‘Will not God see justice done to his chosen who cry to him day and night? I promise you, he will see justice done to them, and done speedily.’ (Luke 18:7-8)
After a few weeks spent looking at the ways in which we should relate to possessions, our Sunday readings lead us back to that very centre of the Christian life that is prayer. Both the first reading and the gospel encourage us to look at prayer as our primary occupation; an activity intimately connected to the two fundamental Christian virtues, or good habits, of faith and perseverance.
In the reading from Exodus – a reading that at first may appear distant and difficult to understand – we see how the faithful intercession of Moses for the people is the key weapon through which Israel is able to overcome its enemies. This prayer is expressed in the text by Moses raising his arms – something that a priest still does nowadays at the altar of God and whenever he is leading people in prayer. Whenever Moses’ arms were raised in prayer the people of Israel gained advantage over their opponents, whenever these fell, Israel suffered loss. Throughout the struggle Moses had to persevere in prayer even when it became exhausting or physically painful to continue, or else the battle would have been lost. Now, we may not be engaged in military battles, but as Christians we are constantly involved in spiritual warfare, and the significance of this reading should be clear; if we do pray as Moses did and if we support our priests in their intercession for the people, we and the Church will gain the advantage over our opponents.
In the gospel, the Our Lord encourages us to imitate the widow who regularly nagged the unjust judge with her pleas for justice. The woman’s faith in her cause and her perseverance in her requests won her justice even from a corrupt judge; so – Jesus hints – how much more will we be helped by God who is both the just judge of all and our Father? How many more blessings will we win if we pray with perseverance?
Through these readings the Scriptures teach us that our prayer should be marked by the exercise of both faith and perseverance. Wherever there is no faith at all there cannot be genuine prayer – only empty words uttered in times of distress. But wherever faith is, even in its simplest form, there true prayer can be found as well, because whenever we intentionally pray, in that moment we manifest our belief. In this way, through faith we can readily approach God as Father and unburden on him every concern just as children would do with a loving parent. As Scripture says elsewhere, ‘anyone who comes to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.’ (Hebrews 11:6) So faith is the doorway to prayer; and in turn by praying we strengthen the virtue of faith – the Christian habit of placing all our trust and all our confidence in God alone.
The second good habit, perseverance, allows us to stand firm in our prayers despite a society that overlooks and oftentimes ridicules those who pray. Perhaps, perseverance is more readily associated with our brothers and sisters who endure religious persecution and abuse, but even if we are spared from these trials, we should strive to acquire this way of life for ourselves as well, because perseverance allows us make space for God in our daily routines regardless of what we are going through. At different points in life we all have been tempted to give up on prayer, to give up on God, and to say, “Oh, what’s the use?” Maybe because of peer pressure or maybe because of some tragic loss, prayer can stop, and as a consequence faith can stumble. But perseverance makes us pray even when we find it hard to be in God’s presence and when we are tempted to give up.
But maybe that’s enough theory for one homily. Faith and perseverance are practical habits and I want to look at a couple of examples where these can really benefit the way we pray. Praying for peace is the most obvious of these examples, as so many people would consider it a waste of time – nevertheless let us make every effort to pray for peace daily, to cry out to God as the widow did with the judge in the parable, until we will see ‘justice done and done speedily’, as the gospel says.
The second example is praying for church growth, as there are countless initiatives aimed at spreading the gospel in our society, but none of them is more powerful than you and me praying relentlessly for those whom we know – our families, our friends – that they may come to share the joy of knowing Christ and become part of his Church.
Prayer is our primary occupation as Christians and like any other activity worth doing in this live we must approach it with faith and perseverance.