“God said, ‘Ask something of me, and I will give it to you.’” Imagine that happening to you as it did to Solomon in the encounter described in today’s First Reading. That God Himself comes to you and proposes that offer. What would be your response? It’s hard for me, being an Italian with A.D.D., to consider that question. There’s that impulse to wonder – What’s the catch? Where are we going? We know the quote/unquote “right answer” if we listen to the rest of this passage and hear what Solomon responded with: asking for “an understanding heart” so that he could effectively lead God’s people that he was entrusted with and God’s happy reaction to his humble request – so why even play these hypotheticals. Or, maybe you’re so conditioned by fictional stories of genies out of lamps offering three wishes that your mind is replaying all those different variations and trying to remember which one worked out the best. Or maybe there are just so many legitimate concerns, and family problems that you’re carrying with you that it’s hard to reflect on anything other than them.
Thanks so much for stopping by to read this homily for the 17th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME -JULY 30, 2023. I appreciate your sharing this 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- Father Jim
But lets try to just imagine it for ourselves and allow ourselves to have an honest reaction. “God said, ‘Ask something of me, and I will give it to you” What would you answer? It’s a great question to sit with and reflect in the honesty of our hearts because it helps us recognize where our focus is, what are some of the distractions, what are the cares and worries – or – the hopes and dreams we have.
Like many of you – I’ve got different members of my family on various prayer lists. Like many of you – I’ve bought lotto tickets for the Powerball and Mega Millions jackpots with ideas of what I would do if I had the winning numbers. Like many of you – there are things in this world, in our country, and in our Church that I struggle with and have opinions on; that I think if everything in our world, our country, and our Church aligned with my view, they would all be infinitely better. So all that being said, if our loving, all-powerful God were to make this most generous offer, I’m sure that some or all of those things would be vying for attention – to bring before Him. For many, that motivates them to come here on Sunday for Mass. Which in many ways is a good place to begin our prayers.
Because first and foremost, Jesus has taught, shown, and proven to us that God is madly, deeply in love with us – in the truest, genuine, sincerest definition of love – of being selfless and sacrificial, radically and entirely present for us. So whatever will open us to turning our gaze to Him, opening our hearts and minds in true honesty, is something He will happily welcome. But the reality is that authentic prayer is to be a conversation. Where we not only bare our hearts to God but lay them open to hearing and receiving from Him. And prayer is to deepen our relationship with God so that we learn to trust Him and His plans for us. Where we can agree with the psalmist who today we prayed along with as we said, “Lord, I love your commands” and heard him say “the law of your mouth is to me more precious than thousands of gold or silver pieces.” Or where we can come to believe in our hearts what St. Paul said in today’s second reading “We know that all things work for good for those who love God.” In reality, those sacred authors didn’t just come to those realizations one day any more than Solomon in that first reading to answer God the way he did. I think we can mistakenly forget that these fellow human beings are far more relatable to us, and when we can remember how they got to that place of trust and surrender in God, it can be a comfort and guide for us.
For example, one individual that comes to mind is a woman born in New York City two years before our nation came into being with the Declaration of Independence. Her name was Elizabeth Ann Bailey. She was born into a prestigious family, her father being a Chief Health Officer with many family connections to the Church of England. So in a time of upheaval that the American Revolution was for most people, the Bailey family would be of a small group that, because of their governmental and religious connections, could navigate both sides of that conflict and be respected by both. But apart from the stability that could bring in terms of securing social status and wealth – it didn’t prevent tragedies like Elizabeth’s mother dying from complications after giving birth to her sister Catherine, her father remarrying, having five children with her stepmother. And then, when the father and stepmother separated the stepmother turned her back on them; the father returned to England for further medical studies and left Elizabeth and Catherine, to be raised by his brother/their Uncle William. As awful as those circumstances were, Elizabeth was fortunate compared to many of her contemporaries – academically gifted – she studied languages and arts – being fluent in French and a talented musician. At the age of 19, she married a wealthy businessman named William Seton. She was part of the elite of New York, having the first Episcopal Bishop of New York presiding at their wedding and then moving into a home on Wall Street – which was as associated with wealth and privilege then as it is now.
Long story short, in 9 years, Elizabeth Ann Seton’s and her husband had five children of their own and ended up taking in William’s six other siblings. William had suffered from Tuberculosis even before their marriage, but by 1803 it had gotten so much worse that his doctors suggested he go to Italy for a warmer climate to recuperate. Which he, Elizabeth, and one of their daughters did. Within a month of their arrival, two days after Christmas in 1803, William died. So Elizabeth Ann Seton is in a foreign land, now a young widow with one daughter and four other children 4,000 miles away.
It’s not hard to consider the endless list of fears, worries, confusion, and perhaps anger that she had to navigate – nor how those might have been articulated in her prayers if she found herself with the words we’re reflecting on today “God said ‘Ask something of me and I will give it to you.’” We can imagine Elizabeth Ann Seton having some thoughts. As a devout Christian, she brought her broken heart and tear-stained eyes before God in prayer, which is why reading what she wrote to her sister Catherine was so moving. At the time, she was still in Italy after burying her husband, being taken in by one of her husband’s Italian business partners, Filippo Filicchi, and was incredibly moved by their Catholic faith. She wrote:
My sister dear, how happy would we be if we believed what these dear souls believe, that they possess God in the Sacrament and that he remains in their churches and is carried to them when they are sick; oh my -when they carry the Blessed Sacrament under my window while I face the full loneliness and sadness of my case, I cannot stop the tears at the thought. My God, how happy would I be even so far away from all so dear, if I could find you in the Church as they do; how may things I would say to you of the sorrows of my heart and the sins of my life.
Did you catch that? As she brought the total loneliness and sadness of her case – as she articulated her fears, concerns, and confusions, she realized the thing that would be able to satisfy all of them was Jesus Himself. Even though she already knew Jesus. She began to dig deeper, looking for greater closeness and intimacy with God, with Jesus Himself, not just in some kingdom to come at the end of time, but here and now.
When she returned home to America, Elizabeth Ann Seton began to receive instruction on becoming Catholic. In the interim, she still attended services in the Episcopalian Church which only deepened her longing for the Eucharist and possessing God Himself, Jesus’ body and blood in the Eucharist. She would sit in the Episcopal Church as close to the Catholic Church, saying, “I got in a side pew which turned my face toward the Catholic Church in the next street and found myself 20 times speaking to the Blessed Sacrament there.”
After becoming Catholic, Elizabeth Ann Seton’s life and service would be credited with founding the Catholic Schools System in the United States as well as the founder of the first religious congregation in the United States, the Sisters of Charity, with five other religious groups tracing their origins to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s story. Which is remarkable in that from the time she became Catholic to her death at the age of 46 was only about 21 years.
I remembered this story because I genuinely believe God wants us to become Saints. Not in the exact way that St. Elizabeth Ann Seton did. In a particularly unique, intimate way that takes each one of us as one of His beloved sons and daughters who are gifted and blessed in countless ways and have the potential to utilize all those things that will glorify Him. The challenge is for us to follow her example, though. To navigate all the things that weigh us down, frighten, confuse, distract us. And honestly, to bring them to the God who wants to hear from us, converse with us, relate to us – and says ‘Ask something of me and I will give it to you.’
As we honestly bear our hearts to Him in our prayer and share all that is in there, we are disarmed of our expectations, plans, and even our conceptions of God Himself. It is then that we can begin to meet, know, love, and desire Him. Then we become the people Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel – who have found the treasure, found the pearl of great price and found there’s nothing else we could want or need but Him alone.