Where Two or More Are Gathered
Sunday Gospel Reflection for 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
We are not always sure about why we are in a particular place at a particular time, why plans get canceled, or why certain opportunities work out and others don't. God knows. If we are paying attention, we can find Him. Last night was one of those nights for me. Having no plans on a Friday night, I came across a live interview with one of my favorite actors. He reported that a mutual friend of ours had a best friend that was planning to have an abortion today after her 21-week-old unborn child was diagnosed with Down Syndrome. Because our friend reached out to him last night, hundreds of people were asked to join him in a live prayer hour. Though I have prayed with him on his live streams many times, last night was different. It was so raw and real. When he heard the news, he felt so drawn to prayer that he forgot about the interview until he was reminded minutes later. After a powerful hour of prayer, I chatted with our friend who was feeling tearful and helpless in this heartbreaking situation. She could only begin to express her gratitude for hundreds of strangers gathering together to pray for her best friend. When I finally got to sleep in the wee hours of the morning, I was so thankful that I had the opportunity to be a prayer warrior. I was available that evening and this was why.
This week's Gospel talks about reconciliation and communal prayer. It reminded me of our prayer time last night because mercy and forgiveness were emphasized. Though we were of course praying for a miraculous change of heart to save her baby's life, we also prayed for mercy in the minds and hearts of those telling her that abortion is the only way. We prayed for mercy for her in the event that she carries it out. We called Satan out for the confusion and despair he creates in challenging times. Rather than praying exclusively for an outcome we want, we were praying together trusting in God's will.
In keeping with the social nature of man, the good of each individual is necessarily related to the common good, which in turn can be defined only in reference to the human person: Do not live entirely isolated, having retreated into yourselves, as if you were already justified, but gather instead to seek the common good together. (CCC 1905)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church talks about how the common good concerns respect for the person, social well-being, and peace. For a society to grow and flourish, we need to listen to one another, forgive one another, and support one another as we live in peace. We are not an island. We are a planet connected across languages, ecosystems, cultures, and communities.
There are a few ways we can approach suffering and grievances against one another. Jesus suggests that we confront our brother or sister and communicate about what is going on. If talking about it would hurt more than help, we can offer it up. If we don't do either of these things, we will become bitter. This bitterness does not only distance us from our brothers and sisters on earth but also damages our relationship with Our Father in heaven.
We are all one body and the body is healthy only when all parts are working together properly. Even if someone fails to listen to us, we are to treat them like a tax-collector. Since Jesus is the one speaking, this treatment means something different than through the eyes of the world. The writer of this Gospel was a tax-collector and Jesus met him where he was at to call him to Himself. He loved his soul even though He did not like his behavior. We can indeed love someone even though we do not like them.
I recently witnessed this reality in the therapy room. As a young woman was confronted by her family members about their concerns about her fiancé, she told them that they haven't gotten to know him. They said in unison, "we don't like him." The parents are currently adjusting to being empty nesters and learning how much they can no longer control in their grown daughters' lives. I challenged them to love this man, even though they do not like him. After all, he is going to be a member of their family.
Similarly, we are all one family. Jesus never told us to be everyone's friend or like everything we see. He did command us to love our neighbor and love our enemies. He told us to pray for those who persecute us. So, it makes sense he would talk about reconciliation and the power of praying with others in the same passage.
One of the most powerful gifts to give or receive is a prayer bouquet. As a collection of different types of flowers, a prayer bouquet is a collection of prayers that people have agreed to offer for the intentions of the recipient. It's not just one prayer by one person, but many prayers from many people. God is a commune God that wants to share His love with us through the persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The mystery of the God-Head 3-in-1 models familial love that unites us together forever.
God says, "It is not good for man to be alone." (Gen 2:18)
If you are feeling lonely today, pray for someone else who is lonely. By turning our attention outward to another instead of inward toward ourselves, we can find comfort and peace. In Lin-Manuel Miranda's book G'morning, G'night one of his pep talks mentions how you are not alone in feeling whatever way you are feeling at the beginning of the day or at the end of the day. Someone else is feeling that same way. We can also pray for God to bring people into our life. I've heard amazing stories of answered prayers when it comes to new friends and significant others seemingly appearing out of nowhere after asking God for a companion.
A beautiful gift in the church is the Liturgy of the Hours. Psalms are assigned for each day. Even though you personally may not be feeling the emotions in a particular psalm, you pray it on behalf of someone who is. In monasteries, monks even pray in the middle of the night. So, when you rolling in bed trying to get some sleep at 3 am, you can be comforted to know that monks somewhere are praying for you.
The sentiment, "I'll pray for you." is sadly a passing thought most of the time. It takes courage and vulnerability to stop in our tracks and pray together right here and right now. What power can be found when two or more are gathered to agree on anything.
Let us challenge ourselves to pray boldly with others.
What if we prayed together with the confidence that Christ was with us?!
"Amen, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:19-20)