Pray continually and never loose heart

Pray continually and never lose heart

The message of today’s Gospel (Luke 18: 1-8) is clearly expressed in the opening line. Pray continually and never lose heart.  We are prepared for this lesson by the First Reading which gives us a picture of Moses at prayer.  A battle was being fought and as long as Moses kept his arms raised in prayer, Israel had the advantage.  But whenever he grew tired and his arms fell, the battle swung the other way.  His friends came up with a plan.  They propped up his tired arms until the end of the day and the battle was won.

As an example of persistence in prayer, Jesus told a parable about a poor widow looking for justice from a corrupt judge.  In the fashion of the time, judges were notoriously corrupt and expected a bribe before passing a judgement.  This poor widow could not afford the bribe, but she had one weapon, her persistence, which wore down the judge’s reluctance to give his judgement.

This parable is one of these “how-much-more” stories.  If persistence can win a favour from a corrupt judge, how much more will a kind, loving God answer our prayer for a favour.  But sometimes God might delay the answer.

We expect instant answers

Waiting patiently is not a virtue that comes easily today as technology has increased our expectation of instant answers.  We are accustomed to instant coffee or soup, tablets for a speedy relief of pain, water on tap, heating or light at the flick of a switch, or impatiently hopping on the zapper from one channel to another.  With this mentality we want instant answers to our prayers.  But, would it be for our good if we got all we ask for without delay?  The parable notes that God sometimes delays the favour.  There is a line in the Old Testament responding to the question of why it took all of forty years for the exodus of the Israelites to the promised land.  “It was to humble you, to test you and to know your inmost heart” (Deut 8:2).

If we got an instant answer to every prayer, we might not appreciate it.  We might think that it is due to the power of our own prayer, not God’s doing.  When God delays an answer, it humbles us.  A child with no toys appreciates a gift far more than the rich child who takes a gift almost as his/her right.  We need to be humbled to appreciate the depths of our dependence on God.

God’s delay might be a way of deepening our faith.  As Thomas Merton explained, in daylight we can see the objects that are near at hand, but it is only in the darkness of night that our vision stretches to see the distant stars.  God wants to stretch our vision and deepen our faith.  Sometimes a sports trainer pushes a team through the pain barrier to test their commitment.  That is where he can judge their inmost heart and determination.  A group of people who have been through hardship together are drawn into a deeper relationship than if it had been easy and superficial.

Growth takes time

As with everything else, the growth of prayer takes time.  Jesus told many stories about things growing.  The plants which are destined for long life are usually slow starters.  The oak tree, which will stand for hundreds of years may take all of two years to advance from an acorn to a tiny fingerling.  The builders of a great hall in Oxford used oaken beams for the rafters, while at the same time they planted a stand of oaks nearby, estimating that the rafters would last six centuries and the mature trees would then be at hand nearby to provide replacements.  Plants which peep from the earth a few weeks after planting will not last more than a few months.  Nature teaches us to wait patiently, for lasting growth takes time to grow tougher.


From my will to thy will

Growth in prayer will be seen in the transition from “My will be done” to “Thy will be done.”  This is not a statement of abject resignation, but a calm and confident handing over to God’s loving care, trusting that God’s will is surely what is best for us.  At the shrines of petition and miracles, quite often the answer to prayer is the deep sense of joyous resignation that God’s love is very near, even if the miracle requested does not happen.

This calmness is inherent in the revelation of the Lord to the fourteenth century mystic, Dame Julian of Norwich: “I will make all things well.  I shall make all things well.  I may make all things well, and I can make all things well; and thou shalt see thyself that all things shall be well.”

Persistence in prayer is the confidence to wait from Good Friday until the Easter Day when all is made well, however long it takes.   The day in between is the Sabbath, a time of rest and calmness.  It may seem long in our calendars, but to God, a thousand years is like a single day.  Perseverance in prayer helps us to grow into God’s way of thinking.   “Thy will be done”.  And God’s will is another name for God’s love for us.

Today’s Psalm of trust

I lift up my eyes to the mountains:

from where shall come my help?

My help shall come from the Lord

who made heaven and earth.

May he never allow you to stumble!

Let him sleep not, your guard.

No, he sleeps not nor slumbers,

Israel’s guard.

The Lord is your guard and your shade;

at your right side he stands.

By day the sun shall not smite you

nor the moon in the night.

The Lord will guard your going and coming

both now and forever.  (Psalm 120)

Br Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap

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