The readings for today seem to be about simplicity and transparency.
In the first reading we find St. Paul wondering if he made a mistake in his approach to bringing the Gospel to the people of Corinth. His preaching was straightforward and very clear. As you recall, when Paul first came to Corinth, he did so in fear and trembling. He had just been mostly unsuccessful in his preaching at Athens and had come to realize that it was the message of God’s love that had power, not his oratorical skills. So, he basically spoke of Christ’s great love in accepting even death on the cross for them. It was a powerful message and many people converted.
But time has passed. Other evangelizers have travelled to Corinth and preached a more complex and esoteric Gospel message. The fine rhetoric of the latest preachers has caused confusion in the community and some have strayed into strange beliefs and superstitious practices. Paul is telling them that they are losing the simple and profound truth of the Gospel. He urges them to return to their original faith in Jesus because it is there that the true understanding of God lies.
In the Gospel, Jesus clears away the some of the false beliefs about what makes prayer “work.” Apparently, some believed that they needed to bombard God with a constant “babbling” of their needs and petitions. Jesus tells them they don’t need to babble on endlessly because God already knows their needs. And then, Jesus goes on to help us understand that the reason prayer “works” is God’s love for us and intimate relationship with us. It is within that relationship of trust that our prayer becomes effective and nourishing. And, the most important arenas for prayer are God’s will, daily bread (all those needs and relationships that nourish us), and forgiveness, a forgiveness that we’ve already received through God’s love and are called to share with the people in our lives.
We hear a lot of different things about what it means to be a religious person. The readings today remind us that an authentic relationship with God needn’t be complicated or arcane. Rather, it should be a straightforward embrace of God’s love for us revealed through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Fr. Michael Higgins, C.P. is the director of retreats at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.