(Coincidently, I write this gospel reflection on the feast day of the author, St. Luke. Happy feast day to all Lukes out there!)
We see this week a parable in which Jesus speaks of a woman who persisted in asking a judge for justice. The judge, no doubt annoyed by this nagging woman, relented and fulfilled the woman’s request. There is a clear message of persistence. It reminds me of St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians when he writes “pray without ceasing” (5:17). Persistence in prayer is often rewarded. However we know that it sometimes isn’t.
I’m reminded of a story about a poor old woman who would stand in her balcony and loudly pray to God for all he has given her. Her atheistic neighbor would be driven crazy by her constant prayers. One day she loudly prayed to God of her need for food. Well, the neighbor heard this and thought to himself, “Right! I’ll fix her! I’ll buy the food, place it on her balcony and when she comes to pray I’ll tell her is was me, not God!” So she goes out to pray, like she does, and finds the food. She prayed with a renewed exuberance, thanking God all the more; thanking him for the food! The neighbor pipes up that it was him who gave her the food, not God. Praying all the more in thanks she says, “Oh, how great you are God! You even made an atheist pay for it!”
God fulfills prayer. But rarely as we expect. God gives us what we need, but in his perfect timing. Pray without ceasing, constantly, like the nagging woman. But you don’t have to nag God. Yes it’s good to ask God for things. Even repetitively. But there runs a real risk of think about God as a giant Santa Claus in the sky who gives us what we ask for. Prayer is more than that. Persistent prayer, constant prayer, takes many forms. A great theologian said once (I’m not sure who and when), unless you’re screaming at God in the street in the pouring rain, then it’s not really prayer. The point he’s trying to make is that prayer comes from the heart, whatever shape that looks like. Some of us might be familiar with the A.C.T.S of prayer: Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. But prayer from the heart doesn’t always fit in these categories. Whatever our mood, sorrow, disgust, fear, joy, awe, silence, indifference, and so much more, God is there with us. Prayer recognizes God accompaniment through good times and bad. Prayer is an opening of our hearts to God; to pray always is to keep those lines of communication open.
This is founded on faith. “Faith in action” is often used as a slogan in the Catholic Church. It counteracts much of the “faith alone” Protestant theology. Here the action is prayer: persistent prayer. Our faith in God naturally leads to a deeper relationship with him. This relationship is recognized by action, just read the Letter of James. A vague acknowledgement of some “greater power” is not a relationship with God. It’s like looking at the shadow of God and recognizing that he’s there. Look at God! Confront him in the street! Talk to him! Listen in silence: frequently. And you may begin to get a sense of a relationship. A relationship based on faith, which through prayer, calls us to action. But will there be any faith on earth when the Son of Man comes?