July 21, 2010
Breaking Open the Word
By James Cavanagh
July 25th: 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Overview: The readings this week focus on prayer and forgiveness. In the first reading Abraham pleads with God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah, which is about to be destroyed because of their wickedness. Justice demands that evil be punished, but God’s justice is tempered by his mercy: for the sake of 10 good people, he tells Abraham, he will not destroy the cities. God is teaching Abraham (and us) about justice and mercy so that he will develop a heart attuned to God. He’s also teaching Abraham how to pray. The fact that there weren’t even 10 righteous souls is meant to underscore just how decadent Sodom and Gomorrah were. In the second reading Paul explains how justice and mercy come together in Christ, and how we are the beneficiaries of that union. Buried with Christ in baptism, we have died to sin and through him have been raised to new life in God. Walking in the newness of Christ’s life, we imitate him who has forgiven all our sins “by nailing them to the cross.” The cross is a powerful symbol of God’s justice and mercy: justice because it rightly punished sin; mercy because Christ, the Son of God, accepted the punishment on behalf of mankind. In the Gospel reading the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray. The Lord lovingly responds by teaching them the Our Father, which is “the summary of the whole Gospel” (“Catechism of the Catholic Church,” No. 2761). In teaching the disciples to call God “Father” he invites them to participate in his own filial relationship of intimacy, which is the foundation of the Christian life. At the heart of the prayer is forgiveness. God’s mercy can penetrate our hearts only if we have learned to forgive those who trespass against us. The key word is “as.” In view of how difficult that really is, Jesus goes on to stress the importance of persistence.
Key verse: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Lk 11:4).
“Catechism of the Catholic Church”: “Since Abraham, intercession—asking on behalf of another—has been characteristic of a heart attuned to God's mercy. In the age of the Church, Christian intercession participates in Christ's, as an expression of the communion of saints. In intercession, he who prays looks "not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others," even to the point of praying for those who do him harm” (No. 2635).
Pope Benedict XVI: “Guilt can be overcome only by forgiveness, not by retaliation. God is a God who forgives, because he loves his creatures; but forgiveness can only penetrate and become effective in one who is himself forgiving” (“Jesus of Nazareth”).
Life application: The Our Father is recited so often and so routinely that it’s easy to overlook just how demanding it really is. Prayer is hard because what it demands of us is hard. That’s why Jesus urges us to be persistent: to ask, seek and knock until we receive what God really wants to give us—a heart attuned to his.
James Cavanagh is director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-Area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. Cavanagh’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register.