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Bible Reflections View Comments

The Power of Persistent Prayer
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, October 20, 2013
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One of my cattle dog’s self-appointed jobs seems to be to let me know when she and the other dogs are ready to come in from outside, especially if it’s time for them to eat. She gives a short, sharp bark, every 3-5 seconds. She can keep this up indefinitely. It’s the only time she uses that particular bark. I can ignore it only for so long, and then I stop what I’m doing and let them in.

We all know what it’s like to be worn down by persistent pestering. So it is with the parable Jesus tells in today’s Gospel. The widow seeking justice finally wears down an admittedly hardened judge with her persistence.

We think of giving in to requests from others as a sign of weakness, something we ought to outgrow. Dog trainers would tell me that when I give in to Braith’s request to come in, she’s training me. On the other hand, I know that the dogs depend on me for their care.

Jesus seems to be reminding us that it’s OK to ask for what we need. Part of having faith means being willing to throw our cares, our needs, our desires on God simply because we believe we deserve what we seek and that our gracious God wants to give it to us. Part of growing up means not that we no longer have needs, but that we recognize which of our needs are truly worthy of being met. We learn to distinguish between whims and true needs. And God will be patient with us while we learn this lesson.

In the reading from Exodus, we see Moses praying for the victory of the Israelites over the Amalekites. The writer tells us that as long as Moses had his hands raised in prayer, even if that meant someone else was holding up his arms, the battle went in favor of the Israelites. This seems to be an interpretation by the early Scripture writers of the way God’s presence in their midst furthered the fortunes of the Chosen People.

We know that prayers and other religious rituals are not magic. Persistence and perseverance are strong virtues. The widow in today’s Gospel is seeking justice. This isn’t a whim or a selfish desire on her part that keeps her knocking at the judge’s door. She believes in the rightness of her cause. And she’s not going to be dissuaded if her first attempt doesn’t get a response.

Part of Jesus’s message in this story is that we give up too quickly. The introduction to the parable talks about “the necessity for the disciples to pray always without becoming weary.” Jesus closes his story with the enigmatic comment: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Faith is trusting that God wants what’s best for us. That trust will keep us asking for what we need. It will give us the strength to persist in our belief even when we’re tired, even when we doubt, even when we wonder whether our cause is worthwhile. And, like the people who held Moses’s arms and found him a rock to sit on, other people will join us in our quest for justice, for peace, for God’s gracious answer to our prayers. Magic? No. This is the power of love, the power of prayer, the power of true faith.

Persistent prayer of petition reminds us that we need to be focused, we need one another, and we need God. When our need is great, when our cause is just, we can depend on God to come through for us, even if it takes all night, even if it takes a lifetime.


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Athanasius: Athanasius led a tumultuous but dedicated life of service to the Church. He was the great champion of the faith against the widespread heresy of Arianism, the teaching by Arius that Jesus was not truly divine. The vigor of his writings earned him the title of doctor of the Church. 
<p>Born of a Christian family in Alexandria, Egypt, and given a classical education, Athanasius became secretary to Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria, entered the priesthood and was eventually named bishop himself. His predecessor, Alexander, had been an outspoken critic of a new movement growing in the East—Arianism. </p><p>When Athanasius assumed his role as bishop of Alexandria, he continued the fight against Arianism. At first it seemed that the battle would be easily won and that Arianism would be condemned. Such, however, did not prove to be the case. The Council of Tyre was called and for several reasons that are still unclear, the Emperor Constantine exiled Athanasius to northern Gaul. This was to be the first in a series of travels and exiles reminiscent of the life of St. Paul. </p><p>After Constantine died, his son restored Athanasius as bishop. This lasted only a year, however, for he was deposed once again by a coalition of Arian bishops. Athanasius took his case to Rome, and Pope Julius I called a synod to review the case and other related matters. </p><p>Five times Athanasius was exiled for his defense of the doctrine of Christ’s divinity. During one period of his life, he enjoyed 10 years of relative peace—reading, writing and promoting the Christian life along the lines of the monastic ideal to which he was greatly devoted. His dogmatic and historical writings are almost all polemic, directed against every aspect of Arianism. </p><p>Among his ascetical writings, his<i> Life of St. Anthony</i> (January 17) achieved astonishing popularity and contributed greatly to the establishment of monastic life throughout the Western Christian world.</p> American Catholic Blog Suffering is redemptive in part because it definitively reveals to man that he is not in fact God, and it thereby opens the human person to receive the divine.

The Passion and the Cross Ronald Rolheiser

 
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