Readings: Book of Exodus 17:8-13; Second Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy 3:14-4:2;
Gospel According to Saint Luke 18:1-8
Our ancestors in the faith, the children of Israel, went forth from slavery in Egypt accompanied by the Patriarch Moses. Their destination was the Promised Land, Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey. There was an expectation of prosperity and contentment after so long a time of misery and enslavement in a foreign land. The people had wandered for forty years in the desert before reaching their goal, undergoing trials of various kinds, and even coming close to losing hope of ever seeing the Promised Land.
The pilgrimage or Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt into Canaan has been and continues to be a paradigm or pattern for all who go to God. For millennia, believers have looked to Moses and the Hebrew desert-wanderers as exemplifying the journey of the soul to God.
Such a journey or passage requires purification and change, asking one to put preferences aside and make way for the needs and hopes of others, in order to form one family on the same path to the eternal dwelling place of God. The people who set out on such a journey become transformed by the experience if they truly persevere in faith, hope and love.
Such was the experience of the Hebrews and such is ours as well. Paradoxically, Moses the leader did not enter the Promised Land, but died beforehand, nonetheless considered a fearless and faithful pathfinder for God’s people, encountering many trials along the way, listening to God and being God’s spokesperson.
The people who followed Moses encountered setbacks that were external, such as hunger and thirst. Other trials were interior, such as the temptation to infidelity to God and idolatry, making gods of what is not God.
All of us, in this twenty-first century, go through the same kinds of difficulties and trials in our lives. As the Israelites experienced, we too discover within ourselves a lack of confidence in God’s help, and often end up putting our trust in fleeting things, such as money, pleasure or ambition, rather than God’s providential care for us.
As a help in the journey and to keep us on the right track, Jesus offers us precisely what we need in our struggles, namely a life of prayer, wherein we place all our hope in God.
“Our help is from the Lord who made heaven and earth,” is what we proclaim in the Responsorial Psalm today. Placing Christ at the center of our life, we are able to meet life’s challenges and burdens with trust that the trials will not break us, but make us more ready to enter into a life of love and service as God’s own people.
All of us need to pray more and better, and the example given us in the Gospel passage today is a widow who without fear or shame calls out with trust and hope all the day long. That is to be our attitude as well. “Never despair of God’s mercy,” Saint Benedict says it in his Rule for Monks that we Benedictines follow in the monastery.
Followers of Christ will even have to put up with a great deal of unjust treatment at the hands of those opposed to God, just as the widow in the Gospel had to do. Despite this reality, we must continue to ask for God’s help day and night, without giving up, never growing faint. We can always build our hope upon our Lord’s words that God, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, is in fact so different from an unjust judge simply because God is all good, merciful and gracious to his children.
Too easily, perhaps, people give up praying when they don’t receive the response they desire. They conclude that prayer is of no use. God answers our prayers, but not always as we expect or request, but still we believe God truly answers our prayers. The seemingly long delay of the coming of God’s kingdom ought not to make us grow weary or give up in praying.
“Whoever prays well, lives well,” the great Church Father Saint Augustine of Hippo once said. That is certainly the teaching of Jesus and valid for us today as well. That doesn’t mean knowing all the right formulae, but asking from the heart for all that we need from our God: patience, love, perseverance, forgiveness, gentleness, humility, peace and contentment with what we have and who we are. These are some of the basics we should hold dear, but always desiring that they might increase within us.
The Lord loves us without measure and calls us to intensify the bonds of love between individuals and families, communities and nations, to form in Christ one body. We are called to do this everywhere and at all times, never losing patience, as Saint Paul asks of Timothy in the second lesson at Mass today.
We come to church to worship God, to pray for our needs, and those of the entire world. We may feel fragile and insignificant, not capable of making an impact by our seemingly small lives or efforts. However, God accepts each and every one of us, with outstretched hands, and is always ready to hear and answer us with grace that never fails. Let us rejoice in this great gift from a God who loves us with infinite love.
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB