Last week we heard Saint James tell us that "every good gift comes down from the Father of Lights." Today our Lord reinforces this idea: "If you ask the Father anything in my name He will give it to you." Yet this is -- precisely -- one of the objections we often hear people make to Christianity: "I prayed for this or that, and I didn't get it." Sometimes their complaint is even more strident: "Why would a good God let this or that happen" to some innocent person. To the skeptic, the inability to have every prayer answered and every wish fulfilled is taken as a proof that Christianity is false.
Well, there really is no such thing as an unanswered prayer -- but sometimes the answer is "No." Saint James explains it this way: "You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your passions." And, of course, the apostle is right -- at least some of the time we pray for things that may be positively bad for us -- things that will make us more worldly and less spiritual. But, sometimes we pray for things that really don't seem to us to be inspired by our passions. Sometimes, even though our prayers seem to be altruistic, and spiritual, and directed toward holy things, they are still not granted. Sometimes it is hard to understand why God does not grant our requests -- for example, to make a sick child well, or to avert a war, or even to bring orthodoxy back to His own Church.
It helps somewhat -- even though such matters can be quite emotional -- to recognize that God is our Father -- our loving Father. Our Lord tells us this in today's Gospel: "I do not say that I will ask the Father for you, for the Father Himself loves you." The New Testament scriptures are filled with this idea: we are the adopted sons and daughters of God, who loves us and is concerned for our wellbeing. Sometimes we need to just rely on the reality of that love and accept the idea that our all-knowing Father will always provide what is best for us, and will not give us what will hurt us.
A child may not understand why his parents are so stingy with chocolate bars. If they really loved him, he reasons, they would surely not begrudge him a half-dozen or so. Certainly, they are better than impossible foods like spinach, broccoli, and lettuce! And they don't take anywhere near as much time to prepare. "Momma must not like me very much." But, of course, we know that Momma is more concerned that her children grow up strong and healthy, and wouldn't even consider a Hershey replacement for green vegetables -- no matter how easy they might be to prepare. God our Father is much the same. And even more so than Momma, He is in position to know precisely what is good for us and what will be bad.
The epistle points to another aspect of our Father and child relationship with God. You have all probably experienced the reality of parents who feel obligated to do some act of kindness but are unable to do so on their own. Particularly if their relationship is good with their children, parents may delegate them to do good in their name. My Grandmother was of frail health and confined to her apartment -- so my father was often delegated to attend funerals and weddings on her behalf -- even when he really didn't know the people involved very well. "I cannot go; you will have to do it for me" was a moderately familiar phrase.
God our Father often works in the same way. A lot of His charity is performed through others. Our very redemption is a good example -- He sent His onlybegotten Son to carry out that work. And following His Father's example, our Lord has delegated His own sons (His priests) to preach His word, to bring His Sacraments to His people, and even to make His sacrifice on the Cross present to them in time and place. "I cannot do it; you will have to do it for me."
When Saint James says that "Religion pure and undefiled before God the Father is to give aid to orphans and widows in their tribulation..." he is saying much the same thing. God our Father has given us many benefits, and He expects us to share them with His other children, particularly when they are in need.
It is interesting that Saint James equates such act of charity (along with "keeping one's self unspotted by the world) with religion. But, of course, he is right. When we step in and, so to speak, take the Father's place by providing for those in need, we are doing a "priestly" thing. When we stand in for the Father, we are imitating His divine Son, who stood in for Him to bring about our redemption; we are imitating the ordained priest who stands in for Jesus Christ when he brings us His word and His sacraments.
In the same epistle, James places such acts of charity as a requirement of true and living faith: "Show me your faith without works, and I from my works will show you my faith." Even faith will not save those who have the means to aid the deserving poor, yet go no farther than to wish them well: You say "Go in peace and be warmed and filled" yet you do not give them what is necessary to warm or to fill the body. "The devils believe, and yet they tremble." The devils know God from direct experience, yet even such perfect faith avails them nothing for their faith moves them not at all to holy action.
So we see that "every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of Lights." We need only to ask in our Lords name, for the Father Himself loves us, and will give us all that is good for us, and keep us from all that is bad. In the natural world, God's gifts often come to us through others, and as God's adopted sons and daughters we have the obligation to act in His name whenever we are able to come to the aid of His other adopted children.
"Religion pure and undefiled before God the Father is