29 Sunday C - Persistence - Homilies

The persistent widow in our midst

It may be a spouse’s Parkinson’s disease, a parent’s Alzheimer’s, a sister’s breast cancer, a child’s leukemia.  The illness of a loved one, a catastrophe striking their family, the suffering of someone dear to them transforms these moms and dads and sons and daughters and friends into dedicated advocates and determined guardians.

 They fight hospitals and insurance companies for the critical medical care needed by their loved one.  They take on the most obstinate bureaucracies for the assistance and services their child is entitled to but denied.  They work tirelessly to raise awareness, raise money, and, when necessary, raise Cain, so that their loved one may live as fully a life as possible, so that a cure might be found, so that other families will not have to experience the pain and anguish they have known.

These dedicated men and women are the Gospel widow in our midst.  They face down the “dishonest judges” of arrogance and avarice; they take on the “fearful judges” of insensitivity and unawareness; they go toe-to-toe with the “judges who fear neither God nor respect any human being,” save themselves.
Their love for the sick and suffering enables them to carry on “day and night;” their faith and conviction in the rightness of their cause empowers them to carry on despite the frustration and inaction they face.

The very compassion of God is their hope and assurance that their prayer will be heard. 

The persistent widow of today’s Gospel lives among us:  She is the poor, the struggling, the ignored, the forgotten; she is the mother and father, the daughter and son, the family and friend of the suffering and dying who care for them and who work for a cure so that other families may be spared what they have suffered through; she is the victim of injustice whose sense of her own dignity enables her to fight on.  Christ promises that the Father hears the worthy prayer of the Gospel widow in her many guises and that her perseverance in faith will one day be rewarded — and Jesus confronts us with our own culpability for the widow’s plight when we become, in our obliviousness and self-absorption, “judges who neither fear God nor respect any human being.”  May the Gospel Jesus be our hope in our own struggles and an inspiration to us to become the answer to the prayers of the “persistent widows” among us here and now. (From The Connections)
Jesus is Lord
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Thomas O’Loughlin
Introductory Notes

J praying at night
Today we hear how Jesus told his disciples a parable about the need to pray continually and never lose heart. We are now gathered to pray for our needs and to thank the Father for his gifts; and the greatest of his gifts is his Son who is present among us. Now let us ask pardon for the times we have not prayed and for the times when we have lost our faith in God.
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Michel de Verteuil
General Comments

Today’s passage is in four movements:
- verse 1: introduction to the parable
- verses 2 to 5: the parable
- verses 6 to 8a: Jesus draws a conclusion from the parable
- verse 8b: a saying of Jesus, flowing from the parable.

At a first reading it is a teaching on prayer, “the need to pray continually and never lose heart”. In the Bible, however, “prayer” is always used in a wide sense to refer to our entire relationship with God, and indeed our spiritual life in general.

After last week’s story of the grateful Samaritan, we return to the parable form of the previous weeks. We must once more remember the ‘laws’ for interpreting a parable, in particular that we must choose which character in the story we want to focus on. In this parable it is clearly the widow. The “unjust judge” is the foil who makes her greatness stand out; he is not important in himself. We must certainly not identify him with God, as some do. He ends up – like God – giving justice to the widow, but that is the only resemblance.

The widow is in fact a wonderful person, one of the great characters of the gospels, indeed of the whole Bible. Like last week’s grateful Samaritan, and like the humble servant of the week before, she will become real for us if we allow her to remind us of people we have known. We can then celebrate her and let her speak a message of repentance to us, both as individuals and as a church at every level: the universal Church; our particular Church, our diocese or the Church of our nation; our local church, parish or small basic community within the parish.

The widow is poor. She cannot back her claims with money or influential people; her power lies entirely in her moral qualities, her passion and her perseverance. We remember people from poor communities (nations, or groups within a nation) who are extraordinarily courageous in “seeking justice against their enemies.” For them justice takes many forms:
- getting their children into a good school
- finding jobs for them after they have left school
- finding money for their children’s food or education
- completing their homes
- maintaining their health so that they continue to serve their families.
Judges gaval
They “persist in coming to”
- government offices
- principals of schools
- hospitals and doctors’ offices
They have little concern for
- what people think about them
- how they appear to the general public
- whether they are being a nuisance.
They show the same qualities in their relationship with God, storming heaven with their prayers, caring little if these are theologically correct.
The “widows” of our experience are often communities:
- poor nations standing up for their rights before the world community
- peace movements in Ireland, the Basque country, within the Israeli-Palestine conflict
- movements representing the oppressed like the landless in Brazil.
Like the widow in the parable, they have no financial or military resources, but they persevere in “seeking justice against their enemies,” confident that their cause will eventually triumph.

Jesus is not condescending to the poor. He draws his followers’ attention to their plight, not to feel sorry for them, not even to help them, but to learn from (be converted, evangelized, by) them. We who reflect on these gospels today are often not in the situation of the widow. The gospel invites us to capture her spirit, making the journey from Luke’s “blessed are the poor” to Matthew’s “blessed are the poor in spirit.” We do this most effectively by entering into solidarity with the “widows” of our society, joining one of their organizations or taking up their cause publicly.

