29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
There was no more deadly enemy of the Jews at the time of the Exodus than Amalek and his tribe. In those difficult days of wandering in the desert it was either kill or be killed. Perhaps that explains the bloody and warlike tone of today's first reading. However, we have this reading today because it provides us with an example of persistency in prayer which coincides with today's Gospel account from St. Luke.
Today's parable, as St. Luke tells us, is about "the necessity to pray always without becoming weary." Earlier translations talk about the necessity of praying so as not "to lose heart." Our Lord makes it clear that if even dishonest and evil people give in to persistence, why wouldn't we expect our heavenly Father to hear our prayers?
Will not God then secure the rights of His chosen ones
who call out to Him day and night?
What does our Lord mean by prayer? A few weeks ago the disciples asked, "Lord, teach us how to pray." We know that Jesus cautioned us to avoid useless multiplication of words in prayer. He seemed to like his prayers short and to the point.
Scholars tell us that even the "Lord's Prayer" is a condensation of a number of much longer Hebrew prayers into their real essence. In it we begin by recognizing our right relationship with God. We pray that God's will be done--not ours. When we pray for our daily bread, we acknowledge that everything we have comes from our Father in Heaven. We ask forgiveness for our wrongs and promise to forgive those who have wronged us. Finally, we ask for help in avoiding temptation and evil.
Of course, Jesus always makes it clear that it is the faith of the person and not the words that makes a prayer effective.
In the last few weeks He has given us a number of examples of short but effective prayers. Two weeks ago He said,
When you have done all you have been commanded,
say, 'We are unprofitable servants;
we have done what we were obliged to do.'
Believe it or not, this is a prayer. In it we recognize our dependence on God and recognize our obligations to Him and our fellow man.
Last week the ten lepers only had to cry out, "Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!" to be cured of their horrible disease. To the one leper who returned to thank Him, He said, "Stand up and go; your faith has saved you." Next week, we will hear the famous story of the tax collector who went to the temple to pray.
But the tax collector stood off at a distance
and would not even raise his eyes to heaven
but beat his breast and prayed,
'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.'
We will see next week that our Lord makes it clear that it was the attitude of humility expressed by the words of the tax collector which caused his prayer to be answered.
Faith is the primary ingredient in prayer but St. Paul in his letter to Timothy insists that faith is based on the Word of God. Timothy was ordained by Paul and put in charge of his own local community. This letter is important because Paul is instructing the new bishop in his duties. Above all, Paul urges Timothy to be persistent and not to lose heart. Timothy, like many of us, learned the faith from his parents and grandparents. Paul tells him to "remain faithful to what you have learned and believed."
Although Paul's words are addressed to a church leader, they are appropriate to all of us. Our prayer life will be sterile if it is separated from Scripture for all "scripture is inspired by God."
For most of us the best way to be persistent in prayer is to attend Mass every Sunday, and daily if possible. The Mass is not a private or individual prayer but the prayer of the whole community of faith. If we look at it closely, we will see that it is a collection of prayers all based on Scripture. We begin in the Confiteor by recognizing our own weaknesses and faults. After hearing the proclamation of the Word of God, we offer our own petitions to God and bring our offering to the altar as a symbol of thanksgiving for all we have received. Before Communion we pray together the Lord's Prayer. In the Agnus Dei we ask the Lamb of God to have mercy on us just as the lepers did. Then we say with the priest the great prayer derived from the words of the Roman centurion, "Lord I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but only say the word and my soul will be healed." Finally, at Communion we receive our true daily bread.
I am not saying that we should neglect traditional prayers like the Hail Mary, or the Rosary or the various litanies. All of these are profoundly scriptural. But we should avoid the mindless repetition of words. The greatest of prayers is still the Mass and the basic reason for attending is so that through all the troubles and trials of life, we will not grow weary and lose heart.
Reading 1. Exodus 17: 8-13
Reading II. 2 Timothy 3: 14-4:2
Gospel. Luke 18: 1-8 (pray always).