Ask and You Shall Receive

The following is a summary of Deacon Dan’s homily for July 24, 2011 – the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.

One of the recurring themes in old movies and cartoons is the Genie in the Lamp. The story goes that if you find a magic lamp and rub it three times, a Genie will appear and, out of gratitude for being liberated from the lamp, will grant you three wishes. In movies and cartoons, the person who has been granted the three wishes typically asks for the same things. First, they ask for all the power and wealth in the world. Second, they ask to live forever. Third (if they are smarter than the Genie), they ask for an unlimited number of additional wishes.

God takes a different approach with Solomon in our first reading. God tells Solomon “Ask something [to paraphrase: ‘Ask one thing’] of me and I will give it to you.”

Solomon responds not by asking for power or riches. He doesn’t ask for eternal life. Instead, Solomon asks for help. He knows that God has asked a lot of him to lead his people. He knows that he cannot do God’s will without God’s help. So, what Solomon asks for is the “Heart of a Servant.” He asks for an understanding heart – with the ability to judge wisely, to distinguish right from wrong, and to serve God’s people well. This pleases God and God promises Solomon a “heart so wise and understanding.” God promises Solomon wisdom the world has never known before – and will never know again. This, I believe, is a great lesson in humility and surrender to God’s will. And it’s a lesson of how we can grow closer to God by asking and receiving.

This reminds me of a personal experience I had some years ago. While traveling to San Antonio for business, a thought came to me. As I was walking back to the hotel after dinner one night, I heard clearly in my mind the question: “What gift can I give to the one who gives everything?” That same question kept coming to mind as I returned to my hotel. Excited that God was speaking to me through the Holy Spirit, I returned to my hotel room and jotted down that question in my prayer journal. “What gift can I give to the one who gives everything?” Then I sat and waited for the answer. And waited. And waited. But nothing came to me that night. God had planted the question in my head (and my heart) and, over time, I would pray and reflect on the answer.

Over time, the question was expanded to “What gift can I give to the one who gives everything? What treasure do I posses that would glorify my King?” That question led me to write the song “The Heart of a Servant.” I learned that what God was asking me was to give back to him all of the gifts, the strengths and treasures he had so graciously given me. I think that is true for all of us.

The song “The Heart of a Servant” became my theme song and prayer during my formation to become a deacon. I dedicated the song to my ordination class (“The Great Class of 2007”) and was asked by Archbishop (now Cardinal) Burke to sing it for him at a dinner he hosted for my class just before ordination. And the real miracle to the story is this: Archbishop Burke ordained me even AFTER he heard me sing!

The refrain of the song is what I used as my prayer at ordination. And if you ever get a copy of one of my “Deacon Dan” business cards, that prayer/refrain is what appears on the back:

“I give you my heart, the heart of a servant, Lord. I give you my joyfulness, my brokenness – every thing I am. May I grow to know and love you and serve the ones you love. Day by day, this I pray: To give you my heart – the heart of a servant.”

In my life, that’s the treasure I have found: The desire to accept, to grow, and to nurture a heart like Christ’s.

We hear about treasure in today’s Gospel. Jesus tells his disciples:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys the field.”

The idea of hiding a treasure in a field may seem odd to us today with the advent of banks, safety deposit boxes, personal safes, etc. But in Jesus’ time, it was not unusual to guard valuables by burying them in the ground.

The key point in this reading is that the person who found the treasure invested everything he had to secure that treasure – to make it his own.

So it is with our faith. Once we discover our faith, we answer our call to grow closer to God – every day and in every way. We answer God’s call to know him, love him and serve him by investing all that we own (our hearts, our minds, our words and our actions) to secure that treasure. We want to do this, but sometimes life gets in the way.

But we can overcome the obstacles that keep us from God by following the example of God and Solomon:

  1. Take it one day at a time
  2. Ask for one thing at a time
  3. Move closer to God one step at a time

Growing in our faith is a lifelong process. It reminds me of the old adage: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!”

I encourage you to spend some time in prayer this week. Pray and reflect about the treasure God has given you in your life – your strengths, your gifts of the Spirit, your talents and abilities. Then, follow the advice of Michael Fonseca (a former Jesuit priest).

In his book, Living in God’s Embrace: The Practice of Spiritual Intimacy, Fonseca invites readers in one of the spiritual exercises (Exercise Forty-One: Discipleship) to:

“Imagine yourself in a setting that is familiar to you where you meet Jesus in person. He looks into your eyes with a gaze that penetrates your being and dissolves camouflage and deceit. He asks you the question: ‘What do I need to do for you so that you can follow me with love and eagerness, beyond all fear and anxiety?’”

What is it that you need to let go of?

  • Fear of failure?
  • A painful experience from the past?
  • Sinful inclinations or actions?
  • Useless worry?
  • Resentment, anger, control?

Whatever that one thing is, NAME IT. Then turn it over to God and believe, like the wise Solomon, that God will give you what you need to overcome that obstacle.

Be at peace and know that you are loved!

Copyright © Daniel R. Donnelly. All Rights Reserved.

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