The widow has two important lessons to teach us. First, she had no recourse to force because as a poor person force was not available to her. We must choose to be like her by renouncing violence in any form in our “seeking for justice”. So too we are often lacking in passion in our search for justice. This is because injustice does not crowd us as it does poor people. We can survive without any dramatic change in our circumstances so we can afford to say, “This is how life is,” and leave things like that. The poor are like the widow, they do not have that luxury; they seek justice with passion because for them it is a matter of life or death. By entering into solidarity with them we too learn to seek justice with passion.
We think of NGOs demonstrating against the world’s economic system, against wrong development projects, as they have done in recent years in Seattle, in Quebec, in Genoa. Most of the demonstrators are not poor themselves, but they have identified with the poor and in the process taken on the qualities of the widow in the parable:
- seeking justice with passion,
- refusing to be put off by lack of success,
- renouncing violence.

There are times when destiny arranges for us to share the experience of the poor:
- we loose our wealth
- we become ill and must fall back on the facilities (or lack of them) of the poor
- we are victims of violent crime – a common occurrence for poor people.
The terrorist attacks of September 11 are an obvious example. We turn these situations into moments of grace when we imitate the widow in the parable (and those we meet in real life).

Verses 6 to 8a. If we are starting from experience – as we must – we will have to interpret Jesus’ promise that “he will see justice done to them and speedily”. It certainly does not happen literally. I suggest two possible interpretations (you will probably find others):
a) We take “justice” as the objective righting of wrongs. This is often a long time coming, but when it does come, we are so relieved (and surprised) that we forget the long wait; it appears to come “speedily”.
b) We can apply the saying to spiritual growth. Once we develop the right attitude then we “speedily” know that our prayers are answered, according to Jesus’ teaching that once we knock the door is already opened. We celebrate the times when we (or others) have experienced this.

Verse 8b. We are invited to identify with Jesus as he utters the anguished cry, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?” It is a “feeling” statement, and we must read it as such, not rationalize it.

We can interpret it in two ways:


a) How few people have faith like that widow! Since we have total confidence that the Son of Man will in fact come, it is an expression of regret. What a pity that so few people are willing to wait!
b) How long it takes before the Son of Man comes! I wonder if anyone will wait that long. When we feel those reactions within ourselves, it means that Jesus is at work in us.
 

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Gospel Notes

Today’s reading forms a distinct section of Luke’s gospel and is found nowhere else in the gospels. It is a difficult passage because it brings together the theme of prayer with that of the sufferings of the Christian community who must persevere in hope during the long wait to see God’s justice, and also brings in, once again, the theme of the appearing of the Son of Man. This final theme has its most enigmatic exposure in Luke in 17:20-37 — a passage so difficult that it has been skipped in the Lectionary — where the moment of the appearing of the Son of Man is presented as sudden and wholly unexpected, but also as the day of the vindication of those who have remained faithful to God.

In preaching today we have to approach this text at two levels. The first is to concentrate on the core story: prayer and perseverance. On this we have a well-formed parable where the poorest of the poor, a widow (the very symbol of powerlessness in an agrarian patriarchal society) is shown as the contrast to the disciple who can stand before the righteous God. If you can accept that a mere widow can succeed before an unjust human power, then how can you doubt that God, who is goodness and righteousness, will not hear your prayers? This core, with its combination of teaching on prayer and concern for the poor, forms a more than adequate basis for catechesis today. However, there is also a second level of meaning within which Luke wraps the parable: not only have the Christians to wait for vindication, not only must they persevere in hope, but they must recall the coming of the Son of Man. So the final verse puts before the listeners this question: Yes, indeed, God is faithful and will in the end vindicate his chosen ones; but what of the disciples? Will they wait and persevere until that moment of vindication (which Luke describes here, and in 17:20-37, as the moment of ‘the coming of the Son of Man’)? This is a theme which is probably too complex to present in a homily at a Eucharist especially since the theme of the Son of Man is not part of our preaching tradition. However, it does add another dimension to how Luke sees discipleship.
 

Sean Goan
Gospel Notes

In this gospel we return to themes of faith and prayer. The parable told by Jesus here is similar to the one told in 11:1-13 about the friend who comes at midnight looking for bread. This time, however, the character is even more contrary because he is an unjust or corrupt judge. In the face of such a person a poor widow would have had little chance of having her case dealt with fairly. Yet she is put before us as an example of perseverance — she simply won’t be put off and finally he gives in. Clearly Jesus is not saying God is like the unjust judge, a point he makes in the conclusion, but he is asking how many people would be willing to persevere as the woman did.
Human Rights


Reflection
The Gospel of Luke as we have seen returns often to the theme of prayer. Not only does Jesus teach about prayer but he is depicted as a man of prayer. When he speaks about it he does so in terms that may surprise us. His focus is on the attitude of the one praying rather than on God. For Jesus, it goes without saying that he trusts deeply that God hears our prayer. Jesus’ concern is that we might not believe this and so give up. Therefore in Luke we see people praising and thanking God, giving out to God, turning to him in their need. The message is simple: keep on praying and remember that its purpose is not to change God but to change us.
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 Homily notes

1. ‘Now will God not see justice done to his chosen who cry to him day and night even when he delays to help them?’ When most Christians hear these words they immediately think of their own needs and wants, and their prayers, and their de­sire to have their prayers answered. This is an interesting move. We know that love is incompatible with selfishness or self-centredness, yet when we hear about prayer and the an­swer to prayer, we think first of our prayers, we think selfishly.

