Exodus 17: 8-13
Luke 18: 1-8
We all admire perseverance. There may be multiple examples of such. An Olympic athlete who practices hours, weeks, years of his/her life to attain perfection in their sport. A musician who does the same with their instrument or a vocalist who trains their voice for Broadway or the Opera. A chef who tests recipes, spices and the beautiful presentation of food on a plate. A student who hits the books regularly and achieves academic excellence. An orator whose speeches reveal the fruits of their careful study. An author whose painstaking research produces a fascinating read. In short, those who never give up deserve a reward for their efforts.
It seems it is no less in our spiritual life. Prayer and seeking an intimate relationship with God through regular, disciplined prayer and study of the scriptures is a tried and true way to come to know the Lord. But, even the greatest of saints did not achieve the heights of holiness without a discipline. Of course, unlike physical exercise or another skill, holiness is not something that we achieve on our own. Not at all. It is only through the grace of God and our cooperation with it, that good will result.
Among all the traits, this Sunday’s readings seem to emphasize perseverance as the key to an attitude of prayer. Moses stands with hands outstretched as a mighty battle plays out beneath him. In a very human reaction, he asks Aaron and Hur to assist him by holding up his arms and supporting him. As long as the gesture of prayer continued, the battle favored the Israelites.
Meanwhile, Jesus tells a near comical story of a persistent widow. Apparently she was annoying enough that the judge who claimed, “. . . I neither fear God nor respect any human being . . .” tired of this widow’s persistence and granted her request. Why? Otherwise, “she might strike me” he claimed. Another translation, likely more literal, had the judge state, “She might punch me in the eye!” I can only imagine Jesus telling this story with a smile and a wink but nonetheless he made the point about perseverance.
In my busy life as a parish priest, I find consistency to be a constant failure in my prayer life. I make great promises about daily, regular prayer but often find I’m distracted, too tired, too busy, and too lazy. I may be a bit hard on myself but I’ve never tired of starting over again – I’m a pro at it! Like the persistent widow, I find myself going back again and again to God in prayer and I sometimes wonder if I’m really getting the hang of it. But, don’t give up.
Yet, God is not Santa Claus. Does my perseverance in prayer lead me to be more loyal to God? More faithful and faith-filled or do I pout when God doesn't see it my way?
Like Moses, many hands are lifted in a gesture of prayer – raised up and outstretched. So too are the arms and hands of every priest who celebrates the Mass every hour of every day in every state of this country, in every nation throughout the earth, in the multiple time zones that cross this earth. Such constant prayer is a sign of our faithfulness - our loyalty to a God who remains a constant for us. A God who is seeking an intimacy with every human person. That, when all is prayed for and done, is ultimately why we pray. I find, in my sputtering prayer life, that I keep coming back. I pray that is a form of loyalty.
In other words, the Church is indeed in constant prayer. Just think of how many prayers are lifted to heaven in a never ending plea by human beings throughout the earth in every time and place. Prayers for family and friends; for peace in the world; for reconciliation and forgiveness; for health, for a good job, for healed marriages, for children, for the imprisoned, for the sick and the dying. Those prayers never cease. As you read this, they are being said somewhere by someone. That is faith in the flesh.
As you reflect on the Gospel below, it might be helpful to imagine that image – of the world and the Church in a constant plea to heaven. Let us never cease and take a lesson from the persistent, determined, widow.
Gospel: Lk 18: 1-8
Jesus told his disciples a parable
about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.
He said, "There was a judge in a certain town
who neither feared God nor respected any human being.
And a widow in that town used to come to him and say,
'Render a just decision for me against my adversary.'
For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought,
'While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being,
because this widow keeps bothering me
I shall deliver a just decision for her
lest she finally come and strike me.'"
The Lord said, "Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says.
Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones
who call out to him day and night?
Will he be slow to answer them?
I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.
But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"