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Bible Reflections View Comments

With the Lord, It Never Hurts to Ask
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, July 28, 2013
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If we’re living in suburban America, we probably don’t have any everyday experience of the haggling that was commonplace in the bazaars of the ancient world—and still goes on in many places around the world. Providers and consumers work together to set a fair price—or a fantastic deal for one of the two participants. These transactions are governed by unspoken rules and each one knows that the other is acting on self-interest. It becomes as much a game as an economic transaction.

In today’s first reading, we might be shocked to discover Abraham bargaining with God to save Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of ten worthy men. Like any good merchant, he starts high and works his way down. But we quickly realize that God was less interested in haggling over a specific number than in helping Abraham to realize that while divine mercy and compassion are infinite, there comes a point when even God says no, however regretfully. Abraham finally comes to terms with the fact that he can’t save a city whose inhabitants have no desire to be saved.

Abraham’s story provides a good example of the persistence that Jesus talks about in his Gospel story of the man who wakes his neighbor asking for bread to feed a visitor. Sometimes we can turn a no into a yes if we just keep asking. We’ve all heard the saying, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Suffering in silence might show fortitude and forbearance, but it’s not likely to change the situation, at least not in the short term.

The entire Gospel passage finds several ways to say the same thing: God wants what’s best for us. The problem is that sometimes we don’t know what’s best for us. And sometimes we don’t know what we truly want. We waste time and energy asking for the wrong thing. Other times we don’t realize that we are indeed on the right track and we give up too soon. Fearing disappointment, we ask once and then abandon our desire. Most of the time, we simply don’t ask. And in the process, we lose sight of how much we’ve been given without asking. We feel cheated, but in truth we never asked.

Our gracious and abundant God thinks nothing of telling us, “Ask and you shall receive.” But because this is not usually our experience with other people, we’re afraid to ask. Instead we become fiercely independent, determined to go it alone. Maybe once too often our hopes were disappointed, our trust was abused, we were in fact handed a stone instead of the loaf of bread we needed. Asking isn’t always easy.

Jesus gives his followers a simple prayer to teach them how to ask for what they need. And not surprisingly, it begins with a reminder that God is greater than anyone we’ve ever known. The central petition in the Lord’s Prayer is, “Give us this day our daily bread.” This is at the heart of our learning to ask. Life is lived day by day. If we get what we need today, we aren’t as likely to fear tomorrow.

Psychologists tell us that our basic needs must be satisfied before we can trust in more complex matters. Each time we ask and receive, we’re able to ask for a bit more. Someone once defined economic justice as the ability not only to survive but to thrive a little. It’s that state of thriving that Jesus wants to help us reach.


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Bernard of Clairvaux: Man of the century! Woman of the century! You see such terms applied to so many today—“golfer of the century,” “composer of the century,” “right tackle of the century”—that the line no longer has any punch. But Western Europe's “man of the twelfth century,” without doubt or controversy, has to be Bernard of Clairvaux. Adviser of popes, preacher of the Second Crusade, defender of the faith, healer of a schism, reformer of a monastic Order, Scripture scholar, theologian and eloquent preacher: any one of these titles would distinguish an ordinary man. Yet Bernard was all of these—and he still retained a burning desire to return to the hidden monastic life of his younger days. 
<p>In the year 1111, at the age of 20, Bernard left his home to join the monastic community of Citeaux. His five brothers, two uncles and some 30 young friends followed him into the monastery. Within four years a dying community had recovered enough vitality to establish a new house in the nearby valley of Wormwoods, with Bernard as abbot. The zealous young man was quite demanding, though more on himself than others. A slight breakdown of health taught him to be more patient and understanding. The valley was soon renamed Clairvaux, the valley of light. </p><p>His ability as arbitrator and counselor became widely known. More and more he was lured away from the monastery to settle long-standing disputes. On several of these occasions he apparently stepped on some sensitive toes in Rome. Bernard was completely dedicated to the primacy of the Roman See. But to a letter of warning from Rome, he replied that the good fathers in Rome had enough to do to keep the Church in one piece. If any matters arose that warranted their interest, he would be the first to let them know. </p><p>Shortly thereafter it was Bernard who intervened in a full-blown schism and settled it in favor of the Roman pontiff against the antipope. </p><p>The Holy See prevailed on Bernard to preach the Second Crusade throughout Europe. His eloquence was so overwhelming that a great army was assembled and the success of the crusade seemed assured. The ideals of the men and their leaders, however, were not those of Abbot Bernard, and the project ended as a complete military and moral disaster. </p><p>Bernard felt responsible in some way for the degenerative effects of the crusade. This heavy burden possibly hastened his death, which came August 20, 1153.</p> American Catholic Blog One of the things that we need to remember is that we’re preaching Jesus, not the institutional Church. It’s easy to get caught up in the rules and regulations of the institution and forget that we are saved not by the Church but by the person of Jesus or the Church as the body of Christ.

 
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