2. But if we are to be able to think about this gospel, then the first step is to move the focus out from our selfishness – only then will we have that purity of mind and heart that will allow us to glimpse the meaning of what the Christ is saying to us. The first question is not ‘Why does God not answer my prayers?’ but ‘Who are the chosen ones of God for whom the Father will see justice done?’ From the times of the prophets who spoke about God’s defence of the anawim, to the Christ, and down through the life of the church, there has been but one answer: the poor. The Lord will vindicate the poor as the Lord vindicated Lazarus who sat, full of sores, at the door of the rich man’s house (Lk 16).

3. The great Dominican theologian, Gustavo Gutierrez, once said: ‘Poverty is a multi-faceted, inhuman, and unjust reality; poverty is complex. Important though the economic dimen­sion is, poverty is not simply an economic reality … This point is reinforced when we see how complex the idea of ‘the poor’ is in the Old and New Testaments: it may refer to those who beg to survive; to the sheep without a shepherd; to those
ignorant of the Law; to those called in John’s gospel’the ac­cursed’ (In 7:49); to women, children, foreigners and notori­ous sinners; to those afflicted with serious diseases … Poverty is not a matter of fate; but a condition brought about; it is not a misfortune, but a matter of injustice … It is the work of human hands: of economic structures; of social greed; of racial, cultural and religious prejudices that have accumulated over history; of ever more overweening econ­omic aspirations. It follows that its abolition lies within our poweL’

4. Of course, there will be many – included in the assembly gathered to receive the gifts of the Lord’s bounty at the Eucharistic table – who will find such ideas subversive and who would prefer an abstract homily on the ‘problem of unanswered prayers’. So is this something that should be ad­dressed at the Eucharist? The answer lies in the fact that the Eucharist is the celebration of love: God’s love for us in Christ, our attempt to pattern that love in our relationships, and to return it as our sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise. To quote Gutierrez again: ‘Christianity sees in the refusal to love other people nothing less than sin: the ultimate root of poverty and dehumanisation.’

rosary
5. Let us note the sad fact that poverty is becoming more wide­spread, not less, in the world. We live at a time when the planet’s population is clustering at the extremes of the econ­omic spectrum: the gap between those with use of the re­sources, with scientific and technical know-how, and those without, is widening. More and more the people of the planet are falling into one or other group: the exploiting and the exploited. And it happens variously in each society so, for ex­ample, even in poor societies women are more exploited than men. Indeed, some economists talk of the ‘ feminisation of poverty’ because women are always more affected by poverty in its various forms (economic, medical, educational) and, then, in addition, women experience discrimination from men, and may also suffer more if they belong to disadvantaged cultures or races. If one wants to know the facts one can just look them up in reports by the World Bank – all there on the internet.

6. This poverty in all its shapes insults human dignity and is contrary to the will of God. When we as Christians work to create a poverty-free world, we are not engaging in some sort of social crusade – although that is all it will appear to be to those who do not embrace of mystery of the Christ – but ac­tualising the presence of the love of God for every human being that is seen in the coming of the Christ. It is because the Father has sent Jesus to all who are in need, that we can actu­alise this love in combating the inequalities and prejudices of our present situation.

7. But there is a sting in the tail of today’s gospel: shall we be willing to take on this task of being the conveyors of God’s love to those who cry for justice? It is the willingness to take on this task, the work of the Christ, that is faith. Faith is work­ing with Jesus in his work, not an exercise in ‘ticking boxes’ about whether we accept some random religious ideas. So will the Son of Man find any faith on the earth? Or put another way, will we simply let injustice run rampant so that no one undoes the effects of that sin which enslaves so many of God’s beloved?

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Prayer Reflection

crying prayer
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, they shall have their fill.”   …Matthew 5:6
Lord, we thank you for the widows of the modern world
who persist in looking for justice:
- ethnic minorities throughout the world
- women looking for equal opportunities in society
- those who work for land reform in Brazil
- Caribbean parents giving up everything to secure a good education for their children.
We thank you that they continue to cry out night and day,
even when you delay to help them,
trusting in your promise to see justice done to them, and done speedily.
They assure us that when the Son of Man comes he will find faith on earth.

“No one possesses the truth, everyone seeks it.Bishop Pierre Claverie of Algeria, martyred in 1996
Lord, help us to seek the truth humbly and perseveringly,
like the widow in the gospel, crying out day and night
even when it delays in revealing itself to us.

“In this Holy City of three mighty religions, no one seems to have the faith to make the peaceful decision.”  …David Rudder, calypsonian in Trinidad, commenting on the situation in Jerusalem
Lord, we thank you for those who are working for peace
- between Israelis and Palestinians
- in the Basque country, in the Congo
- between Muslims and Christians worldwide
- in the campaign against terrorism.
We thank you that they keep on coming and saying, “We do not want war,”
continue crying to you day and night even when you delay to help them.

Lord, we have created a civilization in which self-interest is the highest value,
and competition the main incentive to progress.
The ideal is to have neither fear of you nor respect for man.
Forgive us that as a Church we have given up hope that things could be different,
and even say that you want them to be as they are.
We pray that your Church may be like the widow,
always coming back in search of new solutions,
with the confidence that if we do not meet with success,
it is merely that you are delaying to help us,
for the poor are your chosen ones
and your will is to see justice done to them and done speedily.

All holy desires grow by delays.”  …St Gregory
Lord, many religion teachers offer people a naive teaching on prayer,
making it seem easy, as if we merely have to ask for things and we get them.
Help us to share with others the teaching of Jesus
on the need to pray continually and never lose heart.
Remind us that when you delay to help us
you ensure that there will always be faith on earth.

