Sunday, October 16, 2016

"Time is the patience of God." (Reflections on Perseverance in Prayer, on the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Luke 18:1-8)

The pagans of Jesus' time had a practice they called fatigare deos, “tiring the gods”. They believed that their perseverance in telling the gods what they want would pay off, because the gods would eventually get sick and tired of hearing their prayers and would finally grant their requests.

The story of the woman and the judge in today’s gospel reading seems to resemble this ancient pagan practice of “tiring the gods”.

But it is quite different in fact! Because the point of Jesus’ story is precisely that we aren’t like the poor ignored woman before God, and that God is not at all like this indifferent judge. God isn’t someone who will hear and respond to us only because we’ve worn him out with our prayers.

“Consider the birds of the air”, Jesus says in another part of the Gospels. “They neither sow nor reap. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Or look at the lilies of the field. They neither sew nor spin. Yet not even Solomon in all his splendor was arrayed like them”. “If you know how to give your children good things, how much more will your heavenly Father give you what you need”.

Trusting in God’s wisdom is the point of today's parable. We are to trust that God knows all our needs even before we speak them. “Even the hairs on our heads have all been counted", for "God knows each one of us by name”.

We don’t have to ‘tire’ God; we have to trust him. And trusting him means two things.

First, it means trusting that while he may not immediately give us what we ask for, God always knows what we need, and will always give it to us when we need it.

We all have our challenges, our crosses, the things about ourselves we strive to overcome. Because I entered seminary at a very young age, one of the constant problems I had was a very strong attraction and fascination with girls. On many occasions, it caused me an inordinate amount of inner turmoil. I spoke to my spiritual director, I was honest with my formators, I busied myself with work, I prayed for help, but the challenge never seemed to go away.

One afternoon, fed up, frustrated and ready to throw in the towel, I poured my heart out to my spiritual director. "Be patient", he said. "Persevere. In God's own time and in his own way, trust that He will assist you, perhaps even free you from this burden". A philosopher once said, "time is the patience of God". It should be ours too. In God's own time, all shall be well.

Second, trusting in God’s wisdom means realizing that we pray, not to tire him into giving what we ask, but to remind ourselves of our dependence on him. To persevere in prayer is to increase our trust in God, because in doing so, we increase our confidence in ourselves. The ultimate purpose of prayer is not just to get what we ask, but to make us strong, confident, and without fear in facing the challenges and difficulties of our life and vocation.

“Do not fear", Scripture tells us, "for God has our name written on the palm of His hand”. It is when we realize the profound meaning of trust in God’s care that we discover deep within our very selves, a power and force that can overcoming tremendous odds—something that is itself a gift of grace.

To borrow the words of a famous atheist, “in the midst of winter,” prayer allows us to “find in ourselves, an invincible summer”.

“Persevere”, Jesus challenges us in today’s gospel, and trust that in God's own time, all things are possible.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)