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Praying always without becoming weary

By 20 October, 2019January 3rd, 2023No Comments
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Luis CASASUS, General Superior of the Idente missionaries

Madrid, October 20, 2019.  Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Book of Exodus 17: 8-13; Second Letter to Timothy 3:14-17.4,1-2; Saint Luke 18: 1-8.

A little shepherd boy was watching his sheep one Sunday morning, when he heard the Church bells ringing and saw people walking along the lane next to the pasture going to Church.

He began to think that he too would like to communicate with God. But what can I say? he thought. He had never learned a prayer. So, on bended knees, he began to recite the alphabet a, b, c, d, and so on to z, repeating his ‘prayer’ several times.

A man passing by heard the boy’s voice, and stopping to look through the bushes, saw the child kneeling with folded hands and closed eyes saying, a, b, c, …k, l, m… He interrupted the boy, asking, What are you doing, my little friend? The boy replied, I was praying sir, Surprised, the man said, But why are you reciting the alphabet? The boy explained, I don’t know any prayer sir. But I want God to take care of me and help me to take care of my sheep. So I thought if I said, all I knew, He could put the letters together and spell all that I wanted to say and should say. The man smiled and said, Bless your heart. You are right, God will! then he went to church knowing he had already heard the finest sermon he could possibly hear that day.

The story above, as simple as it seems, reflects one of the most essential properties of prayer: it is an act of communion with God, which can be described as a permanent dialogue, the offering of every moment, the man’s greatest power, a spiritual breathing… But perhaps our starting point for today’s reflection could be that prayer is communion with God, and this communion is made possible through the work of the Holy Spirit. This is why we must pay attention to both our ascetical effort and the abundant and ubiquitous answer of the Holy Spirit in our mind, will, union and spirit.

Our prayer of union, as it was called by St. Theresa of Avila and our father Founder, consists in maintaining oneself in constant dialogue with God to evaluate reality, events, and people with His criteria of judgment. We examine with him our thoughts, sentiments, reactions and plans.

Continuous prayer means not to take some decisions without first consulting him. If, even for a single moment one would interrupt this rapport with God, like in the First Reading, the arms are let down, immediately the enemies of life and freedom will take the upper hand. These enemies are called passions, uncontrolled impulses, and instinctive reactions. They create conditions for foolish choices. We continuously confront enemies that obstruct our life, take our breath away: ambition, hate and unruly passion. They are “our Amalekites.”

When some people are enduring great difficulties along with emotional and spiritual crises of various sorts you may have heard them say, “I have tried everything. Now the only thing left to do is to pray.” It is as if praying is something to be done only as a last resort in times of trouble. The truth is, however, that consciously or not, we continually confront the challenge of a making a choice: Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters (Lk 11:23). Prayer is not only a great means in order not to lose one’s head in the most difficult and dramatic moments, when everything seems to conspire against us. It is the staff that is needed to walk with God and to successfully fight the devil.

The people in antiquity believed that the gods fought alongside those who adored them. Today, instructed by Jesus, we know that this is an archaic and rough concept of God. The episode in the First Reading has for us a clear message. It teaches us that those who want to achieve deep changes, especially true conversion, which is beyond one’s good will and strength, must pray without ceasing.

The First Reading also gives a striking example of an important feature of prayer: Aaron and Hur, supporting Moses’ hands in prayer, reflect what was later put explicitly by Jesus: Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them (Mt 18: 19-20).

Every individual prayer has its own meaning and importance, but, community prayer, for instance family prayer, has greater importance and promotes a new form of Jesus’ presence among us.

The above words of Christ do not mean that we have to spend lots of time together in a worshipping activity. Rather, Jesus is talking about the union of our hearts, the offering of our efforts in peacemaking. In fact, the church is a place where differences can be expressed and worked out. We should be reminded that the church is where the presence of Christ manifests itself in the way we can interact with each other in spite of our differences. It is in the context of conflict that Jesus said that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for them by my Father.

