Summary: Theology is faith seeking understanding. It can help us see the relevance of God's Word to our lives, especially when we don't get what we pray for.
Thursday of the First Week of Lent 2014
In the Jewish calendar, which is a lunar, or thirteen-month calendar, spring is the time of Purim, the minor feast of deliverance. The story is well-known in all the world, to Jews and Christians. A Persian king had, in God’s design, an enemy of the Jews, Haman, as an advisor. A Jew named Mordecai offended Haman by not bowing down to him. He bowed down only to God, not to any man. Evidently Haman had a pretty thin skin, because he went home sniveling to his family and they convinced him to bribe the Persian king to let their enemies kill all the Jews everywhere, and loot their possessions. It so happened that the king was married to a Jewish girl, Esther. In time, after three days of fasting and prayer, she primped up and went to the king, despite danger to herself, and after a couple of lunches with fine food and wine declared that Haman wanted her dead–and her people. Haman and his kin were executed, and the Jews across Persia got to massacre their enemies.
Lest we get the wrong idea that the moral of this story is that God is pleased with revenge, we see just the opposite in today’s Gospel. The point of the Jesus story and the Esther story is that by prayer we can unlock the bountiful blessings of God, just as the request of a child can unlock the bounty of a human father: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Now this is Matthew’s account. Luke, in his parallel story, makes a substitution. He says that the Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.
Theology contemplates passages like this in the light of our human experience. We often ask for things or experiences or relief in prayer, and don’t get what we have asked for. When I was a middle manager with Connecticut Mutual, I asked–even prayed–for a general agent’s position in another city. Despite on paper being the most qualified number two guy, I was passed over time and time again. All the opportunities blew away. A decade later, all those general agents were looking for jobs, because the company had been devoured by a larger company. I found out that one of the big shots at CM had vowed–for a reason I never learned–that I would never be a general agent with Connecticut Mutual. So God had used that company’s Haman to save our family from being stranded, broke and unemployed, in Louisville. That’s a very personal reason why I like to pray “Thy will be done.”
What Jesus is telling us today is to pray for the good things that God has for us, whether we can see what they are or not, whether we immediately enjoy the experience or not. For example, this Lent we shouldn’t pray for suffering, but we ought to pray that any suffering we might endure would be done in union with Christ’s suffering, and be redemptive. We should always pray for grace, for ourselves and others, and expect it to come to us. But we should be measured in our prayer for physical health and wealth, and always add “if it be in Thy plan, Lord.” That’s one way theology–which is faith seeking understanding–can help us in our personal journey with and to Christ.
The popes add that theology demands “the humility to be ‘touched’ by God, admitting its own limitations before the mystery, while striving to investigate, with the discipline proper to reason, the inexhaustible riches of this mystery.
“Theology also shares in the ecclesial form of faith; its light is the light of the believing subject which is the Church. This implies, on the one hand, that theology must be at the service of the faith of Christians, that it must work humbly to protect and deepen the faith of everyone, especially ordinary believers. On the other hand, because it draws its life from faith, theology cannot consider the magisterium of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him as something extrinsic, a limitation of its freedom, but rather as one of its internal, constitutive dimensions, for the magisterium ensures our contact with the primordial source and thus provides the certainty of attaining to the word of Christ in all its integrity.”
The Magisterium is a great gift, a kind of spring of understanding welling up from the mind and heart of God. Theologians who deny the truth that comes from the Popes and bishops cut themselves off from that spring, which is why much of their work is dry and sterile. Let’s pray for theologians, and for our bishops, every day.