HOW TO GET GOOD CUSTOMER SERVICE. You have to give whomever wrote that headline credit. If they get paid by the number of clicks that an article received, that creator had to have had a very good week. Anyone of us who’s ever had a bad experience with a customer service representative knows how frustrating it can be. Just two weeks ago, I was trying to renew a subscription to a news paper. Intentionally I avoided calling and tried to use the link online. But once I typed in all the things required on each screen of the website, and kept clicking to the next followup screen, when I got to the final one, the most important one – where they were asking for your credit card info – it didn’t work. I wish I could tell you I was exaggerating that I did this at least 6 times on three different web browsers and 2 different computers – and even emailed their customer service department before actually picking up the phone to speak with customer service. That’s how much I wanted to avoid dealing with a service rep on the phone. When I finally did, I felt completely vindicated in not wanting to call in the first place . I was put on hold, the person on the other end of the line didn’t seem to care, wasn’t paying attention… thanks to the timer on my phone I know that it took me 9 minutes and 47 seconds to do something that had the stupid web site worked I would’ve been done in 2 minutes (great, now I’m aggravated again).

Hi everyone. This is my homily for July 28, 2019 – 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings for today’s Mass can be found HERE Thanks as always for reading; sharing this blog on your social media sites; and your feedback and comments. I appreciate it. Have a good week – God Bless – Fr Jim. AUDIO . Also you can get the audios of the homilies from iTunes as a Podcast: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/fr-jim-cherns-homilies/id1440618142?mt=2

I’m guessing that I’m not the only one who has had such an experience and are so intrigued seeing that headline “How to get good customer service”. Before reading it, I was already trying to imagine what this investigative journalist was going to reveal. Maybe when you get to the menu on the phone prompting you to ask for something that has you screaming REPRESENTATIVE – they have found a secret code like “say VIP” and you get special service or press *911 and your wait time is eliminated and you’re put right through. Maybe it would be something less flashy, but practical advice like “call between the hours of 11 am and 2 pm which is the less peak times for most places.”

Anyway, what was their super secret advice? The breaking news that they had validated as effective? Stay calm… don’t be rude…. be clear, concise about your requests… praise the representative… don’t try to bend the rules or demand accommodations to clearly defined policies (they used an example of someone who knew there was a baggage fee for a flight they were going on who decided to scream at the person working at the desk who had nothing to do with what this corporate policy, and getting her supervisor did nothing to change that situation). As I was reading all this, first I was ticked off (a life of being an Italian from New Jersey has conditioned me thus) – duh… I know all this. But then it hit me – ooohhh – this probably is news to a lot of people (and perhaps a good reminder for me).   Yeah, if I want good customer service, I probably need to be a good customer. Yeah if I dislike it when people are nasty and rude to me (which happens more than you’d think) perhaps I might not want to act that way to someone else???   No there’s no secret phrase, magic formula. In short, if we want good customer service then our posture, our demeanor, our attitudes have to change first.

That’s not just the case with customer service. The same is true when it comes to Prayer. Often times we can approach God similar to trying to win over a customer service rep. We might think: If I’m nice to Him, If I do something good (like get to Mass on a Sunday in the summer no less ) that I’ve got one coming to me. That God’s going to advance me on my prayer request list. Or at a minimum as I’m driving home, I’m not going to get a flat tire or something. Sadly, again, I can relate. A few days after my debacle of renewing that newspaper subscription I had a string of days where every possible thing that could go wrong did. From arranging my day around a service person arriving to do work at the Newman Center not showing up (where’s that list again before I call that customer service number) to a computer malfunction which set me back on a few days of work, to just a whole bunch of other things… all while I’m doing stuff for HIM! I mean I literally work at His office – come on Lord. Or to quote the great St. Teresa of Avila, who during a rainstorm was walking back to her convent and slipped down an enbankment into a pile of mud famously said “If this is how You treat Your friends, no wonder why You have so few of them!

