Reflection on the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
In 1984, when my brother Joe was diagnosed with Gay Men’s Virus, before it was named AIDS and then identified as HIV, before there was any treatment, I prayed. I prayed that Joe would be cured. I’d been taught that God doesn’t always answer prayers the way we ask them. And I knew that asking so directly and uncompromisingly for what I wanted could be interpreted as tempting God or challenging God. I wasn’t sure that prayer even works or what it is exactly. But Jesus said that even with just a tiny bit of faith I could uproot a mulberry tree. I didn’t want to uproot a mulberry tree. I wanted my 31-year-old brother cured. I prayed.
The first reading laments that God does not listen, but then Isaiah says to write down the vision because it will surely come. I had a vision during the four years that Joe and then my brother Frank were sick and died. It was of a choir of support for me — maybe angels, and I honor angels today on their feast day. Joe had a vision, too, that he told me. Later I learned that when I was in New York, taking my turn in the family to care for my brothers, my Catholic Worker community at home was praying for me. You too, my sisters, were praying for me and for Joe and Frank — and our vision broadened to pray for all the gay men who were ill, for all their families, for the gay and lesbian communities, the LGBTQIA-plus who stretch our visions and teach us love.
None of this actually tells us what prayer is or how it works. My best guess is that we learn by doing. Each one of us has experiences we can tell of prayers asked and answered, or not answered or maybe some vision — not a resolution but a sure sense of love and the power to go on, to take action.
Paul tells Timothy that we have the spirit of power and love and self-control to take action. That’s my experience. But then there’s the second half of the Gospel where Jesus recognizes us as unprofitable servants.
Well, we are unprofitable. Everything we have is gift. We live in a capitalist society so we understand the notion of unprofitability. Even if we speak of acts of service generated instead of dollars — numbers of hungry fed, naked clothed, prisoners visited — we are doing what is required of us. We are sharing the love we have been given.
Joe told me a dream he had just a few nights before he died, maybe a vision. He dreamed he was little and hiding in the closet when he found a gold chain in Mom’s coat pocket. I said that was beautiful, a sign of a good life. Joe said, “ But it was all tangled,” and I hardened my heart so as not to cry and said, “So? That’s what life is. We all make tangles.”
The psalmist tells us when we hear God’s voice not to harden our hearts. Maybe my tears would have been a better answer.