“God said, ‘If it is I who allow you to be wounded so badly do you not believe that I will heal you most lovingly in the very same hour?’” .…Mechtild of Magdeburg
Lord, there are times when we experience you as a hard judge
and we are poor widows who must keep coming to you,
demanding justice against those who oppress us.
Lead us deeper into ourselves
where we can experience that we are your chosen ones
and you will see justice done to us and done speedily.

Lord, at this time in human history many are seeking vengeance for terrorist attacks.
We pray that your Church may be in word and in deed the prophetic voice of Jesus
telling his disciples the parable of the widow seeking justice against her enemies

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HOMILIES

 1. Fr. Dwight Campbell 

Perseverance in Prayer 

Purpose: In this Sunday’s Gospel, Our Lord reminds of us the necessity to pray continually without becoming weary and never losing heart. To do this, we must be transformed in how we define prayer and how we allow the Lord into each and every aspect of our daily lives. 

To bring his point home with his listeners, Jesus tells a parable about a dishonest judge who neither fears God nor respects man, to whom a widow comes to request a just decision against her adversary. The judge has no time for this bothersome woman’s petition and repeatedly ignores her request, but the woman perseveres. Finally, to get her off his back, he renders to her a just decision. Jesus then asks a rhetorical question: “Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night, and see that justice is done for them speedily?” We must answer, of course, he will. We know he is an all-good and all-loving Father, and if we persevere in our prayers, like the widow in the parable, and continue to knock at the door of God’s heart, he will open his heart to us and grant our petitions. 

But after asking this question, Jesus then asks another: “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Why does Jesus follow up with this question? Because perseverance in prayer requires great faith, and a corresponding confidence that God always hears our prayers and answers them – though maybe not in the way we want. For God knows what is good for us, and what will, or will not, redound to our salvation. Great faith and unwavering confidence in God’s infinite goodness and loving providence is absolutely necessary in order to persevere in prayer.

The skeptic will object, of course, saying that if God knows everything, then he knows what we need, even before we ask for it. So, there is no need to pray; that prayer is, in this sense, “useless.” But the person with faith responds: It is true that God knows what we need before we ask him; but the fact is that we do not always know what we need, and the very act of praying helps us to clarify our thoughts and intentions, and to better know for what we should be asking. In the very act of praying, we may come to know God’s will for us when we did not know it – or, at least, know it clearly – beforehand.

Moreover, the person of faith knows that God’s will, and its operations in the world and in our lives, is a mystery. Sometimes, the answer to our prayers will be “no,” because God, as a loving Father, knows that what we are asking for would not benefit us or others. At other times, God may want us to pray harder and longer and more intensely before answering our prayers, because by persevering in prayer, our faith deepens and grows stronger. The mystery of God’s will in response to our prayers is brought home in Tertullian’s famous dictum: “Prayer is the one thing that can conquer God.” Our fervent prayer can change the very will of God!

In prayer of petition to God, we must also keep in mind the order that God has established in his Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, in which there exists a Communion of the Saints; i.e., an exchange of prayer and spiritual goods among the members of the Body through Christ, the Head. What this means is that we can call upon the Blessed Virgin Mary, and other saints, to intercede for us before the throne of God. God is never upset, but most pleased, when we follow his divine order.

Listen to the words of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, in a talk during his apostolic visit to Germany: “When Christians of all times and places turn to Mary, they are acting on the spontaneous conviction that Jesus cannot refuse his Mother what she asks; and they are relying on the unshakable trust that Mary is also our Mother – a Mother who has experienced the greatest of all sorrows, who feels all our griefs with us, and ponders, in a maternal way, how to overcome them.” Jesus “cannot refuse his Mother what she asks.” How beautiful! What confidence this should give us in going to Jesus through Mary!

Here is the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s teaching on the Communion of the Saints:

Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness.  . . . They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus (CCC §956).

Of course, the saints themselves offer us striking examples of perseverance in prayer, even during the darkest moments. At the foot of the Cross, the Blessed Virgin Mary “stood,  . . .  enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, joining herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this Victim, born of her” (CCC §964). Our Lady’s steadfast perseverance was rewarded with nothing less than our redemption!

We have all learned, after her death through her letters, that Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta underwent nearly 50 years of profound spiritual darkness, devoid of all consolations from God. But observing her, one would never have known this; for she heroically persevered in her prayer, relying confidently on God through it all.

The Catechism teaches that, in the end, perseverance in prayer comes down to perseverance in love:

{W}e are to pray without ceasing. This tireless fervor can come only from love. Against our dullness and laziness, the battle of prayer is that of humble, trusting, and persevering love (CCC §2742).

Let us persevere, with unbounded confidence, in our prayer by imitating Mary and the saints who persevered in their love for God and neighbor. And let us pray always, never becoming weary, never losing heart!

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2. ACP

A Persevering People

Rome was not built in a day: No great work can ever be achieved without long and patients effort. Look at the art of Michelangelo, the Beethoven concertos, the cathedral of Notre Dame (How many chisel-strokes to release the Pieta from its marble shroud? How many brush-strokes to transfer the Last Judgment from Michelangelo’s teeming imagination to the sanctuary wall of the Sistine?.) Not just the world’s teeming artists and leaders, but everyman, are/is involved in a work of great significance, needing persevering courage to see it through to a successful conclusion; and that work is our salvation. To achieve it, we must co-operate vigorously with God, and in a sense struggle with Him. Today’s liturgy invites us to consider two picturesque examples of perseverance in prayer, and the final success that this achieves.

