Last week our readings encouraged us to always be grateful for God’s love and continuing presence especially in times of challenge. This week we are encouraged to pray without ceasing and also with persistence. Gratitude and persistent prayer are faith sustaining.
First though we need to reflect on what we pray for. Prayers of petition are healthy and good but ultimately it must be God’s will we seek. When we lift up our hearts to God the Father who gave us life, to God the Son who died and rose for us and who offers himself to us in the Holy Eucharist, and to God the Holy Spirit who guides and guards us, our perspective is changed. When we lift our sight above the immediate to the eternal we discover there is hope amidst of the mystery of our day.
Jesus asked, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth,”? Yes, I would answer, among those who are grateful persistent prayers, which comes down to trusting in God’s will and God’s way. Clearly there is great faith among those of you who are with us today. Yet when surveying the broader culture where even the existence of God is doubted and in the Church with its scandals and divisions, there is lack of faith among so many. Each of us in our own families knows this to be true. It can discourage us.
Saint John Paul II wrote in his encyclical on Faith and Reason, that men and women are caught in a spiritual malaise, that people are ”drifting through life to the very edge of the abyss without knowing where they are going.” This is reflected in government and social institutions where there is no undergirding truth, where the lowest common denominator rules, where what the polls say determines what is right or at least acceptable, where standing up for time tested moral principles is seen as a form of intolerance. One of the greatest threats to believers, the saintly Pope wrote, is the temptation to despair.
Jesus offers the antidote to such discouragement: “pray always and without becoming weary”, or as another translation puts it, “without losing heart.” God will sustain those who call out to him, justice and mercy will ultimately prevail. Or as our psalm response declares: “our help is from the Lord who made heaven and earth”.
All our readings encourage us to avoid resting in discouragement. The image of Moses in the first reading holding his arms up so that the people of Israel might be protected reminds us that we must not give up when under attack from evil forces, but rather trust in God’s will and God’s way. The fact that Moses had to have help in keeping his arms outstretched reminds us that we must support one another, that we need the Church to help us remain strong. St. Paul in the 2nd reading wrote from prison where he underwent significant suffering, yet he encouraged Timothy to persevere. “Be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient,” he wrote. Jesus in the Gospel reading encourages the disciples to do so. He was on the way to Jerusalem to encounter suffering on the cross. Knowing that His Passion might discourage them, He taught them the importance of the necessity of praying always which he modeled himself.
The parable of the unjust judge, worn down by the persistence of the widow’s demands, reminds us that persistent prayer will be successful not because we wear God down like the corrupt judge but because through prayer we open our hearts to accept that his way is what is best for us. “Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night?” If we pray persistently hope and consolation will be ours.
If we pray persistently, over time our prayer changes. My own journey of faith confirms this. One personal example. I was living with my grandmother when she suffered a stroke. I heard her calling in the night. Sleepily I got up and found her in the bathroom, disoriented and unable to find her way back to her bed. She grasped my hand and as she lay down she said, “pray for me.” Those were the last words I heard her speak. She was in a coma for the days that followed. I sat by her side for hours and tried to pray for her. First I prayed for her being healed. ”Make her well, Lord, bring her back.” Over time as I watched her labored breathing and studied her wrinkled skin and arthritically crippled hands, I prayed almost in anger, “is this all there is to life?” Over the hours my prayer changed, ”please Lord let her not be in pain, may she not be suffering.” Then as time went on I was able to move beyond the hardness of the moment. My prayer became simply: “thy will be done.”
As she lay silently in that hospital bed, she had become a school of prayer, Christ’s instrument to teach me to pray for what is most important. When she died I was sad of course but not discouraged. Through her God had taught me to pray without becoming weary, without losing heart, and with gratitude for his presence in my life.
St. Paul wrote that we are to stay with this task of praying whether convenient or inconvenient and never losing patience, even though in the moment we may wonder. When we pray always and always trusting in His will, even though the circumstances may be hard, our moments of discouragement will not last.
For months a little boy suffered from nightmares, sometimes it was a monster or a burglar or a vicious animal. His parents tried everything to stop them: they reassured him, placed night lights in his room, showed him self-help videos. Nothing worked. The boy continued to run into their bedroom screaming. Then one night he did not appear. The concerned parents went to his room and found him sleeping soundly. In the morning when they noted that he had not had a nightmare, the boy said, “last night I prayed Heavenly Father, help me not to have bad dreams. And he did.” The mother thought, that is what we should have done too.
When the Son of Man comes will he find faith on earth? Yes, among those who pray without becoming weary, among those who do not lose heart, among those who are grateful to and for Him and his Church. If Our Lord comes today, may he find such faith among us.