Readings: Exodus 17:8-13; Psalm 120, Response: Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.; 2 Timothy 3:14–4:2
Gospel: Luke 18:1-8
This November I will come out with my first book, a collection of 200 Catholic prayers, “Give Thanks and Praise.”
The aim is to lead us to one of the deepest, if not the deepest, forms of prayer—the prayer in the Garden.
This is the theme of this Sunday’s Gospel, the perseverance in faith and in prayer.
The narrative is interesting. You have the persevering widow and the unjust judge. From the judge’s perspective, he “feared” her not just because of her persistence but also because she could possibly physically assault him.
The unjust judge is a paragon of corruption. This drives home Christ’s point that if such an ignoble character will give in to a persistent widow out of fear and not want to be disturbed, how much more will a loving Father give in to a persistent person who asks in prayer?
Here lies the crux of our reflections. Persistence or perseverance may stem from a need that makes us seek help. From need we move into trust, which is the beginning of the transformation of the one who asks.
This transformation evolves into hope and culminates in a loving surrender that is the perfection of the trust or faith we started with.
In the movie “Shadowlands,” C.S. Lewis has a beautiful line on prayer. His wife had just died of cancer and after all his praying for healing, he tells his colleagues in the university, “Prayer doesn’t change God. It changes me.”
We begin with a need that moves us to pray. We pray because we trust God will hear our petition, and there is a part of this trust that comes from a “sweepstakes mentality,” that with luck or “baka sakali” we will get something that will help us.
Then the process transforms this trust into the beginnings of hope. As we persevere in this prayer, we look for signs of a “response” from God. This is the beginnings of some form of discernment. We are open to and seek God’s “response” to our prayer.
This openness allows hope to spring from our need and our initial trust. Hope is the foundation of discernment. We discern because there is hope in our heart that we will see and hear God in the day-to-day.
This is vividly shown in rescue operations after a disaster, an earthquake or a typhoon. When searching for survivors, rescuers look for signs of life, and this discernment guides them.
Notice how in this situation, the discernment shifts from the self to the other, the one whose life and presence we look for. This is the prayer of discernment; we seek God’s presence and spirit in our experience.
Then there is the going back into our self. When we discern, we seek God’s presence, and also reflect on our interior movements as we experience this presence.
The Agony in the Garden is the only time we explicitly see what happens during Christ’s moments of prayer with his Father.
Here lies the synthesis, the high point of his journey, mission, prayer. In the prayer of baring his soul—his deepest need, his deepest fears, his most painful struggles—he asks to be spared from his passion and Cross, the mission to which he dedicated his life.
His faith and hope in his Father’s love made Christ vulnerable to his Father at this moment of prayer, as he simultaneously begs to be spared and entrusts himself to his Father’s love. Christ, fully human, is transformed in his prayer. This is now that love that becomes embodied in the Cross and the Resurrection.
This is the journey of prayer. This is the journey of perseverance in prayer.
As we sincerely pray, we hope and discern for signs of hope that our prayer has an answer. This opens us to the other, the movements of God in these signs of hope.
The journey now becomes a prayer of discernment, a journey of accompaniment. If we persevere further, the journey leads us to the Garden. And it is only here that the perseverance in prayer is transformed from need, trust, hope and faith to love, a loving surrender to Love himself.
C.S. Lewis put it succinctly: “Prayer changes me.” We become love, the love of God. —CONTRIBUTED