This Sunday: A Hard Lesson in Prayer
“Jesus told his disciples … about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.”
This is one of those Gospels you sense must be from God himself, because no mere mortal would get away with advice like Jesus’.
In the Gospel this Sunday (the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C), he compares our relationship with him to a powerless widow trying to get justice from a stubborn judge. Badger him enough, and the judge will relent. Won’t the just God do even better?
His story is also familiar in our life. We have all prayed for things we never seem to get. That family member we are praying for doesn’t soften. The intractable problem at work doesn’t go away.
Yet pray we must. Keep in mind Jesus’ promise to those who are faithful to prayer: “I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.”
First of all, he doesn’t promise a one-for-one satisfaction of our desires; he promises justice. In doing so he is promising more than what we ask for, not less. After all, without justice, nothing is satisfying — with justice, anything is satisfying.
Second, he promises to answer our requests “speedily.” He does not, however, promise that we will see the answers speedily. Often, evidently, we won’t.
The trick is to trust him. We see a beautiful image of what our prayer should look like in the first reading of Moses praying for the Israelites battling the Amalekites.
“As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight.” When his arms got tired, two deputies came forward to help him lift them.
It’s the same in our life. As long as we call on God, in prayer, God’s battles are won. The moment we stop, the battles start to turn.
This is the case not because we are special and God is wowed by us. Quite the contrary. Like the widow, our power is not part of the equation, except for the power to pray.
In fact, we don’t even have the power to pray. Just like Moses, we rely on the strength of others to keep our prayer going. For Moses, Aaron and Hur physically lifted his hands. For us, we rely on our parish, our family and our friends to keep us in prayer.
And they rely on us.
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus,” says St. Paul in our second reading, “proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.”
We are commanded to know the Scriptures and tell others about them. We need to be Moses sometimes — and Aaron and Hur also.
It’s a very encouraging Gospel message, if you think about it — until you get to the end. The stark question that ends the Gospel underscores the seriousness of the message.
We are free. Our success in the spiritual life is not guaranteed. We could very well not persist in prayer, and not help others.
After all: “But when the Son of Man comes,” concludes Jesus, “will he find faith on earth?”
The Gregorian Institute is Benedictine College’s initiative to promote Catholic identity in public life by equipping leaders (the Gregorian speech digest), training leaders (the Gregorian Fellows), defending the faith (the Memorare Army for Religious Freedom), and celebrating Catholic identity (the Catholic Hall of Fame).