Sybil 2001

Gospel text

Luke 11: 1-13

1 Now, one day when Jesus was praying somewhere, and when he was done, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John did with his disciples. 2 He said to them, "When you pray, say:

May your person be recognized as holy,
May your world come.
3 Give us each day the bread we need to live until the next day,
4 and liberate us from our waywardnesses,
for we ourselves forgive those who have debts to us,
and do not drag us into the ordeal."

5 Then he said to them, "If ever you had a friend and went to his house in the middle of the night to say to him, 'My dear, lend me three loaves, for my friend came to my house and I have nothing to offer him", 7 and the latter from the inside answers, 'Do not bother me, the door is already locked and my children are with me in the bed, impossible for me to get up and give you them'. 8 I assure you, if he does not get up to give because he is his friend, he will wake up because of his shamelessness and will give him what he needs. 9 And I say unto you, Ask, and it will be given you, seek, and you will find, and knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and who seeks finds, and who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Which of you in your role as a father, if he is being asked by his son for fish, will he give him a serpent instead of fish? 12 Or, if he is being asked for an egg, will he give him a scorpion? 13 If you, who know how to be wicked, can give good gifts to your children, how much more will your father from heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?


Our life is like this river with many meanders and multiple tributaries

Gospel commentary - Homily

Prayer for people who do not pray anymore

I still remember my parents getting up at 4am to recite their prayers. Why 4am? I do not know, it probably dates from the time when they could be disturbed by the 5 children. Then they were going through a whole list of prayers, the "Our Father", "Hail Mary", "Glory be to the Father", prayers to Saint Joseph, prayers to the Sacred Heart, prayers to the good Saint Anne (she would have helped to get their first car), prayers to Our Lady of Protection (my father was a miner). All this was part of the start of the day routine. And they were convinced that all these prayers were essential to their live. Yet their example was not followed by their children. Is it the death of prayer? Were all these prayers from my parents really useless? And there is this astonishing remark from Etty Hillesum, the Dutch Jewish woman who died in the German death camps in 1942, who writes in her diary: "For months I had not knelt. Because inside I prayed constantly"1. What is prayer?

This is the question the disciples ask to Jesus in Luke's Gospel, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John did with his disciples". I explicitly say "the Gospel according to Luke," because the Lord's Prayer is only known to us by two evangelists, Luke and Matthew, who have inserted it in different contexts, have slightly modified it in their own way and especially have given different emphasis. While Matthew inserts this prayer into the Sermon on the mount to invite people not to multiply the words as do the Gentiles, Luke inserts it in the trip of Jesus towards Jerusalem, after the scene of Martha and Mary where this one was sitting at the foot of Jesus to listen to his word and after that he himself was in prayer, to present the prayer as a moment of sharing intimacy with Jesus himself and listening to the word of God. While Matthew, just as a good Jew, insists on the importance of acting and doing the will of God, especially forgiving others, Luke insists rather on the assurance that every prayer receives an answer, especially when we ask for the Holy Spirit. According to the biblical scholars, the Lord's Prayer Matthew and Luke received from the tradition probably had this form:

Dad, hallowed be your name
May your kingdom come
Our daily bread give it to us today
And forgive us our debts as we have also forgiven to our debtors
And do not subject us to the ordeal.

This prayer consists of five requests, two concerning God, and three concerning us. But fundamentally, the five demands revolve around God: 1) discover God through His mystery (to proclaim the holiness of God is to show the quality of his being); 2) to open one's hands to this world that He proposes; 3) to have all that is required to fully live our life each day as sons or daughters of God; 4) to go back to Him when we are lost; 5) to avoid the pitfalls that keep us away from Him. This prayer is in the image of Jesus, a deep love for this Father God. It has supported him all his life. Luke recounts that it was in moments of prayer that Jesus experienced decisive events: the reposioning of his life at his baptism, walking away from the crowd when his reputation spreads, the choice of his twelve disciples the closest of them, that great moment of intimacy we call transfiguration, and Gethsemane where he makes the decision to face his arrest and death. Prayer seems to have been vital to him, and one can imagine that without it he could not have been what he was.

