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Righteous Prayer, Righteous Action

Lenten meditations on justice and peace

Thursday, March 5

Readings: Esther C: 12, 14-16, 23-25; Psalm 138, Matthew 7:7-12

God is taking us on quite a journey this year. We have read God's word and considered its justice and peace implications, and they don't seem hard to find. Today we journey down into the dark depths of threatened genocide and then rise to the sublime wisdom of the Golden Rule.

We begin with Esther's prayer before risking her life by approaching King Ahasuerus without his invitation. Due to the wicked actions of Haman, the chief counselor of the Persian king, the entire Jewish community was threatened with genocide. And so it came to pass that Queen Esther and all Israel fasted and prayed, Esther calling upon God as the "Ruler of Every Power" for assistance in this time of extreme need. God heard the prayers, and the Jewish community was saved from destruction: righteous prayer + righteous and courageous action.

Jesus teaches us in today's Gospel about prayer. "Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you." The reading concludes with the Golden Rule, "Do to others whatever you would have them do to you," perhaps the most succinct justice and peace statement in all of the Bible or the justice teaching of the Church. (It's another one of those clues God has been giving us through the Lenten readings.)

This connection between prayer and action on behalf of justice is not accidental. We are sometimes faced with a false dichotomy; some will emphasize the spiritual aspects of our faith, others the justice aspects. In reality, and in spirituality, these two are so closely woven together that separating them destroys the whole cloth of the Gospel. Our temporal liberation from unjust tyranny is closely connected with our spiritual salvation. As we work out our salvation (as St. Paul writes), we are drawn closer in solidarity and love to others, and are called to reach out to them through concrete individual and corporate actions of justice and peace. "Faith without works is dead," as St. James writes.

The work of justice is daily supported by the prayers of contemplative monks, nuns, and laity across the world, and some of the great saints of justice and peace have also been great mystics. This connection is very clear, e.g., in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, which is a discipline that enables "contemplatives in action". Through the liturgy of the Church -- the various aspects of the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours -- we are constantly catechized and evangelized regarding our obligations not only to God, but also to our fellow human beings. Esther's prayer was followed by her courageous action; Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin were persons of great prayer as they fed and housed and clothed the poor.

The work of justice and peace begins in our prayer for justice and peace and continues in our righteous and courageous actions.

Prayer intentions:

+ For all those at risk of genocide and ethnic cleansing, and for healing for those who have experienced such tragedies, including the Jews, the Bosnians, the Ibos, Hutus, and Tutsis, Native Americans, the Timorese and for the repose of the souls of those who have perished.

+ For an end to the genocide of abortion, and for healing for all those touched by this modern tragedy.

+ For all who work for justice and peace, that their work will be grounded in prayer and contemplation.

Praxis today:

+ Do something on behalf of people at risk of genocide and ethnic cleansing, e.g., pray at an abortion clinic (they are listed in your yellow pages under "abortion"), donate to a fund that is providing help for people in such situations (my web site has some email links to e.g. orphanages in Bosnia, information about the situation in East Timor, life issues, etc.)

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