When people are enduring great difficulties along with emotional and spiritual crises of various sorts you may have heard them say: “I’ve tried everything. Now the only thing left to do is to pray.” It’s as if praying is something to be done only as a last resort in times of trouble. Then, when all else has failed and we sense impending failure we, in desperation, turn to God and ask Him for a miracle.
At first we try to solve problems on our own using our own judgments and powers. Some of our methods don’t make much sense at all. Some of our methods are harsh and mean-spirited. Some inflict pain on others while other methods only bring more pain down upon us. Smashing things on the floor doesn’t work. Giving the cold shoulder and the silent treatment doesn’t solve family disputes. Calling others names and refusing to negotiate is on display in the present crises in Washington. It’s childish. How many times have you heard folks mentioning that our present crop of politicians are acting like children?
God’s ways are found in the bible. In the Book of Exodus (17:8-13) we learn that Israelites, realizing that Moses was God’s anointed spokesman, had begun their arduous flight from Egypt where they had been held in slavery and were now on their way to the Promised Land. All was well until they encountered trials and difficulties. Then they began to ignore God, ignore Moses, and rely on their own desires expressed in false gods to solve their problems. Not only that but they also began to refashion God into their own likeness figuring that they would only be comfortable with a God who made them feel comfortable.
Moses tried to teach them that reality was otherwise and that they had to obey God consistently and follow Him faithfully instead of using God only in times of emergencies. Human ways don’t work, only God’s ways lead to eventual happiness, freedom, and peace.
Being persistent, constant, and untiring in prayer is important. God is untiring in trying to reach us, untiring in trying to come into our hearts. Time and again Jesus tells us that we should pray, pray a lot, pray often, and be untiring in turning to God. That is the important point we heard about in today’s first reading taken from the Book of Exodus. There we find the Israelites were in a fight against one of their enemies. Moses was on top of a hill overlooking the battle and the author of the Book of Exodus tells us:
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. Moses’ hands, however, grew tired; so they put a rock in place for him to sit on. Meanwhile Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other, so that his hands remained steady till sunset. And Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.
In the Gospel of Luke (18:1-8), we hear Jesus giving us the parable of the woman who continually calls on the judge to hear and answer her petition?
Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. He said, “There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, ‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’ For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, ‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.'” The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night?
At the time of Jesus if anyone had dared to compare God with an unjust judge who was ultimately swayed only by the nuisance of a shrieking female plaintiff such a comparison would have been condemned as irresponsible and even blasphemous. But what is Jesus telling us? Again, that consistency, perseverance, steadfastness, along with continuing courage, are needed in our lives and that these strengths, these virtues can be found only in a life lived out in persistent prayer. Prayer should be our normal way of life, not just a last resort in times of difficulty. We can only live life well and effectively in a sustained connection with God. Prayer is not an isolated act – it is a way of life.
Nor does it come cheap for us. There’s a price to pay for coming to Mass each and every weekend. It’s not something by which we can “go it alone” with God. We need our mutual support. We need our family of faith. We need each other’s prayers. We need each other’s strength. That should be a constant in our lives.
So, too, we find that truth in the writers of the New Testament. For example St. Paul in writing to the Thessalonians admonishes us: Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16)
We live now in a world that offers us quick answers to our problems along with quick responses to our needs. Think of all of the “time saving” devices that surround us. With our smart phones we can communicate with others anywhere in the world with the touch of a few buttons. Television ads and Internet ads offer us instant loans of money. Any number of products can be purchased with a few strokes on our computer keyboards. Moreover we can instantly pay for them via credit cards using a few more key strokes on our computers. Even the Post Office allows us to pay for postage on its Internet web page. All of our needs and wants can be fulfilled these days in no time at all. It’s no wonder that our days are crammed, jammed with things to do.
Amidst all of this, prayer, meditation, and time with God are in an uphill battle. The world has shaped us into being an impatient people. But are we altogether different from the people of St. Paul’s time? I don’t think so. In his Second Letter To Timothy, the Apostle writes to one of his most devoted followers: Timothy. Said he:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching. (2 Timothy 3)
So when the Son of Man comes back again, will he find anyone praying, praying consistently, and faithfully?