Thus the total number of generations from Abraham to
David is fourteen generations;
from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations;
from the Babylonian exile to the Christ, fourteen generations. (St. Matthew 1.17)
... and Poorer Prayer
Matthew had been a tax collector. He was intimately familiar with
debits, credits and balances, and was, in a sense, closer to the
Mathematekoi of Pythagoras – who understood the world and
reality at large in terms of numbers, not as analogous to
reality but as constitutive of it – than he was to, say, the minutiae
of Mosaic Law which also, to a lesser extent, was iterated in terms
In the end, for Matthew the Tax Collector, the balancing of numbers
at the end of the account – however achieved – was paramount.
The last number, the final figure, was the sum of his work. What
may have "exceeded" the legitimate sum ... belonged to Matthew,
to the the tax collector, and that is one of the reasons they were
hated. Today we call it Corporate skimming ...
We see this in today's Gospel – a reading, admittedly, that does
not readily lend itself to profound contemplation, ... if we are
frank, these 54 lines are arguably the driest in all the Gospels,
and they occur, predictably, only in Matthew's account; Matthew,
a man whose life was immersed in numbers – before Christ called
him from the counting table.
Saint Matthew's facility with logical things that culminated in
correct conclusions, the purpose to this otherwise tedious preface
to his Gospel is to legitimize the Christ as the Son of David, an
attempt at a kind of Rabbinical "proof" necessary to establishing
the legitimacy of Jesus as the Christ. The genealogy numerically
affirmed what Mary already knew without counting.
So many of us are more like Matthew than Mary; at least before Jesus
summoned Matthew from the counting table to the threshing floor.
We count. Ceaselessly. We attempt to justify ourselves before
God in terms of numbers — whether as Corporal and Spiritual Acts
of Mercy, or the beads on our Rosaries — as though a preponderance
of numbers will leverage our relationship with God in a way that
will somehow augment or supplement the redemptive sacrifice of Christ.
We count on our entering the Kingdom of God, so to speak.
We boast of the numbers of our prayers, how many Rosaries
we have prayed, how many "Our Fathers" we have said, how many "Hail
Marys", and "Glory Be's" we have recited; how many Masses we have
attended – unlike that Publican over there who has said much less,
and gone less often.
we say, as in the Shakespearian Sonnet, "How do I love Thee, O,
my God? Let me count the ways, for I have the numbers nailed
down." And yet Jesus Himself admonishes us against this:
"In praying, do
not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because
of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what
you need before you ask him." (Matthew 6.7-8).
We are urged to pray incessantly, but not mindlessly, not for the
sake of achieving a "numerical superiority" as though we can overwhelm,
overcome, God by our incessant utterances said largely in rote –
and achieve a higher "score" than our Publican neighbor.
Think of the many Rosary groups you have attended, or heard, where
the prayers — each and every one of them — are not so much prayed
as recited. The monotony is often stultifying — and unmistakable
in the voices. Often it is accompanied by a cadence ... a meter
of sorts that is mechanical more than musical.
is not in any way to disparage the Holy Rosary — a most salutary
and beautiful gift from Mary Most Holy.
think of it like this: if another dared
speak this way to us, we would certainly part ways quickly,
realizing that this man, this woman, is mumbling something of which
we happen to be the opportune and unfortunate occasion. I do not
understand her as speaking to me! She is reciting
something to me that appears to have little to do with me, and which
really is not being said, in any meaningful way, to
me. Her words are many – but they do not qualify as
talking to me. She will nevertheless
leave satisfied that she has communicated well with me simply because
she has said much.
We are often like that with God.
are more concerned with numbers – especially
the fulfilling of certain numbers –
than with speaking to God from our hearts as
we would speak to a real Person.
prayer uttered quickly and by rote, for the sake of its simply having
been said, fulfilled, is at least implicitly disingenuous. It is
not entirely unlike our asking one another upon meeting, "How
are you?". We do not really want to know, we largely do not
care, and we say it as a matter of convention. We are sick as dogs,
and reply, "Good, and you?" They say they are "well",
too, although they are sick as dogs, also.
is meaningless. We utter words, sounds, only; fulfill conventions
that are largely empty and would really be better left unsaid. We
know this. And still do it ...
this is not always the case. But it is, especially in congregational
prayer, in group prayer, very often the case. We have said our Rosary,
droned through all ten decades, picked up and moved on. We are satisfied.
We did the number.
Matthew gave up his counting table for Christ – let us follow his
and the Mathematikoi did not know better. We do. Sincerely
ask yourself: is the manner in which you typically pray —Rosaries
or other formal prayers — how you would speak to Christ in
Person, pray to Mary who stood before you?
Is this how you speak with your wife? Your children? Your neighbors?
with your heart ... not on your fingers. God knows that you are
saying much in saying little, and saying little in saying much.
is praying. One is counting.
In the way of things that lend themselves to numbers, you only need
Geoffrey K. Mondello
for the Boston Catholic Journal
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