Photo: Felix Carroll

Clearly, You Can Start Small

The Pope's Teaching on Our Incredible Potential

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By David Came (Jun 16, 2011)
When we pray for those in need and are attuned to God's Heart, we tap into His "superabundant mercy," revealing "the power of [intercessory] prayer" for sinners and even the redemption of entire communities, said Pope Benedict XVI at his May 18 general audience.

The Holy Father presented Abraham from the Old Testament as a model of such prayer. He noted how, after Abraham's courageous and persistent intercession for Sodom, the Lord agrees to spare the large city even if only 10 righteous people are found within it, with the implication that the neighboring city of Gomorrah is also included (see Gen 18:16-33).

Seeking God's Merciful Heart and His Will for a Particular Situation
Pope Benedict characterized the Lord's "dialogue with Abraham" as "a prolonged and unequivocal demonstration of [God's] merciful love." In summarizing the encounter, the Pope said:

Abraham — as we remember — gradually decreases the number of innocent people necessary for salvation: If 50 would not be enough, 45 might suffice, and so on down to 10, continuing his entreaty, which became almost bold in its insistence: "Suppose 40 ... 30 ... 20 ... are found there" (Gen 18:29, 30, 31, 32). The smaller the number becomes, the greater God's mercy is shown to be. He patiently listens to the prayer, he hears it and repeats at each supplication: "I will spare ... . I will not destroy ... . I will not do it" (Gen18:26, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32).

But what exactly is the key to Abraham's success in his entreaty for mercy for Sodom as well as Gomorrah?

It's more than simply his courage and insistence in entreating the Lord to lower the number of righteous needed to save the cities. As a friend of God, Abraham has attuned his heart to that of the Lord for those in need of salvation. In effect, the Holy Father points out, "Abraham is lending his voice and also his heart to the divine will. God's desire is for mercy and love as well as his wish to save; and this desire of God found in Abraham and in his prayer the possibility of being revealed concretely in human history, in order to be present wherever there is a need for grace."

What about us? Before we pray for a particular situation — especially a serious one — do we seek to know the Lord's Heart and His will concerning the situation? Do we talk it over with Him as our Lord and best friend, as Abraham did? And do we keep uppermost in our heart God's desire to show love and mercy to all those involved — particularly to save their souls?

I recommend you take some time right now to do just that regarding a difficult situation, either in your own life or the lives of those close to you. Start by letting go of your desires and attitudes about the situation. Then talk candidly with the Lord, as you would with a dear friend, seeking to understand His will and take on His Heart for the situation. Don't pray until you get some clarity from the Lord about His will for the situation.

When we intercede like this, our prayer can become truly powerful like that of Abraham, reflecting the very Heart of God Himself.

Even if Small in Number, the Righteous Can Make a Big Difference
Reflecting further on the Lord's encounter with Abraham, do we fully appreciate the potential for bringing good to our community — even if we are small in number and in the midst of great evil — as long as we remain faithful to the Lord? Consider that after Abraham's entreaties, the presence of only 10 righteous souls would have saved the large cities of Sodom and Gomorrah from destruction. "This is a small number," Pope Benedict says, "a tiny particle of goodness with which to start in order to save the rest from a great evil."

The Holy Father then goes on to explain:

... a transformation from within is necessary, some foothold of goodness, a beginning from which to start out in order to change evil into good, hatred into love, revenge into forgiveness.

For this reason there must be righteous people in the city and Abraham continuously repeats: "Suppose there are ... ." "There": It is within the sick reality that there must be that seed of goodness which can heal and restore life. It is a word that is also addressed to us: so that in our cities the seed of goodness may be found; that we may do our utmost to ensure that there are not only 10 upright people to make our cities truly live and survive and to save ourselves from the inner bitterness, which is the absence of God. And in the unhealthy situation of Sodom and Gomorrah that seed of goodness was not to be found.

In considering this quote, first notice how the Pope stresses that there must be some baseline or minimum number of good people in any community in order to begin stemming the tide of evil. He uses the imagery of "some foothold of goodness" or "seed of goodness which can heal and restore life" to "the sick reality" of a city like Sodom or Gomorrah. Here, we might think of how Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a mustard seed. It is the smallest of seeds yet possesses the potential to grow into a tree that shelters the birds (see Mt 13:31-32).

Just as was the case thousands of years ago with Sodom and Gomorrah, this seed of goodness is urgently needed in our communities today. As the Holy Father tells us, "It is a word that is also addressed to us: so that in our cities the seed of goodness may be found; that we may do our utmost to ensure that there are not only 10 upright people to make our cities truly live and survive and to save ourselves from the inner bitterness, which is the absence of God."

Consider some of the bitter fruit of our hedonistic and materialistic secular culture in the West. Addiction to pornography is rampant, especially through easy access to it on the Internet. Cohabitation is replacing marriage as the norm for couples. And an aggressive brand of atheism — the so-called new atheism — is seeking to remove all mention of religion from the public square.

While combating such evils in the broader culture can seem daunting, the Pope is encouraging us to do whatever we can to ensure that the seed of goodness — upright people — can be found in our own communities to help heal and restore society.

Ensuring the Seed of Goodness Is Found in Our Community
So what can we do?

First, we can examine our own life and that of our family, to ensure that we are up to the task: Are we praying daily, receiving the Sacraments regularly, and obeying the commandments? Are we people of love and mercy? Are we quick to forgive?

Once our own house is in order, we can encourage righteousness and merciful living among those in our sphere of influence. These include those in our circle of friends, our neighbors, co-workers, and fellow parishioners. Here, think in particular of those you know well and see regularly due to common activities, such as clubs and works of mercy. Simply reach out to them where they're at, encouraging them in righteous living.

Above all, pray daily for "God's superabundant mercy" on your community — inspired by the example of Abraham and the teaching of Pope Benedict. Pray that the Lord would find the seed of goodness within your community, which brings healing and restoration to our sick society. May that seed of goodness — upright people — steadily increase in number in your community.

To encourage you when your spirits flag, remember how Jesus compares the tiny mustard seed's great potential for growth to the kingdom of God. So, start small, do your part, and leave the growth to God.

David Came is executive editor of Marian Helper magazine, the flagship publication of the Association of Marian Helpers, which is headquartered in Stockbridge, Mass. He is the author of Pope Benedict's Divine Mercy Mandate.

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