Moses with upraised arms:

Moses, the man of God, stands on the hilltop interceding for his people who are struggling for their survival in the valley below, attacked by the violent tribe of Amalek. His arms are raised in the classic gesture of intercession (later immortalized in the Cross of Christ, and still used by the celebrant at Mass.) When, out of sheer weariness, his arms begin to droop, Israel fares badly in the battle. With the help of friends he manages to persevere in his mediating prayer, until victory is won. A beautiful prophetic image for Christ, whose prayer continued even when his soul was sorrowful, even unto death. It supports the ideal of intercessory prayer on behalf of others-not, however, in a superficial way or for petty requests; but for matters of life and death, for salvation, release from sin, recovery from depression, strength to cope with problems, perseverance. And when we pray these things for others, we must do so seriously, with a love that is ready for practical service too.

The widow who would not quit:

This quality of dogged perseverance in order to gain an important target is by no means limited to men. History-and our own experience-shows many examples of obstinate struggle by women to achieve particular aims (Joan of Arc; suffragettes; mothers overcoming all bureaucratic barriers on behalf of family.) The style of campaign may be different; but the perseverance and the courage are just as valuable. Today we have the story of the widow, who kept up her petition until finally she forced the judge to try her case and give her justice. Her situation was that of a poor person under threat, but with the law firmly on her side. There was no doubt about the justice of her case, but the problem was to have it taken into court at all. She stands for the need to pray constantly on our own behalf, as well as on behalf of others. We must recognize the depth of our need (especially for peace, love, grace and salvation), and turn to God in a continual petition to answer our needs. Of course, God is not unheeding-like the slothful judge of the parable-but often seems to leave our prayers unanswered for a long while. His will, according to Our Blessed Lord, is that we persevere in prayer and never abandon hope. Persevering In Catholic Practice: More than most other societies, our Catholic Church has urged, and continues to urge, the value of remaining faithful to Certain practices: in our case, personal prayer and the community sacrifice of Sunday Mass. Styles of prayer may change, and there may be improvements in the form of our liturgy; but the basic call of the Church remains the same: to keep up the practice of prayer, both public and private; not to let laziness hold us back, or discouragement cause us to lose confidence in the value of speaking with God. Then with persevering prayer as a fountainhead will flow the strength of faith, and continual renewal of charity that we need for conducting daily life in the proper spirit. So, over a long period, and after many failures followed by sincere renewals, we will make a success of the one great project God has set for our lives. Into his presence we will come, a people who have kept faith with Him across the years in the wilderness, and who finally come to rest in the Kingdom which Christ has promised.


Pray from the heart 

There is a way to pray with the heart, which God cannot but hear, and he cannot but answer. To speak from the heart is to speak to the heart. God can read the human heart, and that is more important than any words I might say.

It is early October, and the family were sitting around eating their dinner. For whatever reason, Christmas came into the conversation. In the course of the conversation, the mother asked young John what he wanted for Christmas, and, after a long pause, he said “A bicycle.” The months went by, and the word “bicycle” was never mentioned again. Not even when the mother bought roller blades for John at Christmas, with which he was delighted. She had decided that, if he really wanted a bicycle, she would have heard about nothing else for all the weeks coming up to Christmas…

There was something that the widow wanted, and, despite all his toughness, the judge just had to give in to her eventually, because she had no intention of letting go, or giving up. If I met an alcoholic who wants to get sober, my initial question is “How badly do you want it? Do you want it bad enough that you are prepared to do what it takes to achieve sobriety?” I knew a young lad who wanted to work for a particular firm, and they had no vacancies. So we went back there eleven times in one month, until the personnel officer threw his hands in the air, and gave him a job!

After speaking about the evil judge Jesus speaks about his Father. If even the judge gave in, how much more certainly will our heavenly Father respond to our prayers? As I said earlier, God can read the heart, and he knows whether I really want what I ask. I don’t pretend to understand this, because I know parents who, at this moment, are begging for the life of their daughter, and it is not likely that their prayers will be answered. I like to think that God gives us what we ask for, unless he has something better to give us. For these parents, they cannot possibly see how God could have something better to give them than a daughter whom they dearly love.

The prayer in today’s gospel is the prayer of petition. It is an important form of prayer, of course, but not the most important. Prayer of praise is the highest form of prayer; but, of course, that is greatly augmented, when my prayers of petition are granted. There can be some confusion around the whole area of prayer. If my prayers are always prayers of petition, I run the risk of being selfish and self-centred; except, of course, when the prayers of petition are for others. Like one of the ten lepers, I can ask, and, when my prayer is answered, I can return to give thanks.

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3. From Connections 

THE WORD:

The focus of today’s Gospel parable is not the evil judge but the persistent widow.  The judge here is not one of the Jewish elders but a paid magistrate appointed by the Roman governors.  These magistrates were notoriously corrupt, extorting money from plaintiffs to secure favorable verdicts.  The widow, typically defenseless in such dealings, persists until the judge just wants to be rid of her.

