Persevering in Prayer, 32nd Saturday (I), November 16, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Saturday of the 32nd Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. Gertrude the Great
November 16, 2013
Wis 18:14-16.19:6-9, Ps 105, Lk 18:1-8

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click here: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today Jesus speaks to us not just about the “necessity” to pray, but to pray “always without losing heart,” to pray with perseverance, to pray with perseverance, to pray without ceasing. The Christian life, as Blessed Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI used to insist, must be marked “above all” by the “art of prayer.” The most characteristic thing as Christians we  do, and hopefully with God’s grace the best thing we do, should be to pray. When others think of us, they should above every other attribute say that we are a person who prays, that our entire life is a prayer. For that to come about, we need to learn how to pray with perseverance.
  • In today’s parable, Jesus describes a totally desperate situation of a widow. In the patriarchal culture of the time, men defended the rights of women. A woman had first her father, then her husband, and if she were widowed, then he son(s) to care for her. If she had no man left, she was reduced to begging and other situations of terrible vulnerability. That’s what it was such a clear duty given by God throughout the Old Testament to care for widows and orphans and such a practice of the Church from the beginning. But to make her situation worse, she was going before an unjust judge. In Jewish culture, there was never a one-person arbitrator; there were always three, one chosen by each party and the other independent. To say she was going before a judge meant she was going before a Roman magistrate, and not just any Roman, but one “who respected neither God not anyone else.” He was corrupt and she had no money to bribe. She was helpful — except for her persistent pleading. Eventually her persistence got this corrupt public official to do the right thing.
  • Jesus uses the parable not to compare his Father to this corrupt judge but to contrast him. If even an unjust judge could be moved by persistence, how much more will a loving Father attend to the persevering prayers of his children! But God wants us to persevere, because it not only purifies our desires but transforms us into people who pray constantly. Just as in the first reading we ponder how God transformed the Red Sea into an unimpeded road and the flood into a grassy plain, so he can transform us into people who barely pray, into people who pray a lot, and finally into people who pray always. But that transformation, that conversion, doesn’t happen easily. Just as before God worked the miracles the Book of Wisdom describes today there were the persecutions of Pharoah and the terror of the deluge, so it requires us to pray without ceasing.
  • Jesus never leads us by simply stating “Do as I say.” He rather always says, “Follow me!” And in calling us to persistent prayer, he leads us by example. We see how he would go out all night to pray, even after an exhausting day healing sick people one-by-one. We see how he persevered in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, even when his prayer was causing him to sweat blood in hematidrosis from his pores. We also see how he trained us and others to pray. He didn’t tell us to pray once that God the Father provide us “every day of our life the material and spiritual food we need,” but rather “Give us today our daily bread,” a prayer that’s supposed to be offered every day with gratitude. I love the way he taught the Canaanite woman to persevere in prayer when she was asking him to heal her daughter. It seems at first glance Jesus was behaving cruelly, but it was precisely to increase her faith and her perseverance in prayer. Jesus ignored her; then the apostles tried to get rid of her; then Jesus said he was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel, not to pagans in Tyre; and finally that it wasn’t right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs. Despite all of these tests, the woman didn’t give up, and said, “But even the little dogs eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table.” Jesus was amazed at her persevering prayer, gave her the greatest compliment in the Gospel, “O Woman, great is your faith!,” and healed her daughter at that very instant with his own prayerful word.
  • The early Church learned this lesson of persevering prayer. We see it in the decenarium novena that the apostles and disciples prayed around the Blessed Mother awaiting the Holy Spirit. They didn’t just say a quick prayer, “Come, Holy Spirit!,” and receive the gift. They prayed the first day. The second. The third. All the way until on the 10th day, the Holy Spirit came down. They didn’t give up. They would have continued praying for many more days if that was needed for them to be ready, in prayer, to respond to the Holy Spirit’s gift. Later in the Acts of the Apostles, we’re told that they were all persevering in prayer, in the teaching of the apostles, in common life and in the celebration of the Eucharist. Christians in every age ought to persevere in the same way.
  • One area in which many of us need to learn how to persevere better in prayer is in praying for the dead. Throughout this month of November the Church prays perseveringly for the dead, but many of the faithful and even some priests don’t really join into this prayerful suffrage. One of the reasons is bad theology, when people assume that anyone and everyone who has died is in a “better place” and gone to heaven, whereas the only people we know for sure are in heaven are baptized infants and canonized saints. We can’t judge anyone, either to be in Hell or to be in Heaven. We have great hope for their salvation, especially those who lived a holy life and died with the sacraments, but we simply don’t know. Therefore, out of love we pray for our deceased loved ones and for all the day. And we’re called to do so perseveringly.
  • Today we can ponder two saints who teach us this lesson of perseveringly praying for the dead. The first is Our Lady, whom we remember in a special way every Saturday. She was constantly praying in the Scriptures, pondering things in her contemplative heart. Whenever she has appeared by God’s grace to remind us of the Gospel, she’s always done so praying in action and calling us to pray with her. And in that most famous prayer of all we say to her, we ask her “Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.” We are asking her to pray constantly for us individually and as a family and not just now but at the time of our death. This “hour” means both what the Greeks called chronos and kairos: at the literal moment of our death, which is the time we will be judged, so that we may be embracing her Son with faith like the Good Thief; and on the occasion of our death, to continue praying for us to the eternal God for the prayers we would need in time in order to align our life, our will, our hopes with His. Mary is constantly praying for these intentions and we pray perseveringly with her for those who have died, are in the process of dying, and will die at a date known only to God.
  • The second model is St. Gertrude the Great, whom the Church celebrates on November 16. She was a 13th century mystic known for her books of prayer, but her most famous prayer of all is for the souls in Purgatory. “Eternal Father, I offer You the most precious blood of thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, for those in my own home and in my family. Amen.” She offers Jesus’ blood, given for the forgiveness of sins, to the Eternal Father in communion with all the Masses for the Holy Souls in Purgatory awaiting purification and for the conversion of all those still on earth. This was a prayer she prayed with perseverance and that many after her have prayed as well. Using her words or our own, we should pray the Mass in the same way, faithfully interceding for the salvation of all the dead and for the conversion and sanctification of all the living as we offer to the Eternal Father his dearly beloved Son’s body, blood, soul and divinity.
  • “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?,” Jesus asks at the end of the Gospel today. Prayer is faith in action. To persevere in faith we need to persevere in prayer. Let us ask St. Gertrude and the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Bernadette and all those who have been released from Purgatory and come into the fullness of God’s glory through our prayers and sacrifices united to Jesus’, to intercede for us that we may persevere in faithful prayer so that whenever Jesus comes, he may find us ready and say to us what he said to the Canaanite Woman, “Great is your faith!” because “Great is your persevering prayer!”

