This sermon is for the feast of Thomas Aquinas. The lessons for today can be read here.
There are some things we have already begun to find once we begin to look for them.
Not long ago, I met with someone who was overcome with anger. Someone close to her had hurt her very badly, and her instinctive emotional response was a deep and abiding fury that, given the circumstances, made a lot of sense. But she loved this person and did not want to be angry anymore. “Please,” she pleaded with me, “please pray that this anger will go away. I don’t want to hate anymore. I can’t live like this.” I smiled and told her that it sounded to me like I didn’t need to pray for anything. Simply wanting not to be angry is enough to help us begin to let go of our anger.
Again, not that long ago, someone came into my office and presented a tough situation. Should he give up the familiarity of a job and a life that were comfortable for him and his family, or should he accept a new job offer that came with new opportunities but required a big change for their family? He asked me to pray that he would have the wisdom to make the right decision: “I want to be sure to do what God wants me to do. I’m worried that I will make a bad choice. Please, pray that God will help me know the right thing to do.” Again, I smiled and said that it sounded like I didn’t need to pray for anything. Simply asking for wisdom and discernment is the first step in making a wise, God-led decision.
What more can we do than pray? What more can we do than ask? When faced with a situation we cannot control, when we seek something beyond ourselves, how can we get where we want to go except for to ask God to take us there?
I don’t believe in magic prayers. I don’t believe that God hears the words that come out of our mouth or out of our heart and then makes the happen just because we asked. God is not a wish-giver. That isn’t how prayer works. But I do believe in the power of prayer. It’s just that the power of prayer comes not in the granting but in the asking.
“Therefore I prayed,” the poet-author of Wisdom wrote, “and understanding was given me; I called on God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.” The account of his quest shows us how precious in his sight wisdom really was: “I preferred her to scepters and thrones, and I accounted wealth as nothing in comparison with her.” The granting of wisdom, as you might recall from the story of the Lord’s appearance to Solomon in a dream (1 Kings 3), is given to the one who asks for it: God said, “Because you have asked [for an understanding mind], and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, behold, I now do according to your word.”
That doesn’t mean that anyone who utters the prayer, “Dear God, please make me wise,” is suddenly granted the wisdom of Solomon. But it does mean that the person who seeks wisdom above all else is already asking the questions, saying the prayers, and seeking the answers that make one wise. If one’s heart yearns so fully to hear what God is saying that his human desires fade and his entire life is then consumed by the quest for God, he can be sure he has already found what he seeks.
If you’re consumed by anger, you can only find peace by asking for it, and, if you really ask for it, you will have already begun to find it. If you are desperate for wisdom beyond yourself and your heart desires that more than anything else, you have already learned what it means to be wise. God wants to be found. In Christ, he has shown us that he loves us. He has made his love apparent to the world. He isn’t holding back his mercy, his wisdom, his peace, until we seek them. He has already showered them upon us. Our call is to seek them with all our heart.