October 16, 2022: Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary time - Pastor’s Corner
As we continue reading from the Gospel of Luke, we find ourselves in the middle of a trilogy on prayer. Last week, the Gospel highlighted how the prayer of thanksgiving transformed the Samaritan leper’s cure into healing. Next week, we will hear how the humility of the tax collector opened his heart to receive the mercy of God. This week, Christ relates the parable of the persistent widow in order to illustrate the efficacy of perseverance in prayer. Humility, perseverance and gratitude: these three virtues are potent ingredients of healthy prayer.
This parable of perseverance speaks to one of the fundamental difficulties we might have when it comes to prayer. As a priest, I am often asked, “Father, when I pray, God doesn’t answer me. I don’t always get what I ask for. Why doesn’t my prayer seem to work?” While there are many possible ways to respond, in this Gospel, Jesus implies that we can fail at prayer because we become easily discouraged when divine response is not obvious and immediate. Three aspects of the widow’s persistent, pestering petition provide a possible path for powerful prayer. First, the widow’s petition shapes her day: she cries out “day and night” for a just rendering of her case. She does not rest until she is heard. For us, we might ask: does prayer form the fabric of our day? I recently read a survey that showed that among practicing Christians, we pray about 3-5 minutes a day on average. If you run the numbers, that works out to about one-third of one percent of our day (even if you assume 8 hours of sleep, it is still .4% of our waking hours). Safe to say, for most of us, prayer does not shape the structure of our day. We ought not to be surprised when our prayer does not seem effective if we don’t invest time in it. Of course, in the midst of our busy lives, we know that we ought to take more time to pray. But here Jesus’ words challenge us not just to abstractly desire to take the time, but rather, to concretely make the time during the day. For example, this month of October celebrates our Lady of Rosary and last week, we handed out rosaries and prayer guides. Even if they spent the week collecting dust, no worries, pick it up and pray it. Praying the Rosary takes about 14 minutes to pray, or about 1% of our day. It is precisely the sort of prayer than can shape the fabric of our day.
Second, the widow persists even when the situation seems hopeless. The judge in the parable is known to be corrupt and dishonest. His incentive for adjudicating justly for a helpless widow seems remote. Yet the widow remains undaunted. In our prayer life, there is no situation, no broken relationship, no vice or addiction that cannot be healed, transformed and restored by God’s grace through prayer. Next week, we will begin our St. Jude novena, a powerful time to connect with our Lord through the intercession of the patron saint of difficult and impossible requests. Precisely when the situation makes it hardest to pray, Christ invites us to pray the hardest.
Third, it is not just the time or intensity of prayer which makes it effective, but prayer “works” when it establishes a relationship. Jesus ends this Gospel with the searing question, “when the Son of Man comes will He find faith on the earth.” Often we have a “vending machine” sort of image of prayer. We insert the currency of petition, punch in our desired flavor of grace and expect that our request will emerge. But St. Theresa tells us that prayer is “talking to God like a friend.” Prayer establishes a relationship. It puts us in contact with the one who knows not just what we want, but what we need. As we strive to be people of faith, let us never give up hope that our prayers are heard by our merciful and compassionate Father, who will always give us what we need to remain in his love.