JULY 25, 2004, 17TH SUNDAY
HOMILY- LUKE 11:1-13
HOW MUCH MORE WILL THE HEAVENLY FATHER GIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT TO THOSE WHO ASK HIM. That there are a variety of ways of pleasing God all of us know well. That some of these ways are more pleasing to him than others is also well
known. Surely one of the most gratifying acts we can offer to God is the desire to be united with him. Since that is possible only to the person who is graced with the Holy Spirit then it follows that one of the most pleasing of prayers we can possibly make to him is the request that he bestow on us the gift of his own Spirit.
To ask God for his favors gives him glory for such a request includes the firm belief that he has the power to grant what we ask him for. That we ourselves often do not really know what is good for us, however, entails the possibility that what we ask him for is, in fact, not to our advantage. Even such things as success in our work, good health, obtaining a particular position that we should very much desire to occupy- these and many other desires that are regularly the object of prayer often enough turn out to be a source rather of harm to our person than the blessing we suppose them to be. That such is the case was the settled conviction of an important group of ancient philosophers who gave much consideration to the great question that life poses to every one: what is true happiness?
The best known of this school of thought was a man of consequence and wealth, endowed with high intelligence, favored by nature and society. He was a man of letters, endowed with an uncommon faculty of fitting the right word to things and eminently fitted to search out the workings of the human emotions. His name was Seneca and the system of philosophy he followed was known as Stoicism. When I was a younger monk I liked to read his letters written as they were in tasteful and virile Latin. They display a seriousness in regard to the human condition that felt obligated to reflect on matters that many accept without examining their true worth and significance. He was concerned to understand the passions of anger and fear in particular, and their proper role. He understood that such things as health and popularity and success are not truly good. He, along with his fellow Stoics, taught that all such matters are to be viewed as indifferent, neither good nor bad in themselves.
Seneca himself was a pagan; but many of the saintly Fathers of the Church learned this lesson from him. Monks too by meditating on the words of the Gospel came to a similar appreciation of material blessings and made it a major undertaking to live consistently with this conviction. They copied his works and read them for they found they helped to purify the heart from false desires.
Jesus in various parables taught the same lesson that Seneca did in this one respect: riches, worldly advantage and pleasures are not true goods. His followers are to guard against such desires, and to ask the Father for them only in so far as they assist one to know, love and serve God. But the Lordís teaching far surpasses that of the Stoics in that his words reveal to us the nature of what is truly good, the source of real blessedness. He tells us that in very colorful language in todayís Gospel. If you would attain to the only happiness that will satisfy your heart, then ask your Father in heaven to give you his Holy Spirit. That is a prayer that is always answered.
We know from the same source that possessing the Spirit does not substitute for the great work of purifying the heart; but rather makes it possible for us to persevere in that task with fervor and insight. We have our Lordís word for it that those who do persevere in this work of the heart to the end, will attain to everlasting life in the glory of God the Father.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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