Posted by: L. E. Barnes | September 17, 2009

Sinful Prayers?

The RCIA coordinators at my parish recently asked me to assist with the catechumenate group meetings on Sunday mornings, and this coming Sunday I’ll lead discussion on that day’s Scripture readings (Wisdom 2:12, 17-20; James 3:16-4:3; Mark 9:30-37). So I’ve been pondering what to say.

The reading from the Epistle of James contains this rebuke: “Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war. You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (4:1-3, NAB).

These verses reminded me of something I had read from George Washington’s prayer journal. He wrote, “I have called on thee for pardon and forgiveness of sins, but so coldly and carelessly, that my prayers are become my sin and stand in need of pardon.” Our first president recognized a truth that the passage from James emphasizes–even pious acts such as prayer can be sinful, if done with impure attitudes or motives. Have may own prayers ever displeased God?

In the gospel reading, Jesus’ disciples display the very attitude that James warns about. He warns them about His approaching Passion. They, however, are concerned about achieving greatness, and Jesus has to give them a vivid object lesson to correct them. Rather than striving for greatness, they should strive for humility. Rather than striving to be wise in the world’s eyes, they should strive to follow divine wisdom. Of course, doing so comes with a price, as the passage from Wisdom makes clear. (In fact, some see this passage as prophetic, pointing to Christ’s Passion.)

Hopefully I can generate some useful discussion on these readings. Awkward silences always drive me crazy…

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