17th Sunday in Ordinary Time. July 24th 2016.
Gen 18:20-32; Col 2:12-14; Lk 11:1-13
Perseverance in prayer: How and why?
We have all experienced it before: a desperate prayer to God for something that we needed and we never got it. God appears deaf or uncaring to our needs. I once prayed for a job unceasingly for close to three years after graduating from university in Nigeria and never got a single job interview. What do we do when our prayers are unanswered? Unfortunately, we give up and make up reasons for doing so like, “I do not have the time to pray.” I learned from my own experience of persevering prayer in the face of joblessness that when we give up on prayer we miss out on the joy, peace and hope that comes from a strengthened relationship with God.
Yes, when we begin to pray and we persevere in prayer because we are in a love relationship with God whether we get what we want or not, God strengthens us in our relationship with Him and we have the conviction that we can overcome all things if we entrust all into His loving hands. That is how His peace, hope and joy abides in us. Our loving relationship with God, and not our myriad of needs and wants, is what truly initiates and sustains our prayer.
The Psalmist in the Responsorial Psalm prays, “When I called you answered me; you built up strength within me.” Just as God’s first response to the psalmist’s prayer is to build up strength within him, God’s sure response to our unrelenting prayer is this inner strength, this strengthening of our relationship with Him whether He gives us what we ask for our not.
The prayer, “Our Father,” that Jesus teaches us in today’s Gospel passage is a prayer that begins, continues, and ends with a sense of our being in a loving relationship with God as our loving Father. We first acknowledge God as our Father (not just Creator) and we indicate our willingness to make Him better known and loved by others and to live as His children under His sovereignty, “Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come,” before we present our daily needs, “Give us each day our daily bread,” and then we end by asking that He preserve us in our relationship with Him, “Do not subject us to the final test.”
In the Gospel’s parable, the person in need of three loaves begins with relationship and does not go to a stranger with his request but to a friend, “Friend, lend me three loaves.” He gets what he wants because he perseveres in asking for the same thing. Likewise, the first reason why he gets what he wants is because of their relationship, and secondly because of his persistence, “I tell you if he does not get up to give the visitor the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up and give him whatever he needs because of his persistence.” Perseverance in asking for all our needs matters but prayer must begin with and is sustained by our relationship with God.
We are guaranteed the gift of the Holy Spirit as the first good thing we receive when we pray with persistence to the Father, “How much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” As fruit of prayer, the Spirit first of all deepens our relationship with God as His beloved children. Secondly, the Spirit inspires and moves us to pray as God’s children, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought.” (Rom 8:26) Thirdly, the Spirit enables us to live with and like Jesus Christ who faced and overcame suffering, death and the grave by a prayer initiated and sustained by His Father’s undying love for Him, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Lk 23:46)
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we have this same Spirit of prayer in us today who binds us in a deep relationship with God as His children and gives us a share in Christ’s victory over the adversities of life. Whether our prayers are answered or not, this Spirit is constantly moving us to persevere in prayer because we are made for communion with God. We cannot persevere in prayer if we have reduced prayer to merely begging for our wants and then judging God’s love for us by how He grants our prayers. We will surely know the all-conquering power of His love when we begin and persevere in prayer out of a sense of responding to God’s love for us.
We are witnessing today an intense campaign against illegal drugs here in the Philippines. One reason why illegal drugs are so prevalent is because many of us cannot cope with the pains and hurts of life so we flee to drugs for that brief moment of high when we can feel good about ourselves even if we have to face the destructive effects of such drugs after. We cannot cope with life’s hurts because we do not know that God loves us as we are. We do not know deeply in our hearts that we are loved by God because we do not persevere in prayer. We do not pray with perseverance because we pray only to bring about a change in our conditions in life and we are ready to abandon prayer for any reason when we do not see visible results.
Let us look deep into our selves today. We may not be doing illegal drugs but we all have our little “drugs” which we rely upon to make us feel good when the pains of life become unbearable. It may be alcoholism, internet surfing, gambling, shopping, eating, workaholism, sex, pornography, fame, success, etc. The more we abandon prayer for any reason whatsoever, the more our “drugs” multiply and become more indispensable to us. We cannot overcome the pains of life without a life of unceasing, honest, and true prayer that is fuelled with a desire to enter into a deeper relationship with God and to live constantly under His Lordship.
God is passionately in love with us, ready to raise us up with Christ even when we “are dead in our transgressions.” That is the power of the love that He gratuitously offers to us in Jesus Christ, the only love that can set us free from all bondage and flood our souls with God’s own strength, joy and peace, and hope. We connect with this love only through persevering prayer.
Our Eucharist today is always an outpouring of His Spirit of love in us and an invitation to a strengthened relationship with God, our loving Father. If only we begin again and persevere in prayer till the very end because of our relationship with God, whether our requests are granted or not, this divine love will be in us and then there is nothing that we cannot face and overcome in this life.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!