Jesus does not liken God to the unfeeling, insensitive judge but contrasts God to him:  If such persistence will finally move such an unfeeling and corrupt figure will not the God of mercy and love be moved by the cries of his own beloved people?  The parable of the widow and the unjust judge (found only in Luke’s Gospel) calls us to perseverance in prayer -- prayer that seeks not to force God’s hand but prayer that opens our hearts and minds to his always available grace.

HOMILY POINTS: 

The “persistence” of God’s love for us transcends our own doubts, our distractions, our hurts and disappointments.  We are always embraced in the heart of God, an embrace we experience in the love of others; we are always held in God’s memory, remembered in every moment of forgiveness and healing. 

In the parable of the persistent widow, Jesus assures us that when we are persistent for what is right and just, for what is good and healing, our resolve will one day be rewarded.

Sometimes we are the persistent widow of today’s parable, persevering in seeking what is right and just, trusting in God’s grace in response to our prayer – and sometimes we find ourselves in the role of the judge, who can be the answer to another’s prayer if we stop, listen, and realize that God has given us the means to respond.

The great Jewish theologian Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said that “to pray is to bring God back into the world . . . to expand his presence.”  Prayer does not seek to move God’s heart for what we want; prayer is the opening up of our own heart and spirit to what God wants for us. 

Trappist Father Thomas Keating, the renowned spiritual director and retreat master, explains that “prayer is the fundamental way we relate to God.  Like any relationship, it goes through stages, from acquaintance to friendliness, then on to friendship, love and finally union.”  To become men and women of prayer is to realize God's presence in our lives and trusting in that presence and love for us.

We possess a faith that empowers us with hope and discernment, enabling us to persevere despite the injustices and indignities that are so much a part of life.  Jesus assures us that the integrity, commitment to justice and humility we maintain in the face of skepticism, rationalizations and the amoral “conventional wisdom” will one day be exalted by God.
 

 ILLUSTRATIONS:

1.     From Andrew Greeley:

Once upon a time an anthropologist, one of Margaret Mead’s many husbands, noted that the natives on his little South Pacific Island prayed fervently over their yam gardens after they had planted them. Very interesting, he thought. Poor superstitious people. They think that prayer can actually improve the fruitfulness of their gardens. So he chuckled to himself about their naiveté and credulity. Then he remembered that he was a scientist and that in principle he ought to attempt some kind of controlled experiment before he dismissed the natives as ignorant savages.  

 So he decided that he would plant his own yam gardens in two spots that seemed exactly similar in style and sunlight. He also resolved to tend each of the gardens with equal care. Then he would pray over one and not the other. Unfortunately he didn’t know any prayers. But he did have a Hebrew bible with him. He didn’t understand Hebrew, but he could pronounce the words from after-school class of his youth. So he read a couple of passages each day from the bible over one of the gardens.

 He later admitted that he probably cultivated the garden over which he did not pray with more care, because he really did not want the prayer to work. But it did. He had no idea what to make of the outcome of his experiment and repeated it several times. Each time prayer worked. What does one make of the story?

 Maybe that God is a comedian! 

2.     "Things I Really Don't Understand." 

Recently I received an e-mail message that was entitled "Things I Really Don't Understand." It had a list of questions for which there seems to be no clear-cut answer. Here are a few of them:  

· Why do doctors and lawyers call what they do practice?
· Why is abbreviation such a long word?
· Why is it that when you're driving and looking for an address, you turn down the volume on your radio?
· Why is a boxing ring square?
· What was the best thing before sliced bread?
· How do they get the deer to cross the highway at those yellow signs?
· How did a fool and his money get together in the first place?

These questions represent a lighthearted humorous reminder that there are indeed a lot of things in this life that we just really don't understand.

There are so many things in this life that we just don't understand... that we just can't comprehend. For example, we don't really understand disease. Why is a youngster perfectly healthy for 13 years of his life... and then suddenly just happens to be in a place where he suddenly encounters some germ or bacteria that invades his body and destroys it?

And we don't understand accidents. They are so random and indiscriminate. You start out a day that is like any other day... and then something happens in a matter of seconds... and life is forever different. You can never go back beyond that accident.

On and on we could go with our list... of things we don't really understand...
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3.     The Moth and the Fly 

We all do it. The door of heaven's House of Bread, the ultimate pastry palace, is standing open. But we keep trying to break in the back door of the local bakery.


A parable by a well-known rabbi tells the story of a moth and a fly. One day a moth and a fly were together near a window. The moth sat comfortably on the side peering out, watching as the fly relentlessly flew up and around and straight into the window. The stunned fly would fall, then get up and try again. On and on the fly tried to find a way through the window, and each time failed.  

Finally, the moth said, "Fly, why are you doing that? Can't you see by now that it's not working?  Right over there is another window that's open. Why don't you just go over and fly to freedom through the open window?" "No," said the fly. "If I just try hard enough, I'll find the way out here." So on and on the fly persisted, circling the closed window and slamming its body into it. 

The moth became more and more certain the fly was out of its mind when the solution was so simple. Soon nighttime came. The fly lay exhausted on the window sill, while the moth just shook its head. Just then, a light came on near the ceiling of the room, illuminating an open door at the other side of the room. Without thinking, the moth flew up straight toward the light, fizzled in the heat and fell dead to the floor.


Why do we try so hard to do the things that thwart us and harm us, when God opens doors and windows for us if only we had the faith to enter?  

