Saturday, July 22, 2017

Make a Most Pressing Appeal

We want things, so we pray for them. I'm not referring to "cool" material gifts like fast boats and hot cars. I mean we want spiritual stuff. Good stuff. It may be a child's salvation, or for culture to turn from its immoral ways. I'm learning about this lately. 


Here was a Scottish Presbyterian Missionary that followed my great grand uncle, John Williams to the New Hebrides Islands, a archipelago of 30 islands 1,000 miles N.E. from Australia. Today New Hebrides is called the nation of Vanuatu.  Williams was martyred there in 1839 and eaten by the island cannibals. Paton managed to live among the cannibals (but just barely) for thirty years and lived to famously write about it. 

The back of the heathenism on the island of Aniwa, where Paton spent most of his days, was broken when Paton dug a 35-foot deep well to supply the island with a continuous flow of fresh water, something Aniwa did not have since rain only fell 4 months of the year. He describes "sinking the well" in his famed autobiography. He labored for weeks with an American Axe and shovel to dig out the coral. The islanders mocked him since to them rain only came down from the clouds and never up from the ground. Paton exhausted himself several times over the weeks, and once almost buried himself alive when the walls caved in. The cannibals, watched from the rim and only helped him when his life was in danger. They feared he would die and the "man-of-war" ships would come, find Paton dead, blame the natives, and destroy them for the death of the missionary. Paton labored, hard and alone for weeks. And as he dug out the coral he prayed, relentlessly...that the water, he knew he would eventually find about 35 feet down, would be fresh and not brackish or salty. But he writes that he did not know if God would
Post Card: Paton Digs a Well
answer that his prayer, and provide them with fresh water. But it was a good work he was doing for the sake of the islanders, and himself, and he felt God compelling him to dig. BUT HE DID NOT KNOW...AND SO HE PRAYED INSISTENTLY AND CONTINUOUSLY as he dug.  And when he did find water, it was fresh, with only the tiniest hint of brackishness. It was drinkable, and clear. To the islanders it was a  miracle and they universally declared that Missi's Jehovah God was more powerful than all their gods, and within a week the village chiefs had brought to Paton all of the island's wood, stone, and coral idols, which Paton destroyed with their enthusiastic help.

What's instructive about this "sinking of the well" and the "breaking the back of heathenism" was Paton's (1) hard and dangerous labor over decades on the islands, continually at risk of being murdered and eaten, or dying of malaria related diseases; and (2) his persistent prayer for the heathen's conversion. Both continued for 30 years of his life (the labor and the prayer) but were illustrated in the relatively short time he was "sinking the well."


At the time I was reading about the sinking of the well, the Office of Readings that day was from the Rule of St. Benedict.
Whenever you begin any good work you should first of all make a most pressing appeal to Christ our Lord to bring it to perfection.
"making a most pressing appeal" has the sense of PERSISTENCE in good work and good prayer. 

This recalls to mind the old argument about "faith" vs "good works." Protestants (especially Evangelicals) make a stink about how our salvation is based on "faith" and never "works."  This is not Biblical, however, as most of the references in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament make it clear that we will be judged based on our works, and that faith without works is dead (James 2).  
But what comes to mind when thinking about making a most pressing appeal, is how faith in prayer, without hard physical labor makes God out to be some magical genie in the bottle. God put us in a PHYSICAL REALM. We are not just spiritual beings. Even before sin entered the world God told Adam to "tend and keep" the garden. Work was involved.

Indeed we are made in God's image and likeness. He worked to make the world. We have to work to keep it. Jesus worked through his passion and worked on the cross to save us. We have to work to keep our salvation. The apostles worked to evangelize the world, and most of them worked through their martyrdom. St. Paul worked and labored on his missionary journeys. The Great commission could be easily worded like this:
Go and work to make disciples of all the nations, work to baptize to teach them to work hard to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matt. 28:19-20)

Today's Office of Readings recounts the assumption of Elijah from 2 Kings 2:1-15. 
[A side note here. Non-Catholics whine about the Catholic belief that Mary (Jesus's mother) was assumed into heaven. We celebrate the Assumption of Mary. Yet, we have two such assumptions in the Old Testament: Elijah, and Enoch. So, Mary's Assumption didn't "break new ground," so to speak if you forgive the mixed metaphor.] 
Anyway, back to Elijah's Assumption. The focus here should be on Elijah's apprentice, Elisha. Elisha refuses to leave Elijah's side, knowing that his master is shortly going to be assumed into the sky. And evidently the whole countryside knew this was going to happen. The 2 Kings 2 passage repeatedly mentions the "guild of prophets" who knew this was going to happen. They say Elisha, "Do you know your master is going to be taken from you today?" And Elisha says, "Yes I know it. Now, be silent." 
As Elijah goes to Bethel he tells Elisha to stay behind. But Elisha PERSISTS in a good work and refuses. As Elijah goes to Jericho he tells Elisha to stay behind. But Elisha PERSISTS and stays with his master.

