29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Psalm 121:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8 (see 2)
2 Timothy 3:14-4:2
October 20, 2019
Jesus tells us to “pray always”. Really? How can anyone pray “always”? We have to sleep or we will become “weary”. We have to work. We have to eat. How can we “pray always”?
The fact that what Jesus says might seem impossible should tell us that He is trying to get us to think differently about what it means to pray, let alone “pray always.”
Jesus continues with a parable about the woman who asked the judge to “Render a just decision for me against my adversary.” We are told that the judge doesn’t care what others think and does what he wants. The woman continually asks him for a “just decision”. Eventually, because of her persistence, the judge finally gives her what she wants.
Hearing this as a parable from Jesus, it might seem the lesson is that all we have to do to get what we want in prayer is to keep asking. If we bother God long enough, He will give us what we want.
First of all, we need to consider what the woman was asking for. She doesn’t tell the judge what decision to make. In our prayers we might often tell God how we want him to fix our problems. What the woman asks for is for the judge to “Render a just decision.”
God wants us to bring our problems and sufferings to him in prayer. However, the thing to think about is your goal in bringing your problems to God in prayer. Do you want to change God to get him to do what you want or are you willing to allow God to change you through prayer? For instance, maybe God wants to help you redirect your life around your problems. God doesn’t change us all at once, or at least we generally don’t let him. We need to be persistent in prayer to keep coming back to God.
So, there is a little lesson about persistence and openness in prayer. However, so far we haven’t addressed how it might seem impossible to “pray always”.
Our first reading speaks of praying always.
God had led the Israelites out from Egypt into the desert. They are freed from slavery but life still has its battles. They are under attack. Joshua leads the physical battle but the point today is not the physical battle itself. They will win the physical battle but how?
Joshua leads the physical battle but victory comes through God and the power of prayer.
While the battle goes on, Moses is on the hill. However, he is not just a spectator, he plays a vital role. He is praying. We are not told what words he says in prayer. We are told his posture in prayer. He stands with his hands raised up, the same posture the priest takes at Mass for some of the prayers, including the Eucharistic Prayer.
Yet, as the battle continues, Moses becomes “tired”, so he lets his arms down. When he does, the battle shifts and the Israelites begin to lose. Now, the lesson here is perseverance in prayer. However, that doesn’t mean that we need to keep our hands raised up all the time like Moses did during the battle but we are called to keep turning our hearts and soul to God.
Sometimes, like Moses, it might be difficult to keep praying on our own. Moses needed Aaron and Hur to support him in prayer. Sometimes we need the support on others in prayer. Sometimes we are to be the ones supporting others with prayer.
God “neither slumbers nor sleeps. God is available 24/7 to listen and respond to our prayers. Still, what does it mean to pray?
Prayer involves our posture, whether it be holding our hands up like Moses, lifting up our eyes to God as we heard in the psalm, or kneeling in humble surrender.
Prayer can include reading the Bible, the “sacred Scriptures” that Paul reminds us is “inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction and for training in righteousness.”
Prayer involves words. It might be memorized prayer like the Our Father, the Rosary, The Liturgy of the Hours, or whatever our favorite devotion is.
The words can also be us telling God what our battles are, what we are struggling with. However, this shouldn’t be just a list of our demands.
However, we pray in words and gestures, prayer is rooted in our hearts and soul. Prayer is ultimately rooted in our relationship with God. To “pray always” is just that, to keep ourselves always rooted in God.
What does it take to keep us rooted in God? One hour a week at Mass is essential but how do we keep ourselves in an attitude of prayer throughout the week.
Here, I want to turn to the life of the monks at the Abbey of the Genesee. They pray a lot. How do they pray? I mentioned before the Liturgy of the Hours. It has up to seven times each day praying the psalms and listening to scripture. The monks at the Abbey pray all seven. Five of the times are open to the public, beginning with Vigils at 3:30 a.m. and ending with Compline at 7:30 p.m. They also have times in the day set aside for Lectio Divina, a form of prayer based on reading Scripture.
Even the monks at the Abbey do not pray in words and gestures all the time. They all have assigned work each morning and afternoon to support the life on the monastery.
Still, one might want to say prayer is easy for the monks since they don’t have all the commitments you do for work and family. I don’t expect everyone here to pray all seven cycles of the Liturgy of the Hours but maybe you could pray one. Maybe you could spend a few minutes reading the Bible in a prayerful way. Maybe it’s praying the Rosary. Maybe it is just stopping occasionally throughout the day to ask God with just a few words to be with you.
I encourage you to “be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient” in prayer and God will let you know He is with you always.
P. S. We read primarily from the Gospel of Luke this year where prayer is a major theme. If you would like to hear more about prayer, check out this video presentation, “Talking to God: A Conversation About Prayer,” Fr. Jeff did when he was at Immaculate Conception Church. On the web page, you will also find links to information about some forms of prayer and devotions.