Prayer and Action

Once upon a time there lives this married woman who fought all the time with her husband.  They fight so much that often the husband does not come home from work.  Well, one day, the wife discovers that her husband dies in a car accident and she realizes that she is a widow.  After a number of months, the new widow realizes that she misses her dead husband and she seeks out a spiritualist who tells her that her husband is just fine. She adds further that he is eagerly awaiting a reunion with her. “Is there anything he needs?” the distraught woman asks, between tears. The spiritualist closes her eyes to concentrate, then replies, “He says he’d love a pack of cigarettes.” “I’ll send a carton immediately.” the woman says joyfully. “But did he say where I should send them?” “No,” replies the spiritualist somberly. “But he didn’t ask for matches.”

Today, widows teach us many things about prayer and action.

In his book, With Open Hands, the late Fr. Henri Nouwen tells us that our clenched fists symbolize our clenched hearts, holding tightly to things worthless, unwilling to let the loving touch of God heal us.  The metaphor is open hands and open arms.  As Christians, recall that the most ancient gesture for prayer is called the “orans” position.  Standing with hands and arms upraised is the ancient position for prayer.  The three great monotheistic religions of Islam, Judaism and Christianity pray in this fashion.  Moses often prays to God with arms raised and hands open.

But we must discuss another aspect of prayer today.  That issue is this:  We who pray with arms raised and hands open sometimes have to work for justice with fists raised.  Our model today is a widow.

There is nothing more fearful than an angry widow.  And widows must have been feared in St. Luke’s community because Luke tells us a parable about a widow who badgers an unjust judge so much that he grants her request for fear that she will walk up to him and give him a black eye.  There is nothing more fearful than an angry widow and I think many here in the Villa assembly know what I am talking about.  And there was no one more formidable than my 89-year-old grandmother who died in 2000.  Of Polish decent and small in stature my “nanny” had a loving heart and a strong sense of justice. If you cheated her in her grocery bill, watch out!  If you did not give her the senior citizen’s discount, watch out!  If the social security check was late, watch out!  My grandmother was so tough that when she realized she was getting off the wrong exit on the highway, she stopped and turned around fearing no one or no thing!

My grandmother, the widow of the Gospel and many other widows throughout the world teach us how to preach the Word!  St. Paul tells us to preach the word, whether convenient or inconvenient.  We who pray with arms raised and hands open sometimes have to work for justice with fists raised.  It does not mean that we threaten violence or use violence.  It does not mean that we refuse the sign of peace if we dislike them.  Never in the Gospels do we see Jesus preaching or teaching violence to spread the Gospel.  But sometimes we have to demand justice.  Why?  Because in America, the majority of the poor are women and children!  Because in America, we spend more money on political ads, guns and bombs than we do on elderly and babies.  Because in America, to be old, female and poor means that we have not done enough to protect elderly women who stay home to raise their children only to fall into poverty when their husbands die.

Maybe we know a poor elderly woman who needs our help.  Maybe we know a poor elderly widower who wants our assistance.  We who pray with arms raised and hands open also need to hear that when we come to the Eucharist we need to translate prayer into action.  Because when Christ returns, he will want to find faith!

The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.

The 29th Sunday

Ordinary Time, Cycle C

Abbey Church Crucifix




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