This week is the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time. You can find the readings here. The theme is persistence in prayer. Today’s reflection is from James Predmore, S.J. You can find the full reflection here, but set forth below is an extended summary:
“Each of the readings tell of persistence in prayer as a virtuous habit, but we have to know the difference between a virtue and hardheaded stubbornness. In Exodus, when Joshua is defending Israel from the attacks of Amalek, Aaron and Hur assist Moses in keeping his hands raised and the troops motivated. The raised hands become a symbol for victory because of God sees the persevering efforts of its spiritual leader. Paul in his letter to Timothy encourages all people to be faithful, whether convenient or not, to proclaim the word and to help others accept the invitations to gain salvation.
The Gospel presents a different portrait of persistence when we learn of a widow who petitions an unjust judge for a fair and correct decision against her adversary. We know little about the merits of the case, but we know the widow swayed the judge’s decision. For all we know she may have bullied him, but we presume that since she was a widow she was on the border line of subsistence and that an unjust ruling would have made her precariously vulnerable. We presume that she was able to get him to look at the unjust law and rule in her favor thus giving her a chance to live without worry. This is the type of advocacy we need against unjust laws and the people who are swayed by political pressures. We want to make it uncomfortable for those leaders who are actively working against helping others come to the right decisions for the common good. Relentless advocacy will make unjust influential leaders do the right thing for society and the individual.
We have to know the difference between a virtuous act and unhealthy boundaries. Two weeks ago, I sat in my office after saying Mass and had my two regularly scheduled morning meetings. When those meetings were over, I noticed I had fourteen phone calls from the same person. She later called six times and had a mutual friend call me three times. I texted her back three times and called her several times over the next few days to address her request, but apparently I did not give her the satisfaction at the time and manner she wanted it and she never returned my calls. This is not the type of persistence that Jesus praises, but it is the type of unhealthy behavior that tells us we must look at our dysfunction. This caller was not looking for a just decision, but was looking to control someone else’s behavior to satisfy her specific needs. If she approached the situation respectfully and for a laudatory goal, her persistence could have been rewarded. However, something else was going on with her and her problems had nothing to do with me. Such persistence only becomes unhealthy annoyances.
Prayer and silent listening will tell us if our desires are God- and other-centered. Jesus tells us that God will speedily provide justice for all those who call out to him day and night. God understands the plight of the poor and wants society to create policies that protects the fundamental rights of the most vulnerable. Therefore, we must bring hope to every situation where we find discouragement, whether it is in the political, legal, or cultural arenas. We must learn to be Christian activists who advance, not our own agendas, but those that represent God’s will for those whose zeal for life might be in danger of getting extinguished. Be patient. We will know it is God’s will if we watch the unfolding of grace before our eyes.
Persevere in small matters as a start. A friend told me the other day that he was going to start painting with watercolors until he saw my second painting. He reasoned that he would not be able paint like me so he wanted to give up, but we have to try. We cannot defeat ourselves until we give a sustained effort first. We do not know what will emerge until we try and we find out how we feel about the process. Everyone can succeed at painting. Everyone can exceed at something that is unique and particular to him or her. I was going to throw my painting in the trash until someone said that he really liked it and thought it should be framed.
The evil spirits run rampant in the world and they are looking for ways to defeat us. We can become our worst enemies if we listen to their words of downfall. These spirits always try to prevent a good person from becoming better – whether blatantly or through silky barely-detectable deceptions. A Christian must always remember that these forces are at work to challenge and defeat our good spirit and therefore we must use greater courage and energy to persist in our good efforts. After all, we are Christians and our Lord has decisively claimed victory over these spirits. We live in the freedom that the Holy Spirit affords us. Therefore our work, whether it activism or striving to actualize our potential, is blessed by God. Give yourself over to the good Spirit’s promptings because it will guide to you holy and life-giving places. Cultivate a habit of patient persistence in prayer and allow God to sanctify your desires. Give God the freedom to extol your gifts in service to others and to invite others to salvation through you. Show the world that your perseverance, with God’s blessing, can bring a just victory to a world in search of balance and order.”