Sunday, 16 October 2011

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, Shaftesbury

Mt 22:15-21
We just heard the Lord Jesus tell us that we must, "render unto God what is God's"(Mt 22:21). I want to say a few words today about how prayer, and different kinds of prayer, are part of what we owe to God. When I last preached on this gospel text, when at last came up three years ago, I preached about our duty to “render unto Caesar”, and the interrelationship between God and Caesar, the state. And there are many important points that can be made about this text, but today I want to focus on the primary point, namely, rendering to God what is God's.

As I just said, prayer is one of the things that we must "render unto God". And I say this because it can be a useful reminder of something that we often forget, namely, that there are things we OWE to God. The virtue of ‘justice’ consists in the ready inclination of rendering unto others what is due to them (Aquinas, ST II-II q58 a1; Catechism 1807). I owe it to ‘Caesar’, and through him to the wider society around me as it is served by various state institutions, I owe it to my neighbour that I pay my taxes, that I declare my income honestly, that I don't try to fiddle all my books. And there are all kinds of things that, as a matter of JUSTICE we owe to others. Within a family a father or mother OWES a duty to care for their children. Further, we owe it as a duty that we should give ‘charity’ to those in need -the poor have a claim of duty on the wealth of the rich, and even on those who not ‘rich’, it is not merely a matter of generosity from those who have to those who have not (the word ‘charity’ can sometimes disguise this truth).

The additional point I wish to remind us of today is that there are, similarly, things that we owe to God as a matter of justice. What the saints classically grouped as the virtue of ‘religion’ includes all of those things that we owe directly to God as a matter of justice to Him.
Now, why am I wanting to make a point about this? Well, because I think most of the time when we get around to praying, we tend to think that we are doing something special, that are doing something unusually generous, and we often forget that actually this is just something that we OWE to God as a matter of justice.

For example, when my alarm went off at six o'clock, and when I stumbled out of bed and down the stairs to the church to pray, it may well have been that I wasn't thinking to profoundly about much at all! But my point is that I frequently neglect to think that my struggling down to the church to pray is not merely some kind of super generous act on my part, but is simply something that I owe to God.
Part of the reason, I think, why we tend not to think about prayer as a DEBT of justice is that it is easy to tell ourselves that there are so many DIFFERENT WAYS that we can pray during the day that for most people they could tell themselves that none of these PARTICULAR forms are an obligation of justice. And yet, the rendering of SOME form of REGULAR daily prayer IS a debt of justice we owe to God. And, the commitment to some form of a regular PLAN of prayer is likewise a debt of justice that we owe Him.

And, of course, there are certain forms of prayer that are so essential to our Christian living that they are, for all of us, not something for us to choose but a debt of justice we must pay. Most particularly, the obligation to attend Mass each and every Sunday. "On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass." "The precept of participating in the Mass is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day." (CCC 2180) The Mass is THE definitive prayer Christ gave us, saying “do THIS in memory of me”; Sunday Mass is THE prayer that has defined Christian practice down the centuries, it is THE practice that the martyrs risked death rather than fail to attend, to quote one example: "Without fear of any kind we have celebrated the Lord's Supper, because it cannot be missed; that is our law” (Martyrs of Abitina, quoted by John Paul II, Encyclical Dies Domini, n. 46). See also:

So, in conclusion, the next time we pray, let us remember that this is not just some super generous act on our part before God, but this is something that we owe Him in justice. He has given us life and breath and everything we have, and prayer is just one of the things we owe Him if we are to, "render unto God what is God's"(Mt 22:21).

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