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Breath of the Spirit

Pastoral, Liturgical, Teaching, and Social Justice Moments brought to you by DignityUSA.

Breath of the Spirit is our electronic spiritual and liturgical resource for our members and potential members. Nothing can replace your chapter or other faith community but we hope you will find further support here for integrating your spirituality with your sexuality and all the strands of your life.

The question doesn’t revolve around God’s response to our prayers. It’s about the frame of mind with which we say those prayers.


Exodus 17:8-13
II Timothy 3:14-4:2
Luke 18:1-8

We have to be careful how we interpret today’s Exodus reading. One of my Catholic grade school teachers once encouraged us to pray with upraised hands, like Moses, if we wanted to make certain God would hear our prayers and grant our requests.

I’m afraid that teacher never heard of ancient “fertility cults.” The biblical prophets certainly did; they constantly warned their people against employing such religious practices. One of my Scripture profs once defined fertility cults as simple answers to complicated questions, comparing them to modern TV commercials. Having trouble getting a date? Just change your toothpaste! Is your life boring? You’re probably driving the wrong car!

The goal of fertility cults is simple: if you use special words or employ special actions the proper amount to times, you can tie God’s hands behind God’s back. He’s forced to give you whatever you ask, even if he doesn’t want to. God has no choice. It’s akin to holding a piece of kryptonite in front of Superman.

That’s why biblical Jews were forbidden to do anything that even smacked of fertility cults: to plow a field with a donkey and ox yoked together, wear garments made from two different kinds of material, or even boil a kid goat to death in its mother’s milk. The prophets were convinced that no one should engage in any rituals which attempted to control Yahweh’s actions in their lives. The Chosen People were expected to relate to their God, not control God.

Though Scripture scholars can’t agree on the meaning of Moses’ raised hands in our first reading, they’re certain his gestures have nothing to do with controlling Yahweh’s actions during the battle.

Luke’s Jesus enters the fertility cult fray by insisting that those who have a proper relationship with God shouldn’t have to worry about using gimmicks to have their prayers answered. God isn’t a judge who will cave in under pressure. On the contrary, God is always interested in “securing the rights of his/her chosen ones.” The question doesn’t revolve around God’s response to our prayers. It’s about the frame of mind with which we say those prayers. “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Serious students of Scripture couldn’t agree more with the emphasis put on the importance of Scripture in today’s II Timothy pericope. The unknown author is certain “all Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” Of course, the author is referring only to the Hebrew Scriptures. (The Christian Scriptures wouldn’t be regarded as “inspired” for another 150 years!) And she/he is certainly not thinking about using those writings just as a source of “proof texts.” The sacred writer obviously wants us to imitate the faith of those who composed them. Their faith is the word we should be “proclaiming, whether convenient or inconvenient.”

I’ve discovered after almost 50 years of teaching Scripture that such a proclamation is often “inconvenient” in a church which has traditionally emphasized its own fertility cults. As a child, I used to worry about my non-Catholic cousins’ eternal salvation. They knew nothing about receiving communion on nine straight First Fridays, making novenas to the Blessed Virgin, or the requirements for gaining plenary indulgences.

My mother once received a prayer card from a well-meaning friend. The novena to St. Joseph which it touted came with a warning: “You had better want what you’re praying for to St. Joseph. You’re going to receive it whether you want it or not.”

We Catholics obviously are notorious for cornering the kryptonite market.