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|NO MOM - I'm not saying you're like|
Doris Roberts was in "Everybody loves
Raymond..." This was the best image
that came up online when I typed "Italian
Guilt" for an image search
So this past Wednesday, we had a special election in the state of New Jersey. I’m still registered to vote in my hometown which is about 30 minutes away from here (quite simply as a priest, it’s just easier to leave my permanent address at my parent’s home than to worry that each time I’m moved/transfer as a priest, I have to change my voting information) Anyway, when I looked at my schedule I realized I had a really small window to go vote Wednesday Morning. I had Mass at noon back here at Montclair; had to be at Seton Hall in the afternoon and then had some obligations in the evening in Kearney. So I rushed out of here before 10 am.
As I was pulling off the parkway, I kind of smiled and laughed to myself at this memory that came completely out of nowhere. It was this flashback when I was in 4th or 5th grade and driving up to Nutley with my mother who had a doctors appointment in her old hometown. I remember my mother coming out of the appointment, looking at her watch and somewhat exasperated saying, we gotta hurry and stop in at Grandma and Grandpa’s, but it’s just going to be a quick visit, because we’re already running late. At the tender age of 9 or 10, still somewhat innocent and naive yet or rather, still in the early stages of being introduced to Italian Guilt, I asked "well, since we’re already running late why don’t we just go home?" (It wasn’t like we didn’t have dinner at my grandparents every Sunday) And my mother just said "Oh no - if Grandma and Grandpa knew that we were in Nutley and didn’t stop by they would be upset!"
Again, I laughed at that flashback as I drove to the polling station, realizing my own sophistication at not being troubled by such crazy thoughts. I went in, voted, got in the car, started driving back to the Parkway, when as I’m driving down Raritan Road, who passes me in the opposite direction. Yep I saw the Cadillac and recognized the license plates - it was my mother. I didn’t want to honk to distract her (I swear) I was completely mind-blown. I can’t believe it... It’s like I was 5 years old again and got caught. So now all day as I went from one obligation to the next, I’m telling people this story and I’m wondering to myself- did she see me? Did she get to the polling place and one of her friends ratted me out that I was there? But my parents usually vote first thing in the morning - it was 10:30 by the time I got there... but I was only the 7th person who voted by then.
I was on my way driving home from Kearny when my cell phone went off. And the Caller ID said MOM. I swear the display on the phone just looked bolder and there was this angry vibration from the phone as it was ringing. Being that I was driving, and I NEVER TALK ON THE CELLPHONE WHEN I’M DRIVING, I let it go to voicemail. (Actually I have blue-tooth, but again, it wasn’t synced - I swear... and anyway I was only 10 minutes from getting back here to MSU, and alright, yes, I wanted to use her voice mail to try to figure out what did my Mom know..) Being the master that she is her message was very non-descript – it didn’t reveal anything - "Hi Jim it’s Mom - it’s 7:30 call me when you get a chance."
So I call home... and the first question - the FIRST QUESTION - "So when did you vote today?" Before I even answered I told this entire story as she laughed and said how she’s not like Grandma and Grandpa were with her and my Uncle – but how she was "surprised" that I didn’t stop by - even though she "understood..." She didn’t want me to stress out - even though she would’ve loved to see me (but no guilt!)
My family jokes about this "Italian guilt" - but in reality when you look at the definition of guilt: According to Bing - Guilt is defined as an "awareness of wrongdoing: an awareness of having done wrong or committed a crime, accompanied by feelings of shame and regret – the reality is my mother doesn’t want me to feel shame or regret that I didn’t stop by - or even to feel like I’ve done something "wrong." Does she wish her son didn’t have as crazy a schedule as he does? Yes.. Would she have loved to have had a mid-week surprise visit - absolutely... But she doesn’t want me to be "shamed into it" or feeling like if I don’t stop by, I’ve done something wrong. We use this negative idea of "guilt" to illustrate something deeper...
Which is how I see what Jesus is saying in today’s Gospel. Because if we’re not paying careful attention, we can get the mistaken notion that Jesus is saying that when we’re praying, we are some annoying, whining, needy people who need to look at God as an unjust, dishonest judge who only finally concedes, goes along with, or relents to the demands because we annoy the heck out of him. Look at the parable we just heard: because this widow keeps bothering me I will deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me! Nice images to associate us with our prayers to God ? It’s so negative negative.
But we have to look closer and see the deeper message Jesus making. He’s not saying our prayers are annoyances, and that if we just hound God enough, nag Him enough we’ll get what we want. But He is making a critical point in saying that we are weak in our prayer. We give up too easily. In fact, He’s going so far as to say that we approach God with less confidence than this determined widow had in a crooked judge. Just think about that. This widow knows this judge is a jerk, but she knew that if she kept at it, she would get to him. Yet, how often do you and I doubt God. Thinking that because he doesn’t answer us in the way we expect him to he isn’t answering us at all....
Jesus is challenging us - If we just keep at it...
If we remain faithful - meaning that we keep at our prayers, and keep asking for God to reveal his presence, show his ways, direct our hearts, even when we don’t feel like he’s doing that... no - especially at those moments...
If we begin to give up our demands that His answers go along with our suggested answers and surrender ourselves to Him, entrusting ourselves to Him - knowing that He desperately loves us and wants what is best for us.
If we can really enter into prayer which pulls us out of ourselves, out of this world and the things of this world and open ourselves to the things of God -
Then our weak, little faith can start to grow...
our confidence in the providence of God begins to mature...
And Jesus’ rhetorical question at the end, which seems filled with sadness or concern – When the son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth? Will be answered with a definite yes... yes Lord, we do believe... Yes, we eagerly await your return so that we can experience the fullness of life you promise us.
My mom doesn’t want me to visit her out of "guilt" - anymore than Jesus wants us to view prayer as an annoyance of God. But the reality is sometimes these seemingly negative examples shake us up to a new perspective. I know that the "Italian guilt" is meant to remind me how much I love my parents, and that as a son, I need to make them more of a priority - even more than an important civic duty like voting.
Jesus is hoping that we’ll learn a similar type of lesson from his parable tonight. To recognize- that if the annoying widow can receive justice from a dishonest judge because of her persistence, how much more would the God who came down from heaven, lowered himself to share in our humanity, suffered the effects of our sin being nailed to the cross, and rising gloriously again to new life – all to demonstrate how deeply he loves us - and that there’s nothing that could separate us from that Love... How much more would this God delight in our crying out to Him? How ready is our Father to turn and answer our needs as we come to Him?
May we take that truth to heart, calling out to Him not out of guilt... but out of love.