Persevering in prayer

Al Cariño, OMI
Editor: Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

29th Sunday in ordinary times

After their deliverance from the slavery of Egypt, God ordered Moses to lead His people to the Promise Land. It was not going to be easy an task for him and the people. They had to wage battles of extermination against other people who occupied the land. Exodus 17:8–13 tells us of the first of such battles. Moses sent Joshua to do battle while he went to the top of a hill to pray. As long as hands kept his hands raised, Israel was winning. But when he lowered his hands for rest, Israel began to lose. So his aides cheated a little — two men propped up Moses' hands. The Israelites won and put their enemies to the sword.

What made the Israelites win the battle? Moses at prayer. He did not only pray, he persevered in his prayer — throughout the battle.

In the gospel reading (Lk. 18:1–8), Jesus told his disciples a parable on the necessity of persevering in prayer. A widow was waging her own battle of survival before a judge who “neither feared God nor respected any human being.” In those days, a widow was the personification of powerlessness. Her case being before an evil judge, she hardly had any chance to get justice. She was thus left with only two options: to give up or to fight for her cause. She decided to fight. Though the judge refused her “for a long time,” she refused to take him seriously for a longer time. The judge eventually gave in, not because he believed in the widow's just cause but because, in his words, “this widow keeps bothering me.” Her perseverance won the battle for her.

Through the parable, Jesus is not comparing God to the evil judge and suggesting that He answers prayers only to avoid being further bothered. Rather, what Jesus is telling us is that if even an evil judge eventually gave in to the cry of an insignificant widow, how much more will God, a loving Father, listen to the cry of His children, specially the most abandoned, all of whom He created in His image and likeness!

Just as Jesus never hid the reality of the cross for Himself, neither did He hide it from us: “Take up your cross and come, follow me.” Though we do not choose trials and sufferings nor Jesus desire them for us, our faith tells us that they are part of life — they are among the effects of our first parent's sin. And we go through with them for our own purification. Amidst these, we have to run to God for help. To prayer. To persevering prayer.

Many will say that they have tried prayer and have given up on it after a while. Why? Because they didn't get what they prayed for. Why? Because in these days of instant coffee and instant results, they may have the mistaken notion that prayer works automatically, that when they pray for something, God will grant it and immediately. But God is not like that. He always answers our prayers but in His own time.

Jesus Himself prayed often but did not get all he prayed for nor immediately. In Gethsemane, He prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!” (Mt. 26:42) But the Father had another plan: He wanted His Son to attain His glory by going through a cruel death in loving obedience to His will. This resulted in our redemption.

In our case, what Jesus promised us is the Holy Spirit — the same Spirit Who gave Him the light to see the Father's will and the strength to persevere to the end. It is He who will give us growth, understanding and trust and makes us discover what the Father wants for us and not what we want for ourselves. It is He who will make our prayers bear fruit.

Just as prayer requires faith, it also requires perseverance. Persevering prayer is a way of keeping alive what we hope for. It means to cling to God specially when we are in darkness. When Jesus tells us to pray always and never to lose heart — to persevere in prayer — He wants us to trust in His Father who always listens to us and who will never abandon us. He wants us never to doubt that our prayers — though not answered immediately — are heard for His Spirit is always with us.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the United States, we live in great anxiety and fear. We do not know how the U.S.' “war on terror” will end. In fact, there are already some prophets of doom who say that this clash between the West and Islam may result in a world war. Meanwhile, the world economy is fast declining and the poor are the first to feel its effects.

It is in moments like this that like Moses, we are to raise our hands to God in prayer or like the widow, we are to persevere in prayer so that the Spirit will lead world leaders towards a positive resolution of the crisis. After all, God cares for all peoples. For aren't we all His children and therefore embraced by His providence?