Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time C – Perseverance in Prayer
October 20, 2019
The readings from the Book of Exodus (17:8-13) and Luke’s Gospel (18:1-8) speak about perseverance in prayer. Perseverance in prayer means not giving up, pray continually. In the first reading, the forces of Israel were winning Amalek as long as Moses held his hands up. This was not magic. This was prayer. The ancient way of praying. Even today, many of us pray at times lifting our hands up to the Lord. When Moses let his arms fall, Amalek prevailed. He needed the support of Aaron and Hur to keep his arms up. He needed the support of others to persevere in prayer. So do we. In the Gospel, the Lord is having a bit of fun with us telling the humorous story of an unjust judge and a persistent widow. “If I don’t give her what she wants, she’s going to finish me off,” the judge says. Jesus is reminding us that our loving Father will respond to our continual prayers.
St Monica is the perfect example of persistence and confident faith in God. Her son, St Augustine, was a brilliant student with a promising future among the intellectuals of the Roman Empire. She had tried to bring him up in the Christian faith. But when Augustine became a Manichean, an anti-Christian pagan religion, the mother was devastated. However, she didn’t give up. She tried her best to save him, taking him to meet with eminent theologians, arguing with him herself, disciplining him by taking away family privileges, and always, day after day, year after year, praying for him. Many times she spent entire night in prayer. At times, she wept herself to sleep. After ten years of darkness, frustration, and unceasing prayers, her prayer was answered: her son came back to the Church and became one of the holiest and most influential saints. Her experience taught St Augustine confidence and constancy in prayer.
Sometimes our lack of confidence in God comes from not understanding why he sometimes delays answering our prayers. If God doesn’t answer our prayers right away, it may be because he knows we need to keep asking. He doesn’t want us to become spoiled children. Spoiled children want everything they ask for immediately. And as a result, they don’t value anything they get. Human nature tends to value what it has to work for. This also applies to our spiritual life. God wants to give us spiritual gifts, lasting, transforming, eternally valuable spiritual gifts, but he won’t give them to us until we are ready to receive them. In other words, the more we pray for what we need, the humbler we become, and, the humbler we become, the more spiritual gifts God will pour into our hearts. Learned from his mother, St Augustine explained it well : Suppose you want to fill a bag, and you know the bulk of what you will be given, you stretch the bag or the sack or the skin or whatever it is. In the same way, by delaying the fulfillment of desire, God stretches it, by making us desire, he expands the soul, and by this expansion he increases its capacity.
We have to keep praying. We can’t give up, even when, especially when, it seems that our prayers are not being heard. The problem is that we are used to getting immediate results. We have a question, we Google it, and immediately an answer appears. This is fine for the physical life, but prayer is not physical. It is spiritual. When we pray, we are calling upon God to fulfill our needs, not Google to give us an answer. And our needs will be met, often not in the way we expect, but better than our expectations. For example, there are many times that most of us have been seriously ill or injured. We have prayed, and others have prayed for us. Time passes, perhaps years, and we realize that we are better off than before our illness or injury. We can’t give up on prayer, be it for our personal needs, or the needs of others.
We all need to pray for our Church. We need to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. We need our bishops, including our pope, to be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Pope Francis has been turning the ship of the Church to a greater commitment to the poor and the pastoral needs of the people. Some people are having a problem with this. We have a responsibility to pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the acceptance of this guidance. We all need to pray for our country to be truly one nation under God, especially with the federal election voting day on Monday. We want our children to live in a country where people are united caring for each other, not divided into various groups of bigotry and hatred. We want our children to live in a country where there is respect for life and for each other. We all need to pray for the young people. Our young people are both the present and the future of the countries on earth and the Church. The next battle for the Kingdom of God will be waged by the young. One of the greatest blessings we have received is witnessing how so many of our young people have taken their responsibility to the Kingdom so seriously. They want to live for God. They want to care for others. They want to marry someone with whom they can pray together. They want to raise children for God. The young always have ideals. We had ideals when we were young. But there is something wonderfully better about the ideals of our present young people. They are determined to be heroes for Christ. To do all this, they have to withstand the horrible pressure they experience every day to give up and give in. We have a responsibility to pray for the young. And they have a responsibility to pray for us. And if they fall, we need to lift them up with our prayers. And if we fall, they need to lift us up. This Sunday’s readings tell us to persevere in prayer, we cannot give up on God. This Sunday’s readings remind us that God will never give up on us. Amen