Oct 19, 2013

29th Sunday: Persistence pays off!

"Render a just decision for me . . ."

Ex 17: 8-13
2 Tm 3: 14 – 4:2
Lk 18: 1 – 8

The story of the persistent, almost threating, widow in today’s Gospel is surely one Jesus told with a smile on his face.  Imagine the scene and the bold chutzpah of the widow. This woman was determined to make her point even if she had to get in the face of the judge to do it.   

This judge, who “neither feared God nor respected any human being” in the end capitulates to the persistence of a widow whose social status was about the lowest it could be.  In the patriarchal society of Jesus, in which woman’s voices were not to be heard in any public debate, widows, especially those whose husbands and eldest son were both gone, had no voice at all.  They could not even inherit property or money and thus became a symbol of the exploited.

In this story, Jesus presents the widow as the main character whose tenacity pays off in the end.  Because she is alone she has nothing to lose so why not give it all for her “rights?” The scene is both humorous and tongue-in-cheek.  It’s clear that she is not only persistent but annoying at the same time. It is as if Jesus is saying, “Do you get the point of the story?” Yet the lesson of the story is given to us at the beginning of this passage. Luke tells us it is,“. . . a parable about the necessity . . . to pray always without becoming weary. . . “Don’t give up.  Be tireless. Let prayer be as regular a part of your life as eating and sleeping.  

By comparison, Jesus reminds us that if this corrupt, uncaring judge rewards persistence, however imperfect his motive, God who cares deeply about all who pray will, “secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night . . .” Much has been said by many writers and saints about prayer.

For example, the simple but inspired spirituality of St. Teresa of Lisieux offers her definition on prayer: ““For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.”

A “look turned toward heaven.” Surely in Jesus’ example the woman not only looked at the face of the unjust judge but likely was “in his face” as the saying goes.  While the gentleness of St. Teresa is somewhat lost in the parable the essence is the same.  As one commentary states: “God is not unjust; God is not unwilling to hear us; Goes does not render justice just to get rid of us.”

I don’t think we could ever possibly wear God down like the widow wore down the judge.  Rather, the very desire to pray is an invitation from God.  Not because he needs us for anything but because we need him for everything. Persistence in prayer implies a lifetime of personal practice and discipline. But it is never a waste of time and our prayer is always heard.

The recent words of our Holy Father Pope Francis are instructive about prayer: “The Lord tells us: ‘The first task in life is this: prayer.’ But not the prayer of words, like a parrot; but the prayer of the heart: gazing on the Lord, hearing the Lord, asking the Lord,”

The widow’s intent was sincere.  She wasn’t just wasting time with the judge.  In the same way, our prayer should not be just words we say. For example, the Rosary speed race!  “I can finish a Rosary in 15 minutes.” So? Where’s the race? (Are we praying like a parrot as the Holy Father states?)

Or, rattling off the Lord’s prayer during Mass like the turkey is in the oven and I have to get home before it burns!

Or piling up novenas and holy card prayers as if more is better.  Will the multiplication of words finally cause God to give in? The Rosary is a beautiful prayer of meditation and the Lord’s Prayer was offered by Jesus in response to his disciple’s request: “Lord, teach us to pray.” So, what about we stop talking and listen for a change? As Pope Francis mentions: “the prayer of the heart: gazing on the Lord, hearing the Lord . . .” Clearly our Holy Father is suggesting a style of prayer called meditation or contemplation.

We Americans hate silence.  If we aren’t busy about something, filling our days with activity, we figure we’re wasting precious time. Are we really wasting it or have we missed the point of being a good listener in prayer?

It seems to me that if we are serious about developing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, then it will take a lifetime.  Finding time for prayer is probably the most common problem we all encounter.  Certainly, participation in Mass is a valuable prayer with our brothers and sisters as we pray in the liturgy. It is the summit of our Christian life and the ultimate prayer of gratitude to God. Likewise, a quiet prayer before the Blessed Sacrament (Adoration) in Church is powerful.

Still, we don’t have to go anywhere in particular to find a God who is waiting for us.  He is in our home, our cars, outside in our backyards, in our classrooms, our bedrooms, our place of work, etc.  In other words, wherever we are God is. 

Finding time for prayer is as possible as finding time for everything else we do. 

This week, it might be good for all of us to find more regular time for prayer. We could imitate Moses in the first reading from Exodus and the widow in the Gospel.  Like Moses we keep our hands raised up as it were in a gesture of openness before God.

Like the widow we should not assume that we have no need to converse with God or that he is too busy to hear us or doesn’t care about our personal lives. We should “keep on keeping on” in our prayer and in our service of the Gospel.
Almighty ever-living God
grant that we may always conform our will to yours
and serve your majesty in sincerity of heart.
(Collect for Mass)