But the reality is those tips for getting good customer service don’t work with God. Because, God is not a customer service representative. But the answer to the disciples request in the Gospel, Lord teach us to pray – has a similar answer.   Prayer is not about magic formulas or secret phrases. It’s all about our posture our demeanor, our attitudes in how we approach the Lord. It’s about what our relationship with Him. And today’s scriptures teach us a lot about that.

In the first reading we go back to the Book of Genesis – the very first book of the bible. We hear how these ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah – that the sins were so great, the sins were so grave that God is about to destroy these cities. People like to get distracted here and ask- what exactly were they doing. It’s good to remember, that’s never a healthy thing to do, – be curious about evil, curious about sin.   It opens us up to being self-righteous about ourselves (I’m not as bad as that) or to other temptations. When it comes to sin, keep in mind the dog poop principle: how much dog poop do you want in your home? A little or a lot. (I’ve had students think about that – the answer is NONE) So the point is – all sin is bad – and let’s leave it there. We should want all sin out of our lives. Well for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah the people had turned away from God. They stopped listening to Him, were not following his commands… and they had gotten comfortable with that existence. That is what made the sin so great and grave. They hadn’t considered themselves “sinners.” Once that happens, people can easily start to delude themselves thinking they don’t need God at all or even worse think they’re God’s themselves.

But that aside, the focus on this first reading is on Abraham who gets into this somewhat comical bargaining session with God. “Lord, what if there are 50 innocent people – you wouldn’t wipe out the entire city if 50 innocent people were there, would you?” And he continues on in this bizarre auction like approach “How about 40 – can you save Sodom and Gommorah for 30…20? Do I hear 10????” And each time God responds He would not do so…

Despite the eventuality that – spoiler alert –  Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed, (tells you how bad things were, that not even 10 innocent people could be found) the reality is that Abraham engages in this dialogue with God – and that God responds back tells us some really important things. God is not disinterested, hidden, removed from his creation. He is not unmoved by the hopes and fears of us His creatures or what is happening in His creation. Nor is He unaffected by our disobedience and rejection. This dialogue shows that right from the beginning, God desires a life-giving dialogue where his creatures could give voice to all their doubts and fears, their joys and hopes with Him.   Abraham’s example for prayer isn’t a do this or don’t do that outline… He’s interceding for people who he cares about… He’s appealing to the love and mercy of the God He knows. And He once again places His trust in God’s hands. Abraham’s prayers are answered. And had 10 (or we can even suspect, even one) of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah had done the same, things could’ve gone very differently for those cities.

We see this even more fully and beautifully in the Gospel. Jesus Christ fleshes this out literally and figuratively. In Him, God becomes Man and lives among us. And Jesus reveals God’s name and identity in even more loving, intimate manner. We don’t have to remain distant creatures from our creator; or servants to a mighty Master. Jesus reveals Him as Father. And continues on by telling us to never stop pleading… to not stop reaching out to Him… to have that ongoing, daily, dialogue with Him. Not simply spouting off things that we want or need… but acknowledging our primary need – for Him… the most essential want of our hearts – to be in communion with Him. Because once that identity is clear – where we see Him and relate to Him as our Loving Father and recognize that in Jesus Christ we ourselves are beloved sons and daughters – that hopefully reshapes our priorities and our lists… our intentions… Yeah it’s fine to pray that you find those lost keys – but hopefully our vision expands to say, I really want to pray for those family those friends who are lost – and want you Father, to help to use me to reach them. Yeah it’s great to share your hopes, and dreams and lay them out in your prayers… but hopefully we stand in awe and say – wow, if the same Father who created all that is could care enough to want to hear from me, maybe, just maybe He has something to say to me – He has a hope a dream for me that I want to hear about.

May the example of Abraham, the teaching of Jesus call us to recognize the deep reality that God truly loves and cares for each of us. And so prayer isn’t about trying to manipulate Him to get our way – innoculate us from trials and struggles. But connects us to the one who knows us better than we know ourselves. Who loves us more than we sometimes love ourselves. And the more we engage in that, we come to the beautiful realization that prayer changes us. St. Mother Teresa once beautifully put it: I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or do that, but now I pray that He will guide me to do whatever I’m supposed to do, what I can do. I used to pray for answers, now I pray for strength. I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.