All this sends us back to ourselves. What allows us to make the right decision at turning points in our life? What contributes to growth spurts in this long journey to become oneself? When do we live a little intimacy with ourselves? When do we take the time to listen to what is rising from the bottom of our heart?

In her diary, Etty Hillesum writes: "That evening, and again alone with myself after all these restless days, I became aware of myself as a great block of concentrated strength. And that's what you learn every day a little: to order things instantly in your life"2. In the integration of the things of life, there can be difficult events, not necessarily lived by oneself. At the time of writing, I am thinking of the people of Lac-Mégantic (Quebec) where about 50 people died during the derailment and the explosion of a driverless fuel train that destroyed part of downtown. Etty was confronted with the horror of the concentration camps. She writes: "And in the end: should not we offer from time to time a little refuge to universal sadness? ... Yes, life is beautiful, I give thanks to the end of each day, while I know perfectly that mothers ... have sons who are massacred in the concentration camps. And the sorrow one feels about it, you have to bear it ... sorrow must, so to speak, become an integral part of you, a piece of your body and your soul, you do not have to flee it, on the contrary bear it, but as an adult, without seeking an outlet for your feelings in hatred or a desire for revenge on all German mothers ... This sorrow, it is necessary to give it in itself all the place and the protection they should receive, and in this way sorrow will diminish in the world"3. These moments when we take the time to harbor sadness and suffering are vital: either they will make us grow, or they will destroy us.

That's the good news! Nothing can really prevent life from being beautiful and good, if we know how to open our arms and our heart. At the moment when the bombs fell close to her house, Etty wrote: "I accepted, with a feeling of maturity and humility, all the catastrophes and all the pains that could still assail me. And I firmly believed that I would still continue to find life beautiful, always, in spite of everything ... And we can fight the war and all its after effects by releasing love, every day, at every moment, and give it a chance to live. And I believe that I will never be able to hate a human being for what is called his 'wickedness' ... "4 There is nothing magical here, but only an ability to go down to the depths of ourself, and hear our own music.

You will have noticed that I spoke of prayer without speaking of formulas to recite, or even psalms that Jesus may have used. For the fundamental purpose of prayer is to reconcile ourselves with ourselves and with life. And this is not obvious and represents a long way, because we suffer too much from the gap between what we observe and what we desire and hope for. The paths to achieve this are different. For my parents, this path went through the rosary and the recitation of dozens of formulas. For others, they go through these moments in the forest or in the mountains or by a river. For others, it is a constant inner state in the very heart of a feverish life. But if you want to find life, it is a mandatory path.

In the end, let's recall it, it is not about becoming little "saints". It is about accepting pieces of ourselves that we would like to reject, it is about cementing who we are and cementing this world with ourselves.

I would like to finish by giving Etty the floor again, where she compares life to a great river for which all our experiences become tributaries: "Life is no more than one and the same great inner journey, continuous and full of unforeseen events, and every minute of the day and night brings new alignments to this journey ... which does not mean that I immediately forget what I lived, but this experience immediately finds its place in the great current of life, without balking, it flows immediately, as it were, along the great current, without forming, as formerly, obstacles and dikes and heaps of impure materials hindering the course of life"5. This is the incredible journey of life. And it's never too late to board.


-André Gilbert, Gatineau, July 2013

1 My English translation of Les écrits d'Etty Hillesum. Journaux et Lettres, 1941-1943. Édition intégrale, traduction de Philippe Noble. Paris: Seuil, 2008, p. 357.

2 Hillesum, p. 411.

3 Hillesum, p. 434-435.

4 Hillesum, p. 432-433.

5 Hillesum, p. 424.