Thursday, February 25, 2010

Blessed Sebastian of Aparicio (1502-1600)

Sebastian’s roads and bridges connected many distant places. His final bridge-building was to help men and women recognize their God-given dignity and destiny. Sebastian’s parents were Spanish peasants. At the age of 31 he sailed to Mexico, where he began working in the fields. Eventually he built roads to facilitate agricultural trading and other commerce. His 466-mile road from Mexico City to Zacatecas took 10 years to build and required careful negotiations with the indigenous peoples along the way. In time Sebastian was a wealthy farmer and rancher. At the age of 60 he entered a virginal marriage. His wife’s motivation may have been a large inheritance; his was to provide a respectable life for a girl without even a modest marriage dowry. When his first wife died, he entered another virginal marriage for the same reason; his second wife also died young. At the age of 72 Sebastian distributed his goods among the poor and entered the Franciscans as a brother. Assigned to the large (100-member) friary at Puebla de los Angeles south of Mexico City, Sebastian went out collecting alms for the friars for the next 25 years. His charity to all earned him the nickname "Angel of Mexico." Sebastian was beatified in 1787 and is known as a patron of travellers.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew (7.7~12)

Jesus said, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. "

Pray for it!
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

There are some fundamental problems in religion, problems that can undermine religious faith if they are not resolved adequately. One such problem is the thought that religion is unnecessary, that it makes little difference to life, and life can get on just as well — and perhaps more efficiently — without it. There are the same problems confronting both the religious person and the person without religion, and all too often it seems that the person without religion deals with life more realistically. He makes greater headway. He competes with greater vigour, and grasps the nettle with greater resolution. He makes more money, he advances in his career more quickly, he has fewer concerns to perplex him, and he notices that the religious person seems to rely fruitlessly on prayer while he himself gets to his destination. All this may be a caricature of the weak-headed religious person as against the hard-headed man of the world, and we need not delay here to correct commonly held images. The point I am introducing is the suspicion by the pragmatic achiever that religion is in the last analysis unnecessary and, if anything, a dead weight. Its most characteristic activity is prayer, and what is the use of prayer in the pressing business of life? An earthquake hits Haiti and an entire city is engulfed in ruin and tragedy. The world mobilizes and the business of rebuilding begins. The important thing is action — and what has religion to do with this? Religion is peripheral to the business of life as exemplified in a tragedy such as this, and prayer is even more peripheral. What difference will prayer make to the situation? Nothing! — so it is deemed. A drought extends its claws across a vast swathe of land and for years the country suffers. Yes, communities go through the motion of prayers for rain, but what is the use of that? Ah! The rain comes. But that is a fluke — it would have come anyway. Prayer keeps up the spirits of people, but it makes little difference to the course of the world. For the canny and properly modern man and woman, prayer is just a private, soft-headed indulgence.

Now, of course, in the lives of particular individuals prayer can be all this, but on the other hand it is surprising to see the number of competent achievers who live lives of daily prayer by personal conviction. But setting aside such facts of the case, the principal motive for a strong life of prayer, and in particular the prayer of petition, is the word of Jesus Christ. Whatever we may tend to think, he, through whom all things were made, urges us to pray for what we need. It looks as if God depends to an extent on man’s prayers for his needs. That is to say, so insistent on the importance of prayer is our Lord, that it seems as if in the plan of God our prayers are an integral component of its fulfilment. How little do we understand of the foundations of visible reality! A tiny shift in a rock can lead to a massive landslide with appalling tragedies in its wake. Consider what might the prayers of a mother every day for the material and spiritual welfare of her family have done to prevent that possible tiny shift, which never happened. Again, an unseen Angel prompts a thought in a driver to slow at a certain point. A careering car driven by an intoxicated young man with several young passengers swerves precisely where the car would have been had it not suddenly slowed. The driver of the slowed car has had the habit of a daily prayer to his Guardian Angel that he will guard and guide him. What does our Lord say about prayer? He wants us to pray for what we need, and to pray with confidence in the love and power of God. All things are in the hands of God, and who are we, after the word of Christ, to disregard the power of prayer? “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7: 7-12). What could be plainer than this, and who could be so foolish as to disregard it? But disregard it we commonly do. We do not deny what our Lord promises here, but we tend to disregard it, and quietly to get on with life without it. We commonly think religion is a little bit useless, and especially its most distinctive activity — the prayer of petition.

Let us resolve to pray and pray for what we need — doing so in the presence of God. If in the presence of God we do not think we should be praying unceasingly for something, then that may be a sign that we do not think it is in accord with his will. But if in the presence of God we think it would be good to pray for something, or even that we should be praying for it, then let us pray for it constantly, and never lose heart at apparent delays. But of course, we pray knowing that God knows best. In his wisdom he may choose to answer our prayer in a different way from that requested. But if this is so, then it will have been the best possible answer to our prayer.

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