THE NEED FOR CONSTANT PRAYER
by Femi Abegunde
(Gbagada, Lagos, Nigeria)
THE NEED FOR CONSTANT PRAYER
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Thursday, First Week of Lent, March 09, 2017
Esther 14:1, 3-5, 12-14, Psalm 137, Matthew 7:7-12
Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted.
"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" (Matthew 7:7-8).
We should always pray to God for what we need, even for very small personal things. God wants us to do this, as Jesus teaches us today, "Ask, and it will be given you" (Matthew 7:7). But I think that more than anything else, we should pray for the forgiveness of our sins, when we fall into new sins. This kind of prayer, I think, is more pleasing to God than anything else, because this is the reason why Christ was sent into the world, namely to save us from our sins.
Christ came to justify us. He did this by dying on the cross to make reparation for our sins to God so that the all-just and all-merciful God could justly and mercifully forgive us and justly declare us acquitted and henceforth righteous. We were not able to overcome our alienation from God, caused by our sins, and we felt guilty, depressed, and far from him, because we owed God eternal death for our sins, which we couldn't pay and be saved at the same time.
So Christ paid our debt for us by taking our sins upon himself and suffering our death penalty for them on our behalf, so that when we put our faith in him, God counts his death on the cross as our payment for our sins. So, since our debt has been paid by Christ, God forgives us and declares us righteous.
God's way of forgiving and justifying us is perfectly just and perfectly merciful - our debt is paid in justice and God himself mercifully suffers our punishment, and so we go free, through our faith in him.
This is why St. Paul teaches us that we are justified by faith without works (Romans 3:20, 28; Galatians 2:16), precisely because it was Christ's work on the cross, not our work or suffering that justified us, and it was our faith, not our works, that connected us to Christ's saving, justifying work of redemption.
Once we genuinely repent, intend to amend our life, and put our faith in Christ, we are declared and made righteous, and our good works and new life must begin immediately, aided by the grace of justification to now keep God's moral law, which shows us how we are now to live as justified Christians.
Every time we sin and are forgiven again, we go through this process of justification, that is, the justifying merits of Christ's death are applied to us anew. This occurs especially within the sacrament of reconciliation, wherein we confess our sins to Christ's representative, the priest, and then receive from him sacramental absolution, which applies the justifying merits of Christ's death to us.
And then we are, and soon feel, renewed and cleansed, with Christ's own resplendent righteousness shining in us again, for it is reckoned to us through our faith, as it was reckoned to Abraham through his faith. "For what does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness'" (Romans 4:3). So we should pray that God will forgive us and that we may grow in holiness with Christ's righteousness shining ever brighter in us.
The Jesus prayer - "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner" - which many of us use throughout the day; for example, when walking from one place to another, and especially in our early morning contemplative prayer, expresses all this very well. We ask the Lord Jesus Christ to have mercy on us, which he has done for us in his death on the cross for our sins. The Jesus prayer asks that the merits of his saving death be ever applied to us anew each day and each moment so that our ever new small sins may be forgiven and that we might grow ever more in holiness in his grace and love.
But we should also pray for Christ's Church, especially now in the serious crisis that the Catholic Church is now in, caused by the publication of Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, on marriage, on April 8, 2016. This exhortation has thrown the Catholic Church into utter doctrinal and moral confusion, turmoil, and chaotic division and has led many to think that it is now okay to commit adultery and fornication if you have a good reason for doing so.
This exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, is now being interpreted by many bishops and cardinals as saying that there are no longer any moral absolutes, that everything should now be subjected to a process of pastoral discernment to decide whether or not one should have sex with someone who is not your wife or husband.
Thus moral theology is detached from divine revelation. Scripture is relegated to being only one source of objective inspiration, coming to us out of our tradition, with which I must dialogue, taking other mitigating factors into account in reaching my own personal decision about what is best for me to do in my particular situation. Discernment is thus said to be able to conclude that for me now, having taken into account divine law and my present circumstances, I am not obliged to keep divine law and may validly have sex with someone with whom I am not married.
We are told therefore by this new interpretation, based on Amoris Laetitia, that we must learn to discern and not just follow God's laws in a mechanical, rigid, legalistic, and dogmatic way. We are told that that adultery and fornication are not always bad, especially in hard cases where if we did not commit them we would fall into a greater sin.
Therefore many bishops are now seeing Pope Francis' exhortation Amoris Laetitia as a great liberation, enabling us to bring the Church up to date with the rest of the world, where such sins are now acceptable, where people may now divorce and remarry or cohabitate.
Many bishops and cardinals are now saying, on the basis of Amoris Laetitia, that pastoral accompaniment in a process of discernment should be used with people to ease their conscience so that they no longer feel guilty about fornicating and committing adultery, and that if this discernment process is successful in ridding active adulterers and fornicators of their guilt feelings about their sinful life, they should be welcomed to receive the sacrament of reconciliation in their unrepentant state and should also be welcomed to regularly receive the Eucharist, while continuing to live in fornication or adultery. This new approach is being hailed as "merciful."
This is what the German and Maltese bishops are now teaching, together with Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington DC, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, California, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster and President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, the bishops of Argentina, and most recently Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, President of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legal Texts. They are all basing their teaching on Pope Francis' exhortation Amoris Laetitia.
So you see, the Catholic Church is in serious trouble today and is very much in need of constant prayer. And Jesus tells us today that if we ask, our prayers will be answered. "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" (Matthew 7:7-8).
Lent is a time when we focus more on prayer. This means both contemplative and intercessory prayer, and the prayer of intercession is desperately needed now for the Church and for our men of God, who has thrown the Church into such terrible theological and moral confusion and division. Many petitions have been made to him by priests, theologians, scholars, bishops, and cardinals, begging him to bring his teaching into line with Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church, but he remains silent and refuses. So let us pray for our men of God.