Sometimes, God seems not to answer our prayers. We have all had times in our lives when we have prayed fervently and persistently and God seems not to respond. It could be the death of a loved one, sickness, loss of a job, a miscarriage, or many other situations. This can lead to a crisis of faith, growing weary, losing our trust in God. In these situations, we tend to ask why God does not hear us, why He does not care about us. But maybe what we need in this kind of situation is a change in perspective.
We human beings are limited by our nature. We see narrowly – because we are limited by what we can know through experience; we cannot see the big picture of all that God is doing. God is very different, though; all times are as present to Him. God sees the big picture – He knows how He will answer our prayers, and the ways in which He will do so are already present to Him, even if for us they remain in a cloudy future.
We can never see as God does, but the person of faith can ask God for the gift of wisdom to begin to see like Him, and for a greater trust in His will – a trust that He really is working out all things for the good for those who love Him, as St. Paul puts it. In the Old Testament lesson today, we heard about how the Israelites fared well in battle as long as Moses kept his hands raised up in prayer. But Moses grew tired, and so Aaron and Hur came to hold his hands up. With the help of his brother and friend, Moses was able to keep his hands raised in prayer and the Israelities won the battle.
We too need help being persistent in prayer. We need the support of those around us to encourage us and to be faithful. It is very difficult to make it on our own as believers in the modern world – we need the support of family and friends to preserve the faith that has been given to us. Too many of us try to make it through in isolation, but we need to reach out to others, to share our experience of following Christ with them, to witness to all that He has done in our lives. When was the last time that you shared with someone outside your immediate family – or even within it – about your relationship with God? Oftentimes we don’t realize how much something means with us until we share it with others.
We also receive a lot of support of which we are not even aware. Our parish is a spiritual powerhouse. Every day – not just on Sundays – hundreds of people come to celebrate Holy Mass and receive Holy Communion. There are hundreds of rosaries offered here all day. People are consistently popping into the chapel to visit our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. There are so many prayers being offered here – prayers for the particular intentions of those who offer them, but also prayers for those who God knows needs them most, prayers for our parish, for renewal of God’s love in all our hearts. Most of these prayers are offered by ordinary people just like you, who have devoted themselves to interceding for you. Each Sunday as well, according to the ancient tradition of the Church, one Mass is offered for the good of the parish. And here too your priests pray for you every day, meditating upon the words of scripture, invoking the Blessed Mother and all the saints, and faithfully celebrating the sacraments according to the traditions of the Church. Each of us is a Moses, struggling to hold up his arms in prayer, and each of us is supported by the arms of our brothers and sisters in Christ, by the Church, helping us to persist.
In the Gospel we have a famous image of persistence in prayer – the widow who consistently petitions the unjust judge for justice. She must have been an incredible person. Our Lord says that the judge fears, “lest she finally come and strike me.” A fierce widow indeed! (Maybe you know a widow who’s just as fierce! I think I might.) The petition for which she asks, though, is not just any request – she asks for justice. Someone has wronged her, and she needs the help of the judge to restore justice.
Thus the Lord says, “Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out ot him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.” Our Lord does not promise that our prayers will be answered in the way that we think is best, but He does promise something even better: He promises that He will do for us what is just and what is right. We too cry out like the widow for justice and for vindication, but in a way that is quite different. The prayer of the Christian should be a constant cry for vindication against the assaults of the Devil, against the forces of sin in the world, and to that cry our Lord has already responded definitively. Jesus Christ answered our deepest prayers for vindication against evil when He suffered for us on the Cross and rose again, trampling the Devil underfoot.
For this reason, we should pray not only with persistence, but with confidence. Christ has already died and risen, fulfilling the greatest aspirations of our hearts to be set free from our sins and made worthy of spending eternity with Him in Heaven. But He is not a God who merely sits on His throne in Heaven, content to let the events of the world play out as they will. No – He is a personal God, a God who took on our human flesh and became one of us in Jesus Christ. And so He wants to have a relationship with us, a relationship we maintain through persistent and confident prayer.
At the end of this Gospel passage, our Lord asks, “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Until Christ comes again, we will continue to live in a fallen world, in a world where sin and death cling to the last remnants of their power. But that power has been broken by Christ, and what remains for us is to wait in faith. Christ will find faith on earth when He comes again if we remain in persistent and confident prayer.
When we trust in God with confident and persistent prayer, we can rest in the assurance that He will never abandon those who love Him.
The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson
St. Charles Borromeo Church, Ft Wayne
XXIX Sunday through the year, A.D. MMXVI