prayer and filial trust. Practical Application: Transformation in Christ. 

To view Lectionary 111, click here.

Central Idea: Wrestling with God in prayer

Reading 1 Gn 18:20-32

In those days, the LORD said: “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great,
and their sin so grave,
that I must go down and see whether or not their actions
fully correspond to the cry against them that comes to me.
I mean to find out.”

While Abraham’s visitors walked on farther toward Sodom,
the LORD remained standing before Abraham.
Then Abraham drew nearer and said:
“Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty?
Suppose there were fifty innocent people in the city;
would you wipe out the place, rather than spare it
for the sake of the fifty innocent people within it?
Far be it from you to do such a thing,
to make the innocent die with the guilty
so that the innocent and the guilty would be treated alike!
Should not the judge of all the world act with justice?”
The LORD replied,
“If I find fifty innocent people in the city of Sodom,
I will spare the whole place for their sake.”
Abraham spoke up again:
“See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord,
though I am but dust and ashes!
What if there are five less than fifty innocent people?
Will you destroy the whole city because of those five?”
He answered, “I will not destroy it, if I find forty-five there.”
But Abraham persisted, saying “What if only forty are found there?”
He replied, “I will forbear doing it for the sake of the forty.”
Then Abraham said, “Let not my Lord grow impatient if I go on.
What if only thirty are found there?”
He replied, “I will forbear doing it if I can find but thirty there.”
Still Abraham went on,
“Since I have thus dared to speak to my Lord,
what if there are no more than twenty?”
The LORD answered, “I will not destroy it, for the sake of the twenty.”
But he still persisted:
“Please, let not my Lord grow angry if I speak up this last time.
What if there are at least ten there?”
He replied, “For the sake of those ten, I will not destroy it.”

  • Here God speaks to Abraham in a way Abraham can understand, as if God didn’t already know everything that was going on in Sodom and needed to “see” it for himself.
  • God also gives Abraham the extraordinary opportunity to plead against God for justice and mercy for any innocent inhabitants of Sodom.
  • Abraham intellectually wrestled with God to spare Sodom for the sake of the innocent. Later his grandson, Jacob, physically wrestled with God all night.
  • God wants us to engage with him. We can ask, even demand (if we have that much audacity), that God account for himself and his creation.
  • God will answer us and we will see that he is just and merciful and has our best interests at heart.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 138:1-2, 2-3, 6-7, 7-8

R. Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.

I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with all my heart,
for you have heard the words of my mouth;
in the presence of the angels I will sing your praise;
I will worship at your holy temple
and give thanks to your name.

Because of your kindness and your truth;
for you have made great above all things
your name and your promise.
When I called you answered me;
you built up strength within me.

The LORD is exalted, yet the lowly he sees,
and the proud he knows from afar.
Though I walk amid distress, you preserve me;
against the anger of my enemies you raise your hand.

Your right hand saves me.
The LORD will complete what he has done for me;
your kindness, O LORD, endures forever;
forsake not the work of your hands.

  • Everyone faces real challenges in life. This “everyone” includes the Chosen People in Abraham, God’s beloved children in Christ, and even his Beloved Son, Jesus Christ.
  • For us, this is because earthly life is a kind of school God has designed to prepare us for heavenly life.
  • Some reasons God lets us suffer distress are so that we will call upon him, rely upon him, see what he is like, learn how he acts towards us, and experience him keeping his promises.

Reading 2 Col 2:12-14

Brothers and sisters:
You were buried with him in baptism,
in which you were also raised with him
through faith in the power of God,
who raised him from the dead.
And even when you were dead
in transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh,
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.

  • The most significant truth of our lives is often a secret to us because of our forgetfulness.
  • This truth is that we are united to the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ through our baptism.
  • We are in a right relationship with God due to our baptism. Nothing stands between God and us, as long as we don’t erect something. We were dead in sin and have been forgiven and raised.
  • This is why we can be sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father.

Gospel Lk 11:1-13

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished,
one of his disciples said to him,
“Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.”
He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread
and forgive us our sins
for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us,
and do not subject us to the final test.”

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend
to whom he goes at midnight and says,
‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread,
for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey
and I have nothing to offer him,’
and he says in reply from within,
‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked
and my children and I are already in bed.
I cannot get up to give you anything.’
I tell you,
if he does not get up to give the visitor the loaves
because of their friendship,
he will get up to give him whatever he needs
because of his persistence.

“And I tell you, ask and you will receive;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives;
and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
What father among you would hand his son a snake
when he asks for a fish?
Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?
If you then, who are wicked,
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?”

