A reflection by Fr. Ivan Campana, for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. First reading: Genesis 18.20-32. Second reading: Colossians 2.12-14. Gospel: Luke 11.1-13
Every human being has the capacity to relate to the transcendent. Some people who are influenced by science and technology do not believe that we can experience the existence of God. If we study every religion in the world, we will discover that they are all showing us a way to search for the transcendent. In Cambodia where I live, the Buddhists spend a lot of time in meditation because they believe it is the only way to be connected with a positive energy that brings balance to their lives.
The Jewish tradition, where our spirituality comes from, shows us that the relationship between God and His people is based on an intimate dialogue between Father and son. It is in this relationship that God shows His mercy and love for everyone, but especially for those who have sinned. Furthermore, God’s love is always ready to forgive us as long as we go back and ask God’s forgiveness. If only one person wants to change his or her life, that is enough for God to show mercy to all of us (Genesis 18.20-32). The first reading reminds us of this.
Jesus invites his disciples into a deeply personal relationship with God, encouraging them to call upon God using the same name God uses, Abba, which means Beloved Father.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds his disciples how to continue and deepen an intimate relationship with God through prayer. Jesus invites his disciples into a deeply personal relationship with God, encouraging them to call upon God using the name, Abba, which means Beloved Father. This most beautiful image helps us to understand how we are to pray to God who is no longer far away from His people. On the contrary, with Jesus’ teachings, God is always close and hears us. God is our Father who can hug and protect us just as our fathers and mothers have done since we were children. So the first step in praying is to feel God in our hearts as a Father who is merciful and compassionate.
Opening our hearts to God is more than being prayerful people. We also need to be persistent and enduring. Prayer should never cease in our lives, whether it is praying for our needs, giving thanks, or giving praise. If we are in need of something, never stop asking, and if God sees that it is good, it may be granted.
Ming Socka, a woman in my mission and a convert to Catholicism, came to the church early every day because she liked to reflect on the readings and pray for a few minutes before mass. It was good for me, too, because I had to come early to open the door and I used this time to prepare my reflection in the Khmer language. A few months later, I saw her crying after mass so I asked her what was happening. She said, “I have problems at home. My husband is a Buddhist and when he comes home intoxicated, he always insults me and doesn’t allow me to go to the church. But don’t worry, Father, I have been praying to God for my husband’s conversion for more than four years. I ask God to call him to be a Catholic. And as well, if God calls one of my children to serve as a religious, I will be happy. I pray that God will give me food for my children and the strength to forgive all the people who dislike me for being a Christian. I pray for you and all missionaries who are giving their lives in mission.”
Ming Socka’s testimony helped me to reflect on how people have a deep experience of God, how people can forgive, how people can do many impossible things that become possible through prayer. I think that in today’s Gospel Jesus is showing us a way to deepen our relationship with God. Jesus says that to pray is a deep personal relationship with our Father, a relationship that must be seen and lived with our neighbours, our brothers and sisters. The relationship between the Father and the Son invites us to enter the embrace where there is a profound intimate communication with God who knows everything, even our deepest secrets.
I believe that prayer makes us holy people. It enables us to forgive our brothers and sisters. It changes our lives and the people around us, like Ming Soka who prayed for many years. In time, she saw her husband baptized as a Catholic and a few months ago saw her son ordained a priest of Kampong Cham Diocese.
People like Ming Socka have enriched my personal experience and growth in Christianity in Cambodia. I hope that today’s readings help us to check and evaluate how deep our relationship is with our beloved Father and with our brothers and sisters. If we are far away from God, then we must go back and try to deepen God’s presence in our lives.
Fr. Ivan Campaña is an Ecuadorian missioner of the Colombia-based Yarumal Institute for Foreign Missions. Fr. Campaña is parish priest of Kdol Leu, about 150 kilometres northeast of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He resides with the Scarboro Missions community when doing studies in Toronto.