I’ve been busy again this week. In addition to my regular ministry schedule, for the second weekend in a row, besides the weekend Masses, I’ve celebrated two weddings and a funeral. That’s the title of a movie. Isn’t it? All those demands had me wondering if I was going to have enough to fulfill all my commitments. I was wondering if I’d have enough time to research for and compose four different homilies. Would I be creative enough to inspire two couples entering into marriage and their guests to open their hearts and souls to God’s grace to strengthen their commitment to marriage? I wondered if I was going to be empathetic enough to a grieving family whose member had died. Was I going to have enough in my tank to do everything I needed to accomplish?
It isn’t easy not to feel overwhelmed by life. We have so many demands placed on us. Family, work or school, finances, health needs, and even our faith life require time and energy. It seems impossible to do enough to give every part of our life the attention it needs. Yet, we realize we need to attend to all these facets of life to live successfully.
Last week I spoke about enough not being the right goal to seek in life. Doing just enough is not a good measure for our lives. If we only do enough to get by, we won’t be successful in life. So many parts of life will be a failure.
Focusing on doing just enough shows that we believe life is all about us. It makes it clear that we think we’re the center of the universe. The real goal in life is to follow Jesus. If we pattern our lives after the example of Jesus, take up the cross, and do God’s will in our lives, we will have enough. We need to allow God to help us make life work out for the best.
How can we be that trusting in God when we don’t have enough? The rent is due, the cabinets are empty, and we have no money to pay for our needs. Can we trust God when our parenting skills seem lacking, and we can’t seem to communicate with our children? Are we supposed to depend on God when we lack patience with people who are hurting us? How can God help us when we don’t have any energy to care for a sick spouse or parent?
There is a simple solution that we might have missed. We find it in today’s second reading from the Letter of St. James. Tradition holds that James was a brother of Jesus. In Jesus’ day, the term brother and sister had a broader meaning than just siblings who share the same parents. It included what we would call cousins. So, James, we believe, was a cousin or possibly a half-brother of Jesus’
The Letter of James has a great deal of good practical advice to help us grow in our spirituality. It seems there was quite a bit of infighting in the Christian community to which James wrote. In light of discord in the Church of our day and age, that can be either encouraging or discouraging to hear. It can be encouraging to know even the early Christians had to deal with conflict. It is disheartening to see we haven’t made much progress in two thousand years.
The Church isn’t the only victim of infighting. It happens in our families, our workplace, our community at large. Just read the Letters to the Editor in the Chronicle each week. People are often determined to get what others have or try to preserve what they feel belongs to them.
James knows where to place the blame for our infighting. He said:
Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members?
It is our uncontrolled passions that cause us to have discord in our lives. We want what we believe belongs to us. We want to fight anyone who tries to stand in our way. James tells his listeners that we covet what doesn’t belong to us.
Whenever we hear the word covet in scripture, it has a very negative connotation. It means we want something that rightfully belongs to another person. When we are covetous, it kills our relationship with the rightful owner. When we don’t have enough, we see people with what we need and start blaming them for our circumstances. We begin to believe if we had what they have, life would be so much better.
James says that we don’t have what we believe to be enough because we do not ask God for it. It is simple, James tells us we fail to do the obvious. We neglect to stop and ask God, the provider of every good thing, for what we need. Instead, we act like practical atheists. We behave as if God doesn’t exist, isn’t present in our lives, and is unwilling or unable to help us.
When we don’t feel we have enough to satisfy our needs, we need to develop an action plan or strategy to get enough of what we need. That plan will be so much more effective if we ask God to guide it for us.
That seems easy. But sometimes, God doesn’t answer our prayers. Why? James responds to that question. He wrote:
You ask, but you do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
Self-centered prayers go unanswered because we are wasting them. James says our prayers need the right motives. They aren’t to be used to fulfill our passions. Prayers need to be motivated by good intentions. God doesn’t waste time answering prayers that don’t improve our relationships with God and our world.
James wrote to the Christian community to tell them how they address their prayers to God makes a huge difference. James tells us when we don’t have enough; we must ask God for it. We must ask God for it with the right motives and with humility.
When we ask for something of any authority figure, a parent, boss, teacher, or coach, we know if we frame it in such a way that shows our request isn’t only for our good but for the greater good of all, we usually get a positive response. If we go to God with a humble spirit and what we desire is for the long-range interest of ourselves and others, then we will receive what we need.
I want to suggest two other attributes to add to James’ list of points for our prayer. Make your prayer specific. Sometimes we believe it is more mature and sophisticated to pray as if God is supposed to guess what we think we need in prayer. We say things like, “Thy will be done.” While it is good to turn our needs over to God and God’s will, we first have to stipulate what we believe them to be. Making our prayers too vague and unfocused will prevent us from recognizing when or if God answers them. We won’t see how to adjust our prayer to ask God for something God will respond to favorably. With more specific prayers, we can recognize God’s response.
Next, make sure to be persistent in prayer. Seeking God’s help in prayer can’t be one and done. If we believe we don’t have enough, we can’t just pray for God’s help once and expect to make God feel we’re in need.
Jesus encourages us to hound God in prayer. He told the parable of the man with the guest who came late at night. The man needed to feed his guest but had no bread. He went to his faithful friend and pounded on his door until he got up and offered his help. It is the same with God. Persistence in prayer shows we have the faith to believe God will be faithful and respond to our needs. God can intentionally be slow to acknowledge our prayer. God does that to help increase our desire for our intention. God uses our need to support and build a stronger relationship with us.
At times God will turn down our prayer because to grant our wish is genuinely not in our best interest. Giving us our desire would harm us spiritually even though we believe we need what we are praying God to give us. To grant our request would harm the good things God is sending us in our need. The key to getting enough from God is to be humble before God. Be specific and be persistent.
This week identify some part of your life where you don’t believe you have enough. It might be a place where you lack the material things you need for yourself or your family. You might be struggling because you don’t have enough time for everything you need to do. You lack enough patience or don’t have enough emotional support from others. Specifically, ask God for what you feel you lack. What would enough of what you need look like to you? When we envision our needs, it is easier to recognize when God gives them to us. Keep praying for it until God gives it to you or you begin to realize God is leading you in another direction that is more beneficial for you.
In a few minutes, we will celebrate the Eucharist. God will again sacrifice Jesus Christ on this altar. God will offer up His Only Begotten Son and offer us Christ’s Real Presence. God will present to us Jesus Christ, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, all the grace we need to have enough in our lives.