Saturday, October 16, 2010

"Pray always without becoming weary"


Two young boys were having a sleep over at their Grandmother’s house and as was their custom, before they were about to go to bed, they prayed. The first boy prayed about the day he had and about everything he had done; offering the usual thanks and blessings. Then the second boy started to pray, but he prayed much louder than his brother. And his prayers were very different. He prayed asking God for a new bicycle, and various toys. When he finished, his brother asked, “Why are you praying so loud? God is not deaf.” The boy responded, “I know, but Grandma is.”

Our readings today call us to reflect on our own lives of prayer – how we pray, when we pray, why we pray. Do we pray with constancy and trust; or do we pray infrequently and in distress? In our first reading from Exodus we heard the dramatic story of the people of Israel going up against the forces of Amalek. We heard, “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.”

Immediately before these verses, the people of Israel were grumbling and questioning God. They were in the desert and they were thirsty, because there was no water. They wanted to know if God was with them or not. It was a moment of mutual testing. God probed the faith of Israel and Israel tested fidelity of God. Of course, God proved His faithfulness by presenting a rock which when struck produced saving water; meeting the need of their thirst. In fact, Scripture tells us that the place where this happened was named “Massah” and “Meribah” words which in Hebrew mean “test” and “argument.” Israel was honest about their thirst and complained. And God remained faithful to their prayer. The people grew in their trust by signs they were given from God. They went into battle trusting Moses’ power given him by God.  Moses prayed with the weight of his arms outstretched and the weight of the people’s expectation. The people learned that God works through humans who work with Him; that they shouldn’t be weary. They learned that if they trust in God, God will help them triumph.

Today’s Gospel passage also tells us something about prayer. We heard, “Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.” Again, this is a story about our need for prayer and God’s faithfulness to us. The parable gives us a bad judge, who does not honor God or anyone else for that matter. He is approached by a widow for justice. The judge ignores her and her request, but she persists in her petitioning. Finally, he relents, not to help her or honor his tradition, but to avoid her wrath.

On the surface, this seems to be a rather simple parable about how we should be tireless in our prayer; pounding on God’s door to eventually get what we want. But, as always, there is more to the parable than first meets the eye. This is not an encouragement to try and wear God down with our prayers. Prayer, or persistence in asking, is more than just multiplying our words to God.

Jesus is telling the disciples that a life of prayer is not occasional; it is constant. That it is not one way, our asking God for things; but rather, it is relational. We can’t engage in drive-through prayer, simply popping in on the Lord when we need something, and taking off again when we get it. No instead, a life of prayer is constant; a life of prayer is a relationship with God that never gives up. Waiting, hoping, watching, and longing, are all parts of this loving relationship with God. Our life of prayer with God relies on constantly being engaged in the conversation of prayer; faithfully bringing our needs, our joys, our lives to God – sometimes grumbling and questioning, sometimes praising and thanking, but always persisting in the relationship. This constancy with God is how prayer is a way of life rather than an occasional occurrence.

God has taught me this lesson powerfully in my own life. My parents were married in 1965; my Mother a lifelong Catholic and my Dad never baptized. My Mom encouraged him to become a Catholic when they got married, but it was something that didn’t take root. But, she continued to pray. When I was old enough to understand the situation, I began to pray too. Especially once I entered religious life, I thought Dad would become a Catholic. In fact, I began to pray at Mass every day. After I received the Eucharist, I would pray simply, “Dear God, I offer you the grace of this Eucharist and ask that you place within my Dad a desire for Baptism.” Beautiful prayer, but, still nothing. And, still we prayed. Finally, as I got close to my ordination to the priesthood, I thought, a little Irish guilt might work. I said to my Dad, “You know Dad, nothing would be more special to me than to be able to offer you Holy Communion at my first Mass.” That’s some first class guilt right there; but still nothing. And still we prayed. I even had my emergency plan for Dad. Should he get sick and it looked like he might not make it, I was going to baptize him whether he wanted it or not; and let God sort things out later!

But, then, four years ago, not long before my Dad’s 70th birthday, he called me on the phone and said just two words to me, “I’m ready;” and I knew exactly what he meant. And, in the greatest honor of my priesthood, I welcomed my own father into the faith baptizing him and giving him his First Holy Communion. And in the midst of that, I could hear the words of Jesus, “Pray always without becoming weary.” Everything happened perfectly with my Dad – not in my time; certainly not according to my plan – but in God’s time and according to God’s plan; which is always perfect.

Our waiting can be long, but we must be persistent. God calls us to faithfulness, and fidelity; and not to lose hope. “Jesus told his disciples about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.” Instead of falling into doubt in our prayer; instead of chastising God for not answering our prayers in our way or our time; instead of giving up on our prayer because of uncertainty or length of time; our God is calling us once again to be faithful and tireless in our life of prayer with Him. Like Moses, we hold up our hands in prayer, confident that God will bring us victory if only we will trust in His will; His Word; His ways; His plan; and in His time.

May we all renew ourselves as people who lead lives of constant and faithful prayer with God; and God will reign in our hearts and in our lives.

May God give you peace.

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