“English grandmother arrested for praying” “How the Rosary became an extremist symbol” were just two headlines that have in recent weeks been going viral. Having been duped before by what is called “click bait” where something is portrayed in a particular way to exploit people’s outrage or curiosity, it’s understandable to wonder what is the rest of the story. Was the grandmother actually a drug mule who was arrested for carrying fentanyl as she was “praying”? Perhaps there was some hate group targeting non-Christians with threats directed at them if they didn’t convert and using Rosary beads as a sign of intimidation.
But neither of those was the case.
Thanks so much for stopping by to read my homily for the 29th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – October 16, 2022, for sharing it on your social media posts and your feedback and comments… I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE. May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing Sincerely in Christ – Father Jim
76-year-old Rosa Lalor, who lives in Liverpool, England, in February 2021 during the country’s COVID lockdown was questioned by a policeman as to why she was outdoors. When she explained she was “walking and praying, the officer determined that was not “a reasonable excuse,” and so she was then arrested, detained, and fined.
The Atlantic Magazine’s article on the rosary went viral so quickly and had enough people pointing out not only how incredibly offensive and factually incorrect the headlines were (at one point a sub-headline called the Rosary a “sacrament”, which one commentator pointed out “even an ex-Catholic who made it through the third grade would have caught that one. There are seven sacraments, and the Rosary — is not one of them”- so obviously they didn’t have even the most nominal of Catholics on staff to overlook this article). They took the somewhat unprecedented move to change that headline twice (without acknowledging that fact) to what they felt was a more acceptable headline “How Gun Culture Co-Opted the Rosary.” They also had to drop their commissioned graphic which depicted the prayer beads as bullet holes to just a simple standard image of this beloved devotional. All of that aside, going through the piece itself, a reader can recognize that the author was, pun intended, triggered, when he saw someplace online that had a picture of a firearm with a rosary. He then went about trying to do everything from portraying the usage of the rosary as being militaristic, aligning it with different political movements, and then calling people who happen to believe life begins at conception – that is horrified at the assaults on the life in the womb including up to 9 months (and in cases of a botched abortion, even after birth) fringe and extremists. The article was, to put it charitably, a piece of trash that was infuriating on multiple levels – that it’s taking me a few weeks to calmly revisit it.
But in revisiting it, coupled with the story of the Grandmother arrested (among other similar stories happening here in the US) the question that came to mind is: Why are we seeing more and more people threatened by prayer?
Up until recently, it was pretty standard to see negative reactions to prayer in the public square. There were those mocking prayers whenever someone expressed they were offering them in response to a tragedy. There were incidents where someone claimed to be offended that prayers were being made by coaches or players on athletic fields – or by a celebrity who was using their fame to promote prayer. There are controversies surrounding the banning of prayers from Public School graduation ceremonies (in the ultimate of ironies, being done in the name of inclusion).
But as of late we seem to have seen a shift where you can hear and see people who feel threatened by prayer and are aggressively attacking those who do. This comes as a surprise to a lot of people, especially those of us who are believers, who do pray.
If we’re surprised that people are threatened by prayer, then it’s probably good to should reflect on that. Why are prayers, why is the rosary threatening? It’s not uncommon to see those who haven’t even darkened the door of a Church or actually said the prayers of a rosary wearing them or having them tattoed on themselves – perhaps seeing it (or treating it) as a good luck charm if God is listening (or even exists) or as a connection to their family, their culture, their heritage. Some treat prayers as a form of meditation that’s something you do to calm yourself down and reduce your anxiety. And there have public figures and television preachers talk about prayer as this type of power of positive thinking thing where you can manifest good things in your life, the power of attraction they call it, – where you put out there to the Universe, God, or whatever makes it possible, as Oprah Winfrey puts it “to live the life you want.” People who fall into treating the rosary and prayer like this aren’t threatening. Because none of that is prayer.
For Catholics, we believe “prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond measure, with his Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit.” When that is your belief, when that is what you strive for, then prayer is threatening… too many people for many reasons. Which is what we hear in today’s scriptures:
In that first reading, we hear one of the most dramatic examples of why prayer is threatening. But a little context here. Moses has just led God’s people, the Jews out of Egypt, and out of slavery. Moses kept going to Pharaoh and was saying the Lord God wants Israel, his people to be free to worship Him and Him alone. The Pharaoh would not believe in the Lord God, listen to His voice through Moses, had hardened his heart. Egypt had come up with their own gods, including the Pharaoh himself being treated as a divine being. So that was a world, a culture that had gotten used to worshiping things of creation rather than the Creator (the more things change, the more they stay the same) So you might remember – all those plagues that happened – you remember -the waters turning to blood, the frogs falling from the sky, and the 8 others – those were all ways the Lord God was showing the Egyptians they were not just wrong in their beliefs (those plagues were all using things that they were worshiping and had made into these gods, so the Lord God was showing them how utterly powerless they were before Him)…He also was telling them that these beliefs were holding His people in bondage. The Israelites were His people and He was their God if Egypt didn’t listen to Moses and pay attention to the signs, it wouldn’t end well for them. Which it didn’t – which was what led to the Passover, the Exodus from Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea where the Jews cross on dry land, and when the Egyptians decide to pursue them again, ends in Pharoah and his armies being completely drowned as the Red Sea closes in on them.
