Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C
Genesis 18:20-32; Colossians 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13
Several weeks ago, Doctor Phil Michaels made a presentation here at Saint James entitled “God's Gift of Consciousness.” In addition to teaching clinical psychology, he has also been successful in helping people to stop smoking. He attributes the fact that his methods are more successful than the average program to his teaching the principle that God's gift of consciousness gives us the ability to move past feelings and great theoretical ideas, and through introspection and prayer turning them into reality. We all want to work on those areas of our lives that we know could be better – just look to the resolutions you've made on prior New Year's – but we all struggle to turn them into reality. The way to turn our ideals into reality, according to Dr. Michaels, is found in in the teachings of Christ. When asked by a pharisee when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus answered: “The coming of the kingdom of God cannot be observed, and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or, ‘There it is.’ For behold, the kingdom of God is [within] you.” [NABRE Luke 17:20b-21]*
Dr. Michaels’ main point, and this is a very abbreviated synopsis of his excellent talk, is that we are not captive to either our feelings and emotions, nor are we doomed to be captive to sin. We have a gift from God, the consciousness, which we can use if we desire. It is capable of overcoming both emotional responses to the world around us as well as working out ways of conducting our lives in the way that God intended when he created us, whether that be how to accomplish all the great things we are capable of or avoiding those actions which are evil and ultimately self-defeating.
I started this homily with this because it relates directly with today's Gospel. I repeated the quote that Dr. Michaels used from chapter 17 of Luke's Gospel, “the kingdom of God is [within] you.” Today, we hear from Luke's eleventh chapter, Christ teaching the disciples the Our Father, the Lord's Prayer. And what is one of the first lines? “Thy kingdom come” [Luke 11:2b]. We are praying to God the Father that his kingdom come to us, and since God the Son tells us it is already here, within us, God the Spirit stands ready to help us attain a form of heaven here on earth.
Do we realize it? Can we hear the Spirit within us? Are we so busy with the daily grind and with all the noise that is in our lives to even hear our consciousness, our soul and the Spirit working together to lead us to the kingdom? There are many forms of prayer, and they are all good in their own way, but one way that is often overlooked is time of quiet reflection. Not with ear buds in, not with the TV or radio blaring in the background, not at the red light – even the really long ones on Highway 501. Not even reciting a rosary or asking his intercession in your life for some need. But true silence, alone with your consciousness, contemplating God and his role in your life. There may be an “aha moment,” but probably not. What there will be is a better understanding of what is truly important in your life, and over time, if done regularly, a centering of your life around God and those things which are most important, that is to say, love of neighbor and of self.
Persistence and silence are the keys. Job from the Old Testament, when his friends came to comfort him after his life came apart, sat around him for seven days in complete silence, and they stayed there with him. In the end, Job comes up with the correct understanding of what is going on in his world. Another example is Christ, who prayed before every important decision, sometimes taking forty days in a desert or half the night in a garden, but always getting away from the hustle and bustle of his daily life. Then in the first reading, Abraham takes a long time and a lot of persistence to get what he wants in his dialog with the Lord.
In our modern society, we are used to getting what we want when we want it. Well, that is to say the superficial things that we crave. But if what we want is what God wants for us, true joy in our lives, and if this is what we ask him for, we will get it, Christ promises us today in clear language. It won't be superficial happiness, but joy that is the kingdom of God. As John wrote in his Gospel, Jesus prayed for his disciples immediately before going to the Garden of Gethsemane on that Holy Thursday night this way: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth” [John 17:15-17 NABRE]. We too can understand this truth, if only we’ll take the time.
In just a few minutes we will receive the great gift of Christ, the gift he invited the Apostles to join him in the evening that ends in Gethsemane and invites us here today to join him anew to partake in: the great sacrament of the Eucharist. Let us join with him through his body and blood, and throughout the week let us join with him through prayer and contemplation, always getting closer to the kingdom and to God’s truth. Let us pray for quite minds and hearts to hear the promptings of the Spirit and the needs of those around us. Let us give thanks to God for what is one of his great gifts, the gift of consciousness.
* The New American Bible (NAB), the translation that we use in Mass, actually uses the word “among” instead of “within.” The scholars who made the translation annotated this verse in Luke that “within” and “among” are both acceptable translations of Luke's original Greek text, although they thought that “among” was the better translation based on other uses of the word in other parts of his Gospel. Dr. Michaels used the translation “within” for his presentation, which I have repeated here.