As Elijah goes to Jordan, he tells Elisha for the third time to stay behind. But not only does Elisha PERSIST but 50 of the prophets guild follow as well. 
[I want to know more about the prophets guild. Were they prophets in training? They must have been doing something right. They were hanging around with Elijah and Elisha and the KNEW that Elijah was going to be assumed momentarily. There's a did they know?] 
So the group comes to the Jordan River, which is NOT a creek you cannot wade across. Elijah takes off his mantle, rolls it up, and strikes the water which divides and both cross over on dry ground. 

They get to the other side (metaphor here) and Elijah says to Elisha, "Ask for whatever I may do for you, before I am taken from you." 

NOTICE THE SEQUENCE HERE: Elisha PERSISTS in seeking something from a man who has one foot in heaven. He's "praying" to Elijah, and Elijah, who has the power to do a lot of extraordinary things, says, "Okay, because of your persistence in prayer and the work of keeping up with me, I'll give you want you want."  This is not just mental assent of faith, but it requires  physical, persistent work...through Bethel, Jericho, and now the minor reenactment of crossing the Red Sea WITH A CROWD WATCHING. 
 [In Moses' day it was Pharaoh's troops who did not believe, and now it's the guild of prophets who do believe.] 
Elisha has been "sinking the well" for these days of following Elijah, and now his verbal prayer becomes known to us, "May I receive a double portion of your spirit."  And with some minor qualification, Elijah grants it. A moment later Elijah is taken up in a flaming chariot, and leaves behind his mantle. Elisha tears his own garment,  picks up Elijah's, walks back to the Jordon River, strikes the water with the mantle and says, "Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?" The water divides and he walks over.

And then, what does the crowd that sees all this do?  Unlike Pharaoh's troops that pursued Moses into the Red Sea and drowned, this guild of prophets is wiser...They stayed on their own side of the river and when Elisha returns they "went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him."  


The final example of this PHYSICAL PERSISTENCE MARRIED TO FERVENT PRAYER was also in today's Office of Readings, as recounted by Gregory the Great.
When Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and did not find the Lord’s body, she thought it had been taken away and so informed the disciples. After they came and saw the tomb, they too believed what Mary had told them. The text then says: The disciples went back home, and it adds: but Mary wept and remained standing outside the tomb.  
We should reflect on Mary’s attitude and the great love she felt for Christ; for though the disciples had left the tomb, she remained. She was still seeking the one she had not found, and while she sought she wept; burning with the fire of love, she longed for him who she thought had been taken away. And so it happened that the woman who stayed behind to seek Christ was the only one to see him. For perseverance is essential to any good deed, as the voice of truth tells us: Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved. 
At first she sought but did not find, but when she persevered it happened that she found what she was looking for. When our desires are not satisfied, they grow stronger, and becoming stronger they take hold of their object. Holy desires likewise grow with anticipation, and if they do not grow they are not really desires. Anyone who succeeds in attaining the truth has burned with such a great love. As David says: My soul has thirsted for the living God; when shall I come and appear before the face of God? And so also in the Song of Songs the Church says: I was wounded by love; and again: My soul is melted with love.  
Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek? She is asked why she is sorrowing so that her desire might be strengthened; for when she mentions whom she is seeking, her love is kindled all the more ardently.  
Jesus says to her: Mary. Jesus is not recognized when he calls her “woman”; so he calls her by name, as though he were saying: Recognize me as I recognize you; for I do not know you as I know others; I know you as yourself. And so Mary, once addressed by name, recognizes who is speaking. She immediately calls him rabboni, that is to say, teacher, because the one whom she sought outwardly was the one who inwardly taught her to keep on searching.

Mary persisted PHYSICALLY in labor of seeking and in PRAYER. She not only made a most pressing appeal in her labor but also in her heart. And she, unlike all of the apostles was rewarded. 

Ora et labora
Pray hard and work hard. Make a pressing appeal and prayer, and press your labor beyond the work of others. 

The Netherlands registered Ora Et Labora freighter

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