Many of us can easily identify with the widow who was seeking justice. In those days, widows and orphans were the most vulnerable of all people and open to all kinds of abuse and exploitation. They had no security and place in society. They were often taken advantage of and treated unfairly.

Every day, we hear stories of people getting hurt because of perceived injustices in the way their case is handled. This can involve insufficient remuneration, blindness, insensitivity to their suffering, slander, injustice at the work place, discrimination, abuses of all sorts. Without justice, there can be no love or unity. Resentment will grow and this will lead to deep discouragement or acts of retaliation.

In Psalm 37 we read: From my youth to old age, I am yet to see the righteous forsaken or their children begging for alms. For the Lord loves justice and right and never forsakes his faithful ones. The wicked instead will perish and their breed will be cut off. Would we subscribe to these words without some reservation? Who does not know examples that seem contradict them?

Then why are we invited to pray with insistence? Jesus responds today with a parable. The unjust judge represents the power of this world (not just a specific person), the force of the uncontrolled passions, the lack of fear of God (as the character himself says) It is the condition in which the disciples find themselves in this world, dominated by evil and profoundly marked by death. A dire condition, not just a particular time, where simultaneously we acknowledge and admit our weakness and the active presence of God transforming us, not just changing things or solving our problems.

But it is still more important to remember that Jesus himself went through the same experience in His life. For all the good that He did, He was betrayed, unjustly condemned, and put to death on the cross. So too the apostles and the early Christians went through the same unjust persecutions for their faith in Christ. Yet, they did not give up faith in God.

On the other hand, we know from firsthand and secondhand experience that it is innocence and unjust suffering that can change the hearts of evil men. On the contrary, when we retaliate, we will only create more hostility.

In the letter to Timothy, St. Paul also talks about persistence. This persistence, however, goes full circle back to us. Just as we are perseverant in our requests to God, we need to be insistent in our proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ.

We must fight injustice persistently. Our goal is the kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven; and to reach that goal, Paul says we must be insistent, like the widow in the parable. The allegory is powerful and expressive, because every human being, the more or less “good” and the more or less “bad”, resists change and we all want continue enjoying our comfort zone.

The Second Reading represents a practical and clear link between prayer and the sacred books. Saint Paul suggests to Timothy the sure point of reference: The Sacred Scriptures, reminding us that All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

Many of us do not even remember what our useless thoughts are, and this lack of sensitivity explains the poor and limited attention we pay to the Gospel.

A final word about prayer conceived as dialogue between God and man.

When I enter into dialogue with anyone, the fundamental premise of it is that, through such form of connection, we can reach a state in which we both care about both of our two aspirations, thereby forming a shared commitment to a solution that works for both of us. This frame depends on a profound kind of trust: that the other is a person (human or divine) like me. At bottom, embracing the spirit of dialogue with the divine persons (or with my neighbor) is a commitment to caring for everyone who is part of the dialogue, even if I am not able to fully understand or fully being in agreement with my interlocutor.

Most conversations are simply monologues delivered in the presence of a witness. But, as Martin Buber said, a dialogue is a conversation… the outcome of which is unknown. Let us hope that this will be the case for our prayer.

We know that the experience of openness to dialogue itself is transformative. We can tell the difference, when I am or am not truly open. I know how attachment feels because I have had so many times now the experience of not having it… and the immense freedom that comes with that. It is not about not wanting; it’s not about not having opinions, even strong ones; it’s not about going along with anything or anyone. It’s simply about the willingness to be affected by what I hear about another’s needs or perspective. It’s about allowing connection of my deep needs and aspirations and another’s.

This is the just and air attitude of the praying person.

Eight hundred years before Christ, Yahve already warned through the prophet Amos: I, the Lord, hate and despise your religious celebrations and your times of worship. I won’t accept your offerings or animal sacrifices, not even your very best. No more of your noisy songs! I won’t listen when you play your harps. But let justice and fairness flow like a river that never runs dry.

Prayer is important because by ourselves we can nothing. We need God. Nothing is impossible with Him. But will God find faith in us? The answer depends on you and me.