What did St. Paul have in mind as he prayed?
By: By Father Douglas Grandon
Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Oct. 31
Wisdom 11:22 — 12:2; Psalm 145:1-2,8-9,10-11,13,14; 2 Thessalonians 1:11 — 2:2; Luke 19:1-10
The third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization ended last week with dramatic testimony from the 18-year-old daughter of a former assistant to the Communist dictator of North Korea, Kim Jung Il.
Sook (not her real name) was 6 years old when political intrigue forced her family to flee North Korea. After arriving in China, Sook’s mother died of leukemia. In his grief, Sook’s father joined a Bible study, where he committed his life to Christ. He soon became convinced that God had called him to return to North Korea as a missionary evangelist. Arrested and imprisoned twice, it is almost certain that he has been publicly executed there.
At the conclusion of her talk, Sook made a heartfelt plea: “Brothers and sisters here in this place, I humbly ask you to pray that the same light of God’s grace and mercy that reached my father and my mother and now me, will one day soon dawn upon the people of North Korea, my people.”
Isn’t it amazing? This young woman has the audacity to believe that the prayers of God’s people are more powerful than the brutality of North Korea’s anti-Christian regime.
“We always pray for you,” St. Paul declared to the Thessalonians in this week’s second reading. While the passage in our lectionary begins, “Brothers and sisters, we always pray for you,” Paul’s Greek text actually reads, “With this in mind, we always pray for you.” Just what did Paul have in mind as he prayed?
In the immediately preceding verses, Paul had reminded his readers that Christ will one day return to usher in the Day of Judgment. At that time, anti-Christian persecutors will “suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord,” while the persecuted will share in the glory of Christ. It was the certitude of coming judgment that motivated St. Paul to pray for his persecuted parishioners.
And for what did Paul pray? He prayed “that our God may make you worthy of his calling.” The Thessalonians had received a divine invitation. When they responded, sin made them unworthy of God’s call. Paul prayed that God, by extending his supernatural empowerment (grace), might enable them to overcome sin, thus making them worthy of God’s call.
Paul also prayed that God might “powerfully bring to fulfillment (your) every good purpose and (your) every effort of faith.” In his first letter, Paul observed that there were deficiencies in the new-found faith of the Thessalonian Christians. He prayed that God might bless their commitment to move forward on their journey toward sainthood.
Finally, Paul prayed “that the name of our Lord Jesus might be glorified in you — and you in him.” The whole context of this passage is eschatological, dependent upon God’s certain victory over evil when Christ returns in glory. Paul understands that God is transforming Christian believers now so that they might be glorified with his Son in the end.
WHAT’S OUR MOTIVATION?
We would be wise to analyze our prayers in light of the profundity of the three prayers found in Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians. Are we praying as precisely as did Paul (“May God make you worthy of his calling.”) or do we pray in generalities (“Bless Billy today — and Mary and John.”)? Is the content of our prayers lofty and significant (“May the name of the Lord be glorified in you.”) or trite and mundane (“Please, sweet Jesus, help us win this game.”).
Like St. Paul, we receive motivation to pray meaningful prayers when we remember that Christ really will return to usher in the final Day of Judgment. With this in mind, please pray for those engaged in the dangerous work of evangelizing North Korea — and that Christ will overthrow every wicked regime.
FATHER DOUGLAS Grandon is parochial vicar of Sacred Heart Parish in Moline.