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
WIS 18:14-16; 19:6-9

When peaceful stillness compassed everything
and the night in its swift course was half spent,
Your all-powerful word, from heaven’s royal throne
bounded, a fierce warrior, into the doomed land,
bearing the sharp sword of your inexorable decree.
And as he alighted, he filled every place with death;
he still reached to heaven, while he stood upon the earth.For all creation, in its several kinds, was being made over anew,
serving its natural laws,
that your children might be preserved unharmed.
The cloud overshadowed their camp;
and out of what had before been water, dry land was seen emerging:
Out of the Red Sea an unimpeded road,
and a grassy plain out of the mighty flood.
Over this crossed the whole nation sheltered by your hand,
after they beheld stupendous wonders.
For they ranged about like horses,
and bounded about like lambs,
praising you, O Lord! their deliverer.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 105:2-3, 36-37, 42-43

R. (5a) Remember the marvels the Lord has done!
or:
R. Alleluia.
Sing to him, sing his praise,
proclaim all his wondrous deeds.
Glory in his holy name;
rejoice, O hearts that seek the LORD!
R. Remember the marvels the Lord has done!
or:
R. Alleluia.
Then he struck every first born throughout their land,
the first fruits of all their manhood.
And he led them forth laden with silver and gold,
with not a weakling among their tribes.
R. Remember the marvels the Lord has done!
or:
R. Alleluia.
For he remembered his holy word
to his servant Abraham.
And he led forth his people with joy;
with shouts of joy, his chosen ones.
R. Remember the marvels the Lord has done!
or:
R. Alleluia.

Gospel
LK 18:1-8

Jesus told his disciples a parable
about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.
He said, “There was a judge in a certain town
who neither feared God nor respected any human being.
And a widow in that town used to come to him and say,
‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’
For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought,
‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being,
because this widow keeps bothering me
I shall deliver a just decision for her
lest she finally come and strike me.’”
The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says.
Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones
who call out to him day and night?
Will he be slow to answer them?
I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.
But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”