20 October, 2013. 29th Sunday (World Mission Sunday)
Exod 17:8-13. Moses prays with outstretched arms and God gives victory to his people.
2 Tim 3:14-4:2. Timothy stays with the sound doctrine he has been taught since childhood.
Lk 18:1-8. Like the persevering widow calling for justice, we are never to grow discouraged.
First Reading: Book of Exodus 17:8-13
Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim.
Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some men for us and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.
Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the sun set. And Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the sword.
Second Reading: Second Epistle to Timothy 3:14-4:2
As for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.
Gospel: Luke 18:1-8
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'”
And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
A Persevering People
Rome was not built in a day: No great work can ever be achieved without long and patients effort. Look at the art of Michaelangelo, the Beethoven concertos, the cathedral of Notre Dame (How many chisel-strokes to release the Pieta from its marble shroud? How many brush-strokes to transfer the Last Judgment from Michaelangelo’s teeming imagination to the sanctuary wall of the Sistine?.) Not just the world’s teeming artists and leaders, but everyman, are/is involved in a work of great significance, needing persevering courage to see it through to a successful conclusion; and that work is our salvation. To achieve it, we must co-operate vigorously with God, and in a sense struggle with Him. Today’s liturgy invites us to consider two picturesque examples of perseverance in prayer, and the final success that this achieves.
Moses with upraised arms:
Moses, the man of God, stands on the hilltop interceding for his people who are struggling for their survival in the valley below, attacked by the violent tribe of Amalek. His arms are raised in the classic gesture of intercession (later immortalized in the Cross of Christ, and still used by the celebrant at Mass.) When, out of sheer weariness, his arms begin to droop, Israel fares badly in the battle. With the help of friends he manages to persevere in his mediating prayer, until victory is won. A beautiful prophetic image for Christ, whose prayer continued even when his soul was sorrowful, even unto death. It supports the ideal of intercessory prayer on behalf of others-not, however, in a superficial way or for petty requests; but for matters of life and death, for salvation, release from sin, recovery from depression, strength to cope with problems, perseverance. And when we pray these things for others, we must do so seriously, with a love that is ready for practical service too.
The widow who would not quit:
This quality of dogged perseverance in order to gain an important target is by no means limited to men. History-and our own experience-shows many examples of obstinate struggle by women to achieve particular aims (Joan of Arc; suffragettes; mothers overcoming all bureaucratic barriers on behalf of family.) The style of campaign may be different; but the perseverance and the courage are just as valuable. Today we have the story of the widow, who kept up her petition until finally she forced the judge to try her case and give her justice. Her situation was that of a poor person under threat, but with the law firmly on her side. There was no doubt about the justice of her case, but the problem was to have it taken into court at all. She stands for the need to pray constantly on our own behalf, as well as on behalf of others. We must recognize the depth of our need (especially for peace, love, grace and salvation), and turn to God in a continual petition to answer our needs. Of course, God is not unheeding-like the slothful judge of the parable-but often seems to leave our prayers unanswered for a long while. His will, according to Our Blessed Lord, is that we persevere in prayer and never abandon hope. Persevering In Catholic Practise: More than most other societies, our Catholic Church has urged, and continues to urge, the value of remaining faithful to Certain practises: in our case, personal prayer and the community sacrifice of Sunday Mass. Styles of prayer may change, and there may be improvements in the form of our liturgy; but the basic call of the Church remains the same: to keep up the practise of prayer, both public and private; not to let laziness hold us back, or discouragement cause us to lose confidence in the value of speaking with God. Then with persevering prayer as a fountainhead will flow the strength of faith, and continual renewal of charity that we need for conducting daily life in the proper spirit. So, over a long period, and after many failures followed by sincere renewals, we will make a success of the one great project God has set for our lives. Into his presence we will come, a people who have kept faith with Him across the years in the wilderness, and who finally come to rest in the Kingdom which Christ has promised.
Pray from the heart
There is a way to pray with the heart, which God cannot but hear, and he cannot but answer. To speak from the heart is to speak to the heart. God can read the human heart, and that is more important than any words I might say.
It is early October, and the family were sitting around eating their dinner. For whatever reason, Christmas came into the conversation. In the course of the conversation, the mother asked young John what he wanted for Christmas, and, after a long pause, he said “A bicycle.” The months went by, and the word “bicycle” was never mentioned again. Not even when the mother bought roller blades for John at Christmas, with which he was delighted. She had decided that, if he really wanted a bicycle, she would have heard about nothing else for all the weeks coming up to Christmas…
There was something that the widow wanted, and, despite all his toughness, the judge just had to give in to her eventually, because she had no intention of letting go, or giving up. If I met an alcoholic who wants to get sober, my initial question is “How badly do you want it? Do you want it bad enough that you are prepared to do what it takes to achieve sobriety?” I knew a young lad who wanted to work for a particular firm, and they had no vacancies. So we went back there eleven times in one month, until the personnel officer threw his hands in the air, and gave him a job!
After speaking about the evil judge Jesus speaks about his Father. If even the judge gave in, how much more certainly will our heavenly Father respond to our prayers? As I said earlier, God can read the heart, and he knows whether I really want what I ask. I don’t pretend to understand this, because I know parents who, at this moment, are begging for the life of their daughter, and it is not likely that their prayers will be answered. I like to think that God gives us what we ask for, unless he has something better to give us. For these parents, they cannot possibly see how God could have something better to give them than a daughter whom they dearly love.
The prayer in today’s gospel is the prayer of petition. It is an important form of prayer, of course, but not the most important. Prayer of praise is the highest form of prayer; but, of course, that is greatly augmented, when my prayers of petition are granted. There can be some confusion around the whole area of prayer. If my prayers are always prayers of petition, I run the risk of being selfish and self-centred; except, of course, when the prayers of petition are for others. Like one of the ten lepers, I can ask, and, when my prayer is answered, I can return to give thanks.