Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
Theme: “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10)
By: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
Homily for Sunday July 28 2019
In the gospel passage we hear today, the disciples ask Jesus how to pray. And Jesus responds with that most familiar of Christian prayers, what has become known as The Lord’s Prayer. Then, commenting on the power of prayer, Jesus continues to address the disciples: “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10) But how often have we asked for something in prayer and not gotten it? How often have we searched and not found? How often have we knocked on a door until our fists were bloody? I’ve had this experience and so have you, I’m guessing. But then I remember my novice master’s wise words: “Not only are God’s ways not our ways; God’s ways are far better than our ways.”
In the early 1980s when I was in training as a chaplain at New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Rev. Joan Hemenway was my supervisor. Chronologically 10 years my senior, yet did she seem a spiritual giant, her insights into the human condition and her deep faith enriching me still. After I left her tutelage to move to Indiana, she wrote to offer me a position as a colleague at the hospital. Then it was, after she’d posted her letter, that another bit of spiritual insight came into play, words also delivered by my novice master: “God writes straight with crooked lines.”
The story is this. Joan wrote that letter in November 1983. By God’s plan—and/or the postal service’s gross error—I received the letter almost one year later to the day, the envelope frayed and soiled. While it was clearly addressed to me in Indiana, a series of stamped cancellations indicated that the letter had first made the rounds of no less than three post offices in India!
When, in extreme frustration, I called Joan to explain why I’d not responded to her letter, her response was laughter: “Isn’t it funny how God works?” I thought it not at all funny back then, but I came to another insight. While God answers our prayers, the response may well be held up in India for quite some time. In short, I’ll get an answer to my prayers in God’s time, not mine. For an impatient person, that’s a difficult truth to swallow.
My novice master’s words returned once again in more recent years when I learned that Joan was struggling with a fast growing brain tumor. Her too-soon death left her friends and former students once again questioning God’s mysterious ways. Having prepared her own memorial service, the program of readings and hymns concluded with the very blessing which Joan each year offered her students as they left her care to continue the journey: “When we walk to the edge of all the light we have, and step into the unknown, we must believe that one of two things will happen: there will be something solid for us to stand on, or we will be taught to fly.”
“Isn’t it funny how God works?” Joan laughed over the phone when her letter to me in Indiana first made the rounds of India. “Isn’t it funny how God works?” she seems to be saying even now, she in God’s eternal embrace, me sometimes feeling like I’m lost in India.