"Persistence in prayer" is not, I repeat, NOT the message of Jesus' parable in this week's missive... 
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4.     Until You Beat the Path 

I believe persistent prayer is very important, even when such prayers are not answered in the ways we think best. It is important to be unrelenting in our prayers...not only because of the changes our prayers may elicit in God's mind, but for the changes such prayers can work in our own hearts and minds. As Frederick Buechner said years ago, persistence is a key, "not because you have to beat a path to God's door before [God will] open it, but because until you beat the path, maybe there's no way of getting to your door."

Buechner's comment set me to thinking that maybe there's more to this parable than we have sometimes seen. What if Jesus offered this parable not only as a call to prayerful persistence but also as a reminder to the church of the importance of securing justice for the poor and the oppressed in their midst? Alan Culpepper says, "To those who have it in their power to relieve the distress of the widow, the orphan and the stranger but do not [do so], the call to pray day and night is a command to let the priorities of God's compassion reorder the priorities of their lives."
 
Robert Dunham, Whose Persistence?
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 5.     Prayer Does Not Need Proof 

Prayer does not need proof outside itself because its proofs are within. It is in the nature and function of man, like breathing, eating and drinking, and he practices it as part of his very being. 

Samuel Johnson
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6.     We Are God's Answer to Injustice 

Listen to me. If you are being bullied in school, God knows about it and God hates it. If you are being harassed in the workplace, for any reason, God hates it. If you are being taken advantage of--or if you are taking unfair advantage of someone else--there will be a day of reckoning. If there is anyone anywhere praying for God to intervene and put an end to their oppression, eventually that prayer will be heard and that which is wrong will be set right. That's the promise of Scripture. 

Now, where does that leave us? Let me tell you a story. 

A young black man asked his minister why their people had to suffer so much poverty, hardship, and oppression. "Why doesn't God do something?" he wailed.


"He has," said that wise pastor. "He has created you." 

And so Desmond Tutu, now the archbishop of South Africa, became the answer to his own question. 

That's a good lesson for you and me. While we are waiting for God to bring in a perfect and just society, you and I are God's answer to the injustice in our world. That's what it means to take up a cross and follow Jesus. It's not a comfortable position to be in. It's not popular. But it is Christ's way. 

King Duncan, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
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7.     And Then Some 

James Byrnes, who was Secretary of State under FDR, said that the difference between successful people and average people can be summed up in three words. Here are the three words, "and then some." He said, "Average people do what is expected. Successful people do what is expected, and then some." Our widow did what was expected, and then some.

John Wayne Clarke, Sermons for Sundays after Pentecost (Last Third): Father, Forgive Them
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8.      God Knows What I Need 

A little boy knelt down to say his bedtime prayers. His parents heard him reciting the alphabet in very reverent tones. When asked what he was doing, he replied, "I'm saying my prayers, but I cannot think of the exact words tonight. So, I'm just saying all the letters. God knows what I need, and he'll put all the words together for me."

Now, that is not far from a proper way to pray! In seeking prayer we are looking for Christ's mind. We are not sure quite how to word our prayer. So we ask God to take our words and fit them into the correct prayer. We ask him to edit our prayers by cutting out the unnecessary, making corrections, and adding the necessities. We ask God to take our minds and make them his. We ask the Holy Spirit to pray through us. And when we seek in prayer like that, Jesus assures us in the text, we shall find.


Stephen M. Crotts, Sermons for Sundays after Pentecost: Music from another Room, CSS Publishing Company
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9.     Turn to Him in Prayer
 
I heard a pastor tell a story one time of something he saw back in the days of World War II. He was somewhere over in France, and he and a buddy of his were in a house. They happened to be cleaning that house. All of a sudden, the bombs started to fall just as they had begun to mop the kitchen floor.

He said he had a friend with him, a G.I., who was helping him to mop the floor. The floor was just covered with soap and water. When the bombs started to fall, this man tried to run. But the floor was so slippery he couldn't run. He kept falling down. Finally, he got his footing, and when he got to take a first real step, he stepped in the pail and got it stuck on his foot. That caused him to fall again. When he stood back up, he stepped on the mop, it flew up and hit him in the face and knocked him under the stairs. All the time the bombs are falling on that house.

He said this man was just struggling just to get out of that house and get to safety. In all of that bombing and chaos, he prayed and said, "O God, if you will just help me get out of this mess, I will get out of the next one all by myself."

Well, that soldier was right to pray in that situation, but he was wrong to say he wouldn't pray in the next one. You see, we are to turn every care into a prayer, every aggravation into a supplication, and every irritation into an invocation.

We are to pray when we are in trouble, but we are to pray when we are not in trouble. As a matter of fact, if we would give ourselves to more prayer we would get ourselves in less trouble.

James Merritt
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10.  God's Timetable Not Ours 

I heard a story which illustrates how we often confuse God's timing with ours. A country newspaper had been running a series of articles on the value of church attendance. One day, a letter to the editor was received in the newspaper office. It read, "Print this if you dare. I have been trying an experiment. I have a field of corn which I plowed on Sunday. I planted it on Sunday. I did all the cultivating on Sunday. I gathered the harvest on Sunday and hauled it to my barn on Sunday. I find that my harvest this October is just as great as any of my neighbors' who went to church on Sunday. So where was God all this time?" The editor printed the letter, but added his reply at the bottom. "Your mistake was in thinking that God always settles his accounts in October." 

