29th Sunday in Ordinary Time. October 20th 2013
Ex. 17:8-13; 2Tim 3:14-4:2; Lk 18:1-8
Prayer as life-support
Jesus’ emphasis in today’s Gospel about the necessity of “praying always without becoming weary” reminds me of one of my most favorite descriptive images of prayer: “Prayer is like life-support for a terribly sick patient. It may be expensive and very uncomfortable for the patient. It may not produce visible results. But take the patient off the life-supply machine for whatever reason and the patient will most likely die immediately.” Indeed prayer takes constant effort, it may not produce visible results, and it may not be convenient or easy; but when we stop praying for any reason whatsoever, we become spiritually dead. Why is this so?
Some years ago my niece in Nigeria asked her mother to make her favorite pancakes for her. My sister kept on turning down her request with one excuse after another. My niece persevered in asking at every meal for her favorite pancakes but never got her mother to make them for her. Unknown to my sister, my niece got hold of her cell phone one day, managed to unlock the phone, and placed her first long distance call to grandma in another city with the simple request, “Grandma, please tell my mother to make pancakes for us.” My sister received a surprise call a few seconds later from our mother with the simple instruction, “Please make pancakes today for my granddaughter if not I will come and make them for her myself.” My niece got her favorite pancakes that day and my sister learnt that nothing could quench my niece’s desires. My little niece’s constant asking was fuelled by her intense desire alone. She knows exactly what she wants and who can give it to her. She knows how to keep asking for what she wants even if it means getting grandma in another city to intercede for her.
Desire is what gives life to our prayer and God gives His specific graces and blessings only to those who show intense desire to receive them from Him alone. In prayer we both express our desires and bring these desires to life. If we have little or no desire to receive things from God, we will not pray or we will easily give up prayer for any reason; if we do not pray, we do not receive the specific graces and blessings that God intends to give to us. Prayer is indeed life-support because it nourishes and gives life to our desires and we cannot live life to the full without great and ardent desires.
The widow in today’s Gospel is a woman whose desire for justice cannot be quenched by the reputation of this judge as a man who does not fear God or respect people. She is also not put off by his repeated refusals to her request for justice. Because of this desire she returns to him over and over again with the very same request, “Render a just decision for me against my adversary.” It takes her severe efforts, she does not see results and it is very embarrassing for her but her desire for justice is stronger than any reason for her to quit until she gets what she wants from the dreaded judge. Jesus thus holds her up as a an example for us, pointing out that if her desires can be so strong to obtain justice from such a judge, how much more will our own desires expressed in prayer secure the rights of those who call out to God “day and night?” We can only call out to God “day and night” if our desires were intensified, shaped and enlivened by prayer.
In the First Reading, Moses is interceding for the Israelites as they engage the Amalekites in battle. The aged patriarch knows that their desired freedom and sovereignty as a nation are at stake in this battle. His prayerful stand does not produce immediate results as the battle raged continuously from daybreak between the Israelites and the Amalekites. It was also inconvenient and caused him great effort as he had to sit on a rock. Though his hands “grew tired” and he needed Aaron and Hur to hold them up, he desired victory so much that his arms “remained steady till sunset.” God intervened for them at sunset with final victory after Moses’ desire had overcome all the obstacles. If he had ceased praying, if he had abandoned the life-support of prayer, the entire nation would have found itself in bondage and slavery again.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to have great and intense desires from God if we are going to live life to the fullest. Prayer becomes our indispensable life-support despite the efforts involved or the lack of results if we realize that prayer alone sustains our good and wholesome desires in this life. Timothy in the Second Reading is obviously going through a discouraging time in his ministry because many other teachers have wandered away from authentic faith (2Tim 2:17). St. Paul invites him to “proclaim the word, being persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient.” It is the prayerful reading and reflection on the inspired word of God that will sustain his good desires and make him “competent and equipped for every good work.” No desire, no prayer; no prayer, no specific graces and blessings from God. Prayer must remain the life-support, producing and nourishing our good desires.
God answers all prayers. He may not give us what we want exactly but, if we never give up, He will sustain our desire for all the good that He has for us. This is how persistent prayer nourishes our hope and reason for living. It is such persevering prayer that keeps us desiring His graces, love, mercy, and second coming in glory so that when “He comes again in glory, He will find faith on earth.” Truly, the only prayer that God does not answer is the prayer that stops asking because the one praying says that God will not answer. This asking that fails to persevere shows a lack of desire to receive all from God. God will only bestow His specific graces and blessings on those who ardently desire them.
Jesus Himself showed us how to pray always even when it was uncomfortable and He did not see results for His prayers. He prayed sometimes all night to the Father for His disciples and for us. What was the outcome of His prayers? Judas betrayed Him. Peter denied Him, and the disciples fled. He prayed for those who crucified Him and for the repentant thief even at the height of His painful Passion on the Cross. He too saw prayer as life-support, praying when it was not convenient, easy, or producing results. But in all this, His desire for the Father’s will was sustained by His prayers and He would see the Father accept His own self-offering by raising Him from the dead. How can we ever abandon prayer after seeing Jesus’ own example? What are the reasons for our abandoning prayer? No time? No visible results? Not easy? Mind wanders at prayer? Don’t know how? Don’t feel like praying? We have more important things to do? Remember that prayer is like life-support: take it off for any reason whatsoever and we die because we will not desire to receive the perfect goods that God longs to give us.
In our Eucharist, Christ gives us the best ever – His own self under the forms of bread and wine. We will desire Him only if we are people who express and enliven our desire by persevering prayer. We must beg of Mother Mary this desire to receive all from God that gives life to our prayer. She shows us how important this desire is for our Christian life when she said in her Magnificat, “God fills the hungry with good things but sends the rich away empty.” Yes, God fills those who desire His graces and blessings with good things but those rich who lack any desire to receive from God will be sent away empty. Our prayers may never be visibly answered. Prayer may be hard and inconvenient. But if we persevere in it to the very end, our desire to receive all from God will never waver or wane and He will surely bless us with His specific graces and blessings. It is then that we will be so grateful that we never rejected prayer, our life-support.