In today’s reading, we’re now joining them a few weeks later as they are journeying through the desert en route to Mount Sinai. They are being threatened by another group of people, the Amalekites who had killed off the weakest of the Israelites – the ill, the elderly, the poor, and children. These forces of evil, this culture of death were taking advantage of the most vulnerable (the more things change, the more they stay the same) This time we see Moses directs the people to fight while he prays – so we see how God is calling His people to faith and to action – they are to pray and work. Could God have just annihilated this threat? Yes, like we just reflected on, when the Jews were enslaved He unleashed those plagues. So why doesn’t He?
But they’re not slaves anymore. When the Egyptians had treated them like that when the Jews believed that about themselves, that was one of the things that infuriated the Lord God. He heard His people’s cries… God had issued a warning. Egypt wasn’t interested in what the Lord God had to say. They had Pyramids to build, and economies to build and crush, they didn’t want or need God, they needed people to be obedient to them (the more things change, the more they stay the same) which is what led to that showdown.
But now, they’re not slaves anymore. Now that they are free men and women, God’s people can only come to know their true identity by prayer, by being in communication with God, and by cooperating with His will. And so we hear Moses raising God’s rod – basically imploring God’s power, we heard Moses’s brother Aaron and their friend Hur helping him remain faithful to his prayer, and we hear the people engaged in physical battle. God’s people engaged in prayer to fulfill their will, their destiny, to be faithful to Him and the identity He had given them – yeah, ask the Amalekites how threatening prayer was.
This brings us to this Gospel. For weeks now on Sunday we’ve been hearing from St. Luke different parables and stories that all took place as Jesus was on His journey to Jerusalem. Jesus is heading there to face His unjust arrest and trial, His horrific passion, and His death on the Cross. His heart and mind have been both focused on what He is about to experience and accomplish and His trying to prepare His followers for what is to come – both for Him and for themselves. The passage can be a bit difficult to follow especially with this parable that can easily be misunderstood. Luke’s opening words: Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. So that sets the stage. Jesus Himself, God incarnate, is constantly seen going to prayer and He wants His disciples to do the same. And then He shares this parable. Widows weren’t just women who had lost their husbands in Jesus’ time and age. They were some of the most vulnerable people taken advantage of on multiple levels. They weren’t even pitied, they were oftentimes ignored. In this story, Jesus has her going to a government leader who is known to be crooked, known to be self-centered, and interested in taking care of himself and those closest to him (the more things change….) And this powerless, anonymous widow is seen going to him day after day, week after week, not demanding anything outrageous, not sharing her valid and understandable woes – she’s simply asking for justice. She’s simply asking that a wrong that someone did to her be addressed. And the judge is literally sick of hearing from her that he finally decides “let me just do this thing so I never have to hear from her again.”
Jesus uses that to say – the Lord God who delivered his people from slavery… the Lord God who had made them His people and helped them to overcome every threat to their identity and their destiny – that same Lord God is now before them, flesh and blood in Jesus. As they have seen and heard Him preach – experienced the most vulnerable being seen, called by name, loved, healed – Jesus is trying to say, how much more God wants to do for you, with you, through you than this Judge for this widow?
As beautiful a realization and truth as this is, the world was very threatened by Jesus. The Romans, many of the Jewish leaders, and everyone in between – were navigating very tenuous agreements in which they were all jockeying for power and authority. Having God incarnate on the scene to upset things was very threatening – which is why He ends up on the Cross. When He rises from the dead, when He enables us to receive the gift that is His Holy Spirit to work for us, with us, and through us… when He gives us the means to be transformed and to transform the world into His Kingdom of justice of peace through prayer – you better believe that is threatening to a whole lot of people.
We live in a world where: the word love has been manipulated to align with a person getting what they want…. where sex is treated as simply a recreational activity, and where money is far more important than people. We are living in a world that seems unfazed by churches being vandalized, or when clinics and centers that want to help women with difficult pregnancies and to offer life-giving alternatives to abortion being firebombed. We see Christians being canceled by the woke mob who in the name of diversity, and inclusion celebrate deadly sins and those who object are silenced and fired.
When we engage in authentic prayer, this authentic relationship with the Living God – that’s threatening because it’s clear we reject that world. And in one sense it’s good that the world recognizes that because at least they are clear on their beliefs and not trying to hide anything… They make it very clear they do reject the Lord God… they are comfortable with Jesus on the cross and want Him to stay there – and want His followers to cower in fear imagining the same will happen to them if they get out of line.
But we know the rest of the story. We know that for thousands of years people have looked to the Cross knowing that was far from the end. That the same Lord God who freed His people, God the Father raised His son from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. And He has given everyone baptized into the life and death of Jesus Christ a new identity where we are now God’s people to His sons and daughters. When we say that, that’s threatening. In a world that is trying to confuse, redefine and make up new identities – we have an eternal identity as God’s beloved sons and daughters. And when we engage in true, authentic prayer – that is threatening and makes us a threat.
Will we remain confident in His love when people shout words of hate?
Will we trust in Him when people threaten us with being canceled for making that choice?
Will we believe in His promises to remain with us, most especially when we face opposition and unjust situations?
More importantly, Jesus asks at the end of today’s Gospel, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?