NOT YOU: A HOMILY ON THE NOVENA TO ST. GERARD, BY FR. IFEANYICHUKWU HENRY NWOKORO CSsR, ALAKIA
WHAT SHOULD I DO?
Usually, when people are looking for the fruit of the womb, everybody becomes a medical doctor and a helper. Some will go to the extent of visiting an idol worshiper, who will usually tell them to bring certain items. The whole idea is that if you do so and so, you will get the child. These days, the same idea is used in churches. Some people will tell you to fast for so and so amount of days, and after doing so, you will get whatever you desire. Some will tell you to donate a certain amount of money to the church and after that you will get whatever you want. There is nothing wrong with making a sacrifice as such, but this kind of idea can become a religious way of practicing bribery and corruption. It can give people the idea that God can be bribed or manipulated. This is why St. Paul is asking the Galatians in the first reading if they are mad. They believe that it is by keeping certain rules and regulations that they will recieve the Holy Spiri. St. Paul is not encouraging the people not to obey the Law. St. Paul can never do that. However, he is telling the people not to use obedience of the law as if it is a precondition for recieving the gifts of God. The question people always like to ask is ‘What should I do?’ The world has made us to think that you need to fulfill certain conditions in order to obtain certain things.
Take children for example, whenever people are struggling to have children, the question they usually ask is ‘What have I done?’ or ‘What should I do that I have not done?’ Then, they will start coming to church more frequently, praying often, doing charity more, etc. with the hope that by doing these things, they will get what they want. There is no problem with praying for what we want, and there is no problem with doing all these wonderful things. But sometimes, while we are doing all these things, we are more in love with what we want to achieve than we are with God. We can be more interested in the blessing, than in the blesser, and that is not right.
Sometimes, the person who feels he has done nothing wrong will be struggling to have children. At the same time, prostitutes and people we consider unbelievers will not seem to have such problems. Then we start wondering why God is so ‘unfair’. The whole idea of ‘unfair’ makes us think we have done enough to ‘earn’ God’s favours. The lesson God is trying to teach us is to realise that if God was to be ‘fair’, not even those who think they have done enough to merit his blessings will survive. Nobody can do enough to deserve God’s blessings. The word Grace is related to the Afrikaans word ‘gratis’, which means free. Grace is gratis. Instead of thinking we can do enough to earn God’s blessings, St. Paul asks us to put our faith in God and believe that in his love and mercy, he will grant our prayers.
As far as obedience is concerned, St. Gerard Majella was like a mad person, but not the kind of madness of the Galatians. St. Gerard believes first and foremost that God is love. If God is love, then God wants my good more than I want my own good. It is this strong belief which made St. Gerard Majella willing to do anything as long as he believed it is the will of God. He was not using his obedience to manipulate God. His obedience was a loving obedience, not a manipulative obedience. The second son in the story of the prodigal son was very obedient, and he felt he was therefore entitled to his father’s favours. His problem was not that he did anything wrong. He did the right thing for the wrong reason. St. Gerard was completely obedient to the Bishop of Lacedonia whom he lived with, even though the bishop was endlessly nagging and complaining. St. Gerard was prepared to suffer anything, as long as he believed he was doing the will of God. This is not done out of manipulation, but out of love.
There is a kind of unwritten agreement between St. Gerard and God. Because St. Gerard would do anything, as long as he knew he was pleasing God, God also seems to have made the same promise to Gerard. Whatever Gerard wants, God does. It is as if Gerard was prepared to do whatever God wants, and God was prepared to do whatever Gerard wants, and what Gerard wants is to do what God wants. Therefore, at the end of the day, there is no difference between what God wants and what Gerard wants.
BID SONDER OPHOU
In the Gospel today, Jesus tells us the story of the woman who was consistent with asking bread from his friend. Even though his friend refused at first, his persistence made his friend change his mind. This reading might at first sound as a contradiction to what the first reading is saying. It says that if you continue to ask without giving up, God will, in a sense, change his mind and give you what you ask. Is it not surposed to be gratis anymore? If God loves us and knows what is good for us, why does he require us to pray and pray and pray before He gives us what He already know is good for us. The whole idea of praying consistently is not about getting God to change his mind. It is about turning our hearts towards God. So, it is not God’s mind that is changing, but ours. There are several reasons why we need to ask, even though God can give to us without our asking, and he does give to people who have not asked.
1. Everything God does or does not do, is aimed at our eternal salvation. Sometimes God gives his favours to very terrible people as a way of using His kindness to draw them to Himself. Have you ever recieved a favour from someone for whom you have done absolutely nothing? An example is the woman who was at the feet of Jesus, weeping and kissing Jesus, etc. She doesnt ‘deserve’ God’s favours, and that is why her love for Jesus is so great. God is using his blessings to turn their hearts towards him. The blessing is only used to make them appreciate the blesser. God does not need their love, but they need to love God for their own eternal salvation.
2. Not asking from God on the grounds that God already know what we want is a sign of pride. A person who cannot beg is a proud person. This is why you cannot be begging and be proud at the same time; at least not at the very same moment. Only the humble will make heaven. Asking does not only make us grow in humility. It also makes us grow in total dependence on God. It makes us understand how dependent we are on God. Hell is for people who feel they dont need God.
3. If we achieve God’s blessings because we obeyed certain rules and fulfilled certain requirement, then it will not be thanks to God that we are blessed. It will be thanks to ourselves, because we worked for what we get. If you have worked to earn your salary, your employer cannot say he is giving you a gift. The gift of God is not salary but gratuity. The word gratuity is also related to grace.
4. If the only reason you are praying is in order to recieve certain favours, it means that whether the prayer is answered or not, you will still end up in hell. If the prayer is answered, you will stop praying, because you have got what you want. Those who go to idol worshipers for help dont go back when they get what they want. This is because they have no love relationship with the idol. If the prayer is not answered, you will also stop praying. When you pray and pray and there seem to be no results, then you will stop praying. It is only wise enough to know that you cannot continue to do the same thing expecting a different result. This is what happens when the prayer is result oriented. In fact, God not answering your prayer can make you loose faith in Him, and it can make you love Him less, because you dont love Him for His own sake. God wants to be loved for His own sake. He loves us for our own sake, and the best way we can love Him is for His own sake. That is how Gerard loves God.
St. Gerard had only one will, and that is to do the will of God. This is because he knows God knows what is best for him. Part of our prayer is to listen. That is why the catholic liturgy is usually in a dialogical form. It creates in us the idea that prayer is a dialogue. If my prayer is about asking God to shut up and listen, then I am making God my servant. But if in my prayer, I am more interested in what God wants me to do, rather than what I want God to do, then I am the servant of God. The servant can have his opinion, but he knows the order of the master overrides his opinion. This is what Gerard became with God, and it is interesting that God does not seem to every refuse anything to Gerard, and Gerard never refuses anything to Gerard. It is not easy to surrender completely to the will of God, but as we continue our novena to St. Gerard, let us like St. Gerard be completely obedient to God, always asking ‘What do I have to do?’ But as manipulative obedience, but as loving obedience. Our greatest temptation is not the temptation to do the wrong thing. Our greatest temptation is the temptation to do the right thing for the wrong reason. Let us not fall for it.
I am Fr. Ifeanyichukwu Henry Nwokoro, CSsR. I am your fellow child of God and this is my way of sharing my daily reflections with you. Please feel free to leave a comment, suggestion or question. Let everything that lives and that breathes give praise to the Lord.
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