That's often our mistake as well, isn't it -- thinking that God should act when and how we want him to act, according to our timetable rather than his. The fact that our vision is limited, finite, unable to see the end from the beginning, somehow escapes our mind. So we complain; we get frustrated; we accuse God of being indifferent to us; we do not live by faith.


Larry R. Kalajainen, Extraordinary Faith for Ordinary Time, CSS Publishing Company, Inc.
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11.  If You Just Hold Up Your Head 

In a Peanut's cartoon Lucy encourages Charlie Brown: "Look at it this way, Charlie Brown," she consoles. "These are your bitter days. These are the days of your hardship and struggle ..." The next frame goes on: "... but if you just hold your head up high and keep on fighting, you'll triumph!" "Gee, do you really think so, Lucy?" Charlie asks. As she walks away Lucy says: "Frankly, no!" 

Hope is like that. We speak of it more often than we believe in it. Hope is not a strong word for us. It has more to do with "wishing" than "expecting." It has the sound of resignation, an inability to bring about, influence, or even believe that a desired event or goal might ever come to be. 

Theodore F. Schneider, Until the King Comes, CSS Publishing Company
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12.  Parable of the Crazy Old Lady 

Frankly, don't we wish that Jesus had told this parable in a little different way. Couldn't he have gotten the same point across if He had told it something like this:


Verily, verily I tell you that once upon a time there was a good lady who lived next door to an atheist. Every day, when the lady prayed, the atheist guy could hear her. He thought to himself, "She sure is crazy, praying all the time like that. Doesn't she know there is no GOD!" Many times while she was praying, he would go to her house and harass her, saying, "Lady, why do you pray all the time? Don't you know there is no GOD!" But she kept on praying.


One day, she ran out of groceries. As usual, she was praying to the Lord explaining her situation and thanking Him for what He was going to do. As usual, the atheist heard her praying and thought to himself, "Humph...I'll fix her." 

He went to the grocery store, bought a whole bunch of groceries, took them to her house, dropped them off on the front porch, rang the doorbell and then hid in the bushes to see what she would do. When she opened the door and saw the groceries, she begin to praise the Lord with all her heart, jumping, singing, and shouting everywhere! The atheist then jumped out of the bushes and told her, "You crazy old lady. God didn’t buy you those groceries, I bought those groceries!’ Well, she broke out and started running down the street, shouting and praising the Lord. When he finally caught her, he asked what her problem was... She said "I knew the Lord would provide me with some groceries, but I didn’t know he was going to make the devil pay for them!"
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From Fr. Tony Kadavil's Collection:

1:  Never give up!
 
Years ago there was a young man in Illinois with only six months of formal school education. His mother home-schooled him and taught him to have a dream and to keep trying to realize that dream, relying on the power of persistent prayer. First he ran for an office in the legislature and was beaten. Next, he entered business but failed at that, too, and spent the next 17 years paying the debts of his worthless partner. He fell in love with a charming lady and became engaged. But she had a premature death which led the young man to a short-term nervous breakdown. Next, he ran for Congress and was defeated. He then tried to obtain an appointment to the U.S. Land Office, but didn’t succeed. With strong belief in the power of prayer, he ran for U. S. Vice-Presidency and lost. Two years later he was defeated again for the office of Senator. He ran for office once more and was elected the 13th president of the United States, thus realizing his dream by the power of persistent prayer. He was Abraham Lincoln. It took Winston Churchill three years to get through the eighth grade, because he couldn’t pass English – of all things! Ironically, he was asked many years later to give the commencement address at Oxford University. His now famous speech consisted of only three words: “Never give up!” And that is the message of today’s Gospel parable of the poor widow and the corrupt judge. (Harold Buetow in God Still Speaks! Listen). 

 2: Gideon’s experiment with prayer:
 
Many years ago a man named Dalton suggested that the prayer of petition should be put to the test. One-half of England, he said, should pray for rain and then compare the rainfall with the other half who did not pray for rain. He was not, in fact, the first believer with a flair for experimentation. In the Book of Judges, Gideon said to God, "If you really mean to deliver Israel by my hand, as you have declared, see now, I spread out a fleece. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is left dry, then I shall know." Gideon had the mind of a true experimenter.  The following night he reversed his experiment to test God a second time. He prayed, "Do not be angry with me if I speak once again…. Let the fleece alone be dry, and let there be dew on the ground all around it" (Jgs 6:36-40). Prayer isn't just a way of getting what we want, but some people go to the opposite extreme of never asking God for anything (while having no problem with the prayer of praise, thanks, and so on). If it makes sense to thank God for something, it must make sense to ask God for it and to persevere in that prayer as Jesus proposes in today’s Gospel (Bible Diary 2004).

3: "So where was God all this time?”
 
There is a story which illustrates how we often confuse God's timing with our own. A rural newspaper had been running a series of articles on the value of church attendance in its Sunday Religion column.  One day, the editor received a letter which read: "Print this if you dare.  I am trying an experiment.  I have a field of corn which I plowed on Sunday.  I planted it on Sunday. I did all the cultivating on Sunday. I gathered the harvest on Sunday and hauled it to my barn on Sunday.  I find that my harvest this October is just as great as any of my neighbors who went to church on Sunday. So where was God all this time?"  The editor printed the letter, but added his reply at the bottom:  "Your mistake lies in thinking that God always settles his   accounts in October." We who believe in the power of prayer often wrongly think that our persevering prayers will force God to act when and how we want Him to act, according to our timetable and according to our desire. (Rev. R. J. Fairchild)