  • One of Jesus’ disciples “prays,” that is “asks” how to pray, and Jesus answers.
  • The content of our prayer, Christ says, should be to honor God, pledge ourselves to his plan, ask for our daily needs, beg forgiveness for our sins, and request not to be tested.
  • The manner of our prayer should be persistent, the point of the parable of the three loaves, and a feature of the way Abraham petitioned God to spare Sodom for the sake of the innocent. Our manner should also be trusting, as a son trusts his good father.
  • God is ready to give us good things, as any good father is. God will not send true evil upon us.
  • But isn’t it possible that sometimes we ask God for the equivalent of snakes and scorpions?
    • It is good for us if God does not give us evil things we ask for, even though he permits us, in honor of our freedom, to seek them ourselves.
  • When we petition God, what are we really asking for, seeking after, knocking on doors for, not just in prayer but at every moment of our lives from childhood to old age?
  • Don’t we want everything? Don’t we want something that nothing on earth can satisfy?
  • This is why Christ says the Father will give us the Holy Spirit. We have everything necessary if we are living in the Holy Spirit, that is, in a state of sanctifying grace, in the condition being transformed into images of Christ.
  • In reality, the gift God has to give us, because it contains everything, is himself. That’s what heaven is, possession of God.

Doctrine: Prayer and filial trust

  • Does God really answer our prayers? Everyone who prays has the experience of prayers that seem to be not answered or not yet answered.
  • Is this an obstacle to filial trust, that is, to having the trust of a child to a good father, which every child of God should have?
  • The Catechism says we should ask two questions in regard to unanswered prayers: “Why do we think our petition has not been heard? How is our prayer heard, how is it ‘efficacious’?” (CCC 2734)
  • To begin, we do not always ask for what is good for us. We might ask for a “snake” or “scorpion.”
  • Our Father wants to give us what we truly need, but he wants us to ask for it.
    • God “awaits our petition because the dignity of his children lies in their freedom. We must pray, then, with his Spirit of freedom, to be able truly to know what he wants” (CCC 2736).
      • In other words, God may wait to give us what we need until we realize that we need it. This is why in the Our Father we pray “Thy kingdom come” before “Give us our daily bread.” When we know what we really need we are wiser than before.
  • God cannot give us what is bad for us, “for he desires our well-being, our life.” God wants us to ask for what he wants to give us. “If we enter into the desire of his Spirit, we shall be heard.” As St. Augustine puts it, “God wills that our desire should be exercised in prayer, that we may be able to receive what he is prepared to give.” (CCC 2737)
  • God is willing to test our faithfulness until we are ready to receive what he wants to give us.

Practical Application: Transformation in Christ

  • What does God want to give us most of all?
  • The Baltimore Catechism asked the question, “Why did God make you?” The answer given is “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.”
  • To know God we must know about him. That means we must know our faith well. This is why each one of us needs to hear solid homilies, to participate in on-going catechesis, and to read good books on our own, including God’s Word.
  • To love God we must both know him and experience his love.
    • One way we experience God’s love is when we sit at God’s feet after receiving Holy Communion—the way Martha’s sister Mary sat at the feet of Christ listening to him. This is true in many other kinds of moments as well. Whenever we can express gratitude we are experiencing God’s love.
    • The most fundamental ways we love God are participation in the liturgy and receptions of the Sacraments, on-going personal dialogue with God in prayer, serious efforts to do good and avoid evil according to God’s law, and service to our families and our neighbor.
  • To serve God, we do our part in the petition, “Thy will be done.” That means we become transformed according to the image or pattern of Christ, the perfect man. That means we change, and change is not easy.
  • This change is not a one-moment event; rather, it is a life-long process.
  • The process of change is described as transformation in Christ, or a forge, or a crucible, or warfare, or a school, or taking up one’s cross, or filling up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his Church.
    • In his spiritual classic, “Transformation in Christ,” Dietrich Von Hildebrand describes how the Christian can grow into the image of Christ as described by the Beatitudes by living the virtues.
    • St. Josemaria Escriva wrote a book of practical considerations of the spiritual life called “Forge.” A forge is a place where metal is heated red hot and then pounded into shape with hammer blows.
    • The Bible often uses the image of a crucible, where ore is heated to its melting point to separate the pure gold from its impurities.
    • Job said life on earth is warfare and St. Paul advised we put on our spiritual armor to fight it. This fight is primarily against one self, the new man against the old.
    • Our Lord himself said if anyone wants to come after him he must take up his cross daily.
    • As we saw in last week’s second reading, we have the privilege of suffering with Christ.
  • In a sense, knowing, loving, and serving God is like going on a diet and exercise plan, not for two months to lose thirty pounds and to gain a flat stomach, but for life to lose all our vices and to gain the mental outlook and natural and supernatural virtues of Christ, the perfect man.

Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline (1) provides insights into the Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)

This outline is written to be in accord with the Homiletic Directory issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (2014). (To read an excellent summary of the Homiletic Directory, click here.)

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