Homily for July 28, 2019
Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Asking for Snakes
Back in June, Pope Francis started a most unlikely boy on the path to sainthood. His name was Darwin Ramos, and he was a street urchin from the Philippines who achieved great holiness in his seventeen years of life. Son of an alcoholic father and impoverished mother, he and his sister had to work as trash-pickers when they were young, scavenging through trash piles to try to find some bits of plastic that they could resell. Most of the money they brought home was stolen by their father to buy alcohol. Later on, they got so destitute that they lost even their home and were forced to live on the streets, resorting to begging. Around this time, Darwin noticed that his muscles were growing weaker and it was harder for him to walk.
When he was eleven, he was rescued by a charity that provides homes for street children. For the first time, he was able to go to school, to have good meals, and to play with friends. But he also encountered the Catholic Faith for the first time. He asked for baptism when he was twelve, and quickly advanced in his love for God. But at the same time that he was discovering the Catholic Faith, he was simultaneously diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which is always deadly.
His friends prayed for his recovery, but Darwin embraced his sufferings. He called it “his mission” – to suffer with Christ, so to be conformed to him. He said, “[God gave me this] so that I may learn to trust Him and to believe in Him.” While many others prayed for his healing, he prayed to be docile to God’s will. When he finally died of the disease in 2012 at age 17, the Cardinal of Manilla in the Philippines petitioned the Pope to examine his case for potential sainthood. This past month, the Pope agreed and named him “Servant of God,” the first step towards canonization.
How easy it would have been for young Darwin to give up his faith! He must have been tempted to say, “I prayed for healing, but God did not give me a miracle. He must not be real.” I have known people who have lost faith because they prayed for something and it didn’t come true – I’m sure you know people like that, too. How, then, can we reconcile that with Jesus’ words that “if you seek, you will find” and that the Father likes to give good gifts to His children?
I like Jesus’ analogy – who would give your son a snake if he asked for a fish? No one! But who would also give his son a snake if he asked for a snake? Hopefully, also no one! What parent would give their child something dangerous just because they asked for it? That would be foolish! If your three-year-old asks to play with the table saw, you say no!
And many times, the things we ask for will be dangerous for our souls. As Pastor Rick Warren often says, “God cares more about your character than your comfort.” The Lord wants you to be happy with the ultimate happiness – Heaven – rather than to experience the passing pleasures of this world. He would rather that you be holy than that you be comfortable! And many things we ask for are detrimental to our holiness.
For example, we ask for more money or a better job – but perhaps the Lord knows that we would be strongly tempted to greed and materialism, so He does not allow it. We ask for good health, but He knows that we can only grow in patience and courage through facing our illness, so He does not heal us. We ask for an easier life, but God says, “Instead, I will give you the strength to face your crosses and grow through them.”
One time a boy was watching a butterfly struggle its way out of the cocoon. Out of compassion, he took his knife and slit open the cocoon so that the butterfly would have an easier time getting out. But much to his surprise, the butterfly came out with a swollen body, unable to fly. His father explained to him that the struggling to get out of the cocoon is what pushed the fluid into its wings; without that struggle, it would forever be unable to fly.
In the same way, when God does not answer our prayers, it is because the suffering is meant to make us a saint! We only develop virtues through struggle – you gain patience by sitting in traffic jams; you gain kindness by dealing with difficult people; you gain courage by facing fearful situations. Darwin Ramos would not have been a saint without his illness. So, as much as Darwin’s humanity certainly wanted a miracle, he was content to trust that God had a better plan for him.
But, my friends, there is one prayer that always works. It is the prayer that should be on the lips of every Christian at all times. That prayer is: Lord, Your will be done. Lord, Your will be done. It is fine to pray for good things – for health and material success and to get A’s on your tests and to find a good spouse – but we must always end our prayer with, “Lord, Your will be done.” And then we follow it up with, “Jesus, I trust in You!”
Jesus is absolutely right – no good father, whether earthly or Heavenly, would give his son a snake if he asked for a fish. The problem is that we often ask for snakes, but God gives us fish instead. We ask for stones when He wants to give us bread. We ask for the things of this world, when He wants to give us Heaven!