Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Twenty-ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Perseverance in Prayer
Today’s First Reading from the Book of Exodus and the Gospel reading from Luke both speak about perseverance in prayer. Perseverance in prayer means not giving up, but continuing to pray. In the battle against Amalek, the forces of Israel were winning as long as Moses held his hands up. This was not magic. This was prayer. The ancient way of praying, and the way many of us pray at times is to lift our hands up to the Lord. When Moses’ let his arms fall, Amalek prevailed. When Moses stopped praying, Amalek prevailed. He needed the help and support of Aaron and Hur to keep his arms up. He needed the support of others to persevere in prayer.
The Lord tells a humorous story of an unjust judge and a persistent widow. “If I don't give her what she wants, she’s going to finish me off,” the judge says. This is a sentiment experienced by every parish priest as he sees that five of his ten voice messages come from the same lady. The Lord is having a bit of fun with us while reminding us that our loving Father will respond to our continual prayers.
We have to keep praying. We can't give up, even when, especially when, it seems that our prayers are not being heard. The problem is that we are used to getting immediate results. We have a question, we Google it, and immediately an answer appears. This is fine for the
physical life, but prayer is not physical. It is spiritual. When we pray, we are calling upon God to fulfill our needs, not Google to give us an answer. And our needs will be met, often not in the way we expect, but better than our expectations. For example, we pray night and day for a loved one who is dying. The person passes away, but dies peacefully ready to embrace the next life. We are grief struck, but at the same time, our prayers have drawn us closer to God. Our prayers were answered, just not in the way we expected.
Since I have been pastor here four of our children, at least that I am aware of, have come down with cancer. We stormed heaven with prayers for each of them every day. Three of the four are now cancer free, and one had her own child and is pregnant with number two. The fourth child, Bailee Dunnigan, passed away from complications. Bailee’s life on earth, though, was a blessing. Her determination to receive her First Holy Communion led us to a deeper reflection of the importance of Holy Communion. She remains one of our parish saints. In all four children, our prayers were answered, not necessarily in the ways we expected and certainly not as quickly as we had hoped.
There are many times that most of us have been seriously sick or injured. We have prayed, and others have prayed for us. Time passes, perhaps years, and we realize that we are better off than before our sickness or injury.
We can't give up on prayer, be it for our personal needs, or the needs of others. Every single one of us is a member of the Body of Christ. Sometimes we priests present this in a negative way, explaining how our sins affect others. Today's readings present the positive view. Our prayer strengthens all the members of the Body of Christ.
A number of years ago I was chatting with one of the men who goes regularly to the Brothers in Christ. This group as you know meets at 6 am on Wednesdays. (Guys, if you can get yourself up to join them before work, do so.) This is a great group. I feel bad that I’m not there, but as I explained to the fellow I was talking with, I'm up at that time, but I have got to keep my morning prayer schedule. He responded that I was doing exactly what the parish needed me to do. To that I would now respond, “and you men are also doing what the rest of us need you to do.” And that is the point. We need each other's support. We have a prayer responsibility towards each other, and all others, for that matter.
We need to pray for our Church. We need to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. We need priests. We need sisters and brothers. We need our bishops, including our pope, to be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Pope Francis has been turning the ship of the Church to a greater commitment to the poor and the pastoral needs of the people. Some people are having a problem with this. Big ships do not turn easily. We have a responsibility to pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the acceptance of this guidance. We all need to pray for the Church.
We need to pray for our country. All of us need to pray that our country truly be one nation under God. Granted there is money to be made by selling nose clips at the entrances to the voting booths, but our problems are deeper than our candidates. The antipathy and outright hatred that we see expressed every day in many areas of American life is frightening. Have we Americans lost our Christian soul? I and you want our children to live in a country where people are united in caring for each other, not divided into various groups of bigotry and hatred. I and you want our children to live in a country where there is respect, respect for life and respect for each other. Right now we are going through grim times. This does not give us the right to give up on our country. We need to pray for our country, continually asking God to soften hard hearts.
We need to pray for our young people. They are both the present and the future of the Church. The next battle for the Kingdom of God will be waged by the young. One of the greatest blessings I have received is witnessing how so many of our high school, college age and young married have taken their responsibility to the Kingdom so seriously. They want to live for God. They want to care for others. They want to marry someone with whom they can pray. They want to raise children for God. The young always have ideals. We had ideals when we were young. But there is something wonderfully better about the ideals of our present young people. They are determined to be heroes for Christ. To do all this, they have to withstand the horrible pressure they experience every day to give up and give in. We have a responsibility to pray for the young. And they have a responsibility to pray for us. And if they fall, we need to lift them up with our prayers. And if we fall, they need to lift us up.
We cannot give up on prayer. We cannot give up on God. I want to remind you of the three great lies of the devil. The first is: You are not good enough. The second great lie is: You are alone and the third great lie is: That God has lied to us. We counter that first lie by affirming that God has made us good enough. His mercy is infinitely greater than our sins. We cannot fall for the lie that our human failings prevent us from being effective members of the Kingdom of God. The devil’s second lie, that we are alone, is proved wrong by our personal experiences of God’s presence as well as the Words of Scripture. When St. Matthew concluded his Gospel he closed with the words all of us need to remember every day. Jesus said, “Know that I am with you always.” The third great deception of the devil is the blasphemy that God has lied to us. No, God does not lie. He has said that He is a Loving Father and He has proven this to us in many, many ways, the most important of which was the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. “God so loved the world that He gave us His only Son,” John 3:16 teaches. Our God is wonderfully in love with each one of us.
Today's readings tell us to persevere in prayer we cannot give up on God. Today’s readings remind us that God will never give up on us.