Homily for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday of the Year October 16, 2022

   Persistence in Prayer

Inasmuch as prayer runs through our readings as a common theme today, I want to share some favorite stories about prayer…One summer a young family came back home for a vacation. The little girl’s grandfather looked into her room one evening, and found his granddaughter on her knees, hands folded, looking very serious. As he listened intently, he heard her speaking in a slow, measured tone: A…B…C…D…. The grandfather went into the room, touched the girl gently on the shoulder and asked her what she was doing. She replied, “I’m saying my prayers. I can’t think of the right words, so I’m saying the alphabet. Jesus will know how to make the right words from the letters…E…F…G…”


Isn’t that beautiful? The wonderful innocence of a child. Jesus said that unless we become like little children, we will not enter the Kingdom of God.


And then there’s the story of an elderly man who was quite ill and confined to his bed. A friend comes to visit, and in an offhand way, he asks the man if he has been able to pray. The older man says that he’s not even sure what prayer is. He has heard a lot of sermons over the years, but most of it just went over his head. Well, the friend said, here’s what has helped me to pray. We’ll put this chair next to your bed, and in your heart see Jesus sitting in this chair. Talk to him as you would to a good friend. The old man said he would give it a try.


Some time later the man’s daughter found that her father had died in his sleep, and it looked as if he had fallen out of bed. Part of him was on the floor, but his head was on the chair, as if it were in somebody’s lap.


In recent general audiences that the Pope has each week, Pope Francis has been teaching about prayer. Let me quote part of what he teaches. Prayer enables us “to address God with simplicity and familiarity, as one would speak to a friend. It is knowing how to go beyond thoughts, to enter into intimacy with the Lord, with an affectionate spontaneity….True prayer is familiarity with and confidence in God. It is not reciting prayers like a parrot, blah, blah, blah, no. True prayer is this spontaneity and affection for the Lord. This familiarity overcomes fear or doubt that his will is not for our good, a temptation that sometimes runs through our thoughts and makes our heart restless and uncertain, or even bitter….


“…the sign of the encounter with the Lord is joy. When I encounter the Lord in prayer, I become joyful….Sadness, or fear, on the other hand, are signs of distance from God. To be in prayer does not mean saying words, words, no: being in prayer means opening my heart to Jesus, drawing close to Jesus, allowing Jesus to enter into my heart and making us feel his presence.”


I look at growth in prayer as similar to growth in a loving relationship. When a couple meet and fall in love, they want to spend time together. It is not unusual to ache for each other, spending hours and hours talking and discussing and sharing life. But contrast that with a couple that has been together for many years. I think of elderly grandparents, sitting in rocking chairs near each other, still obviously deeply in love, but not having to say a word. Just being together in a relationship that has deepened and ripened over the years.


St. John Vianney, a pastor of a poor rural parish in France, reported that one day he was leaving to visit parishioners, and he happened to see a man in the church, sitting quietly near the tabernacle. He was surprised that, when he returned late that evening, that same man was still sitting there. “What have you been doing here all day?” he asked. The old man replied, “Why, I’ve been looking at the Lord, and he has been looking at me, and we’re both very happy.” That’s prayer, a real relationship of love, built up over a lifetime of working at it, spending time, speaking, listening, using formal prayers, but ultimately moving beyond words to a relationship in which love is simply shared and nothing more needs to be said.


In our gospel reading Jesus teaches that our God is not like the cruel, uncaring judge who has to be won over. We’re the apple of his eye already. He created us and loves us infinitely. He knows what we need even before we ask.


There’s a mystery to prayer, isn’t there? Sometimes, when we have prayed long and hard for something and don’t get it, we feel we haven’t been heard, and so we give up.


But in today’s gospel Jesus is saying don’t give up. We have the example of Jesus himself. On the night before he died, Jesus fell on his face in prayer, asking, “If this cup can pass me by…If there’s just some other way…I don’t like the way things are shaping up…Let this cup pass me by. Still, not my will, but yours, be done.” There you have it. Jesus has enough faith to believe that the Father knows what’s best. And in the end Jesus gets something much, much better. He still has to endure the cross, but the cross leads to Resurrection and eternal life—not just for him, but for us, too!


Jesus says if the corrupt judge can give justice to the widow, then God can give “all the more”. All the more! The problem is we don’t always know what “all the more” is. But consider what St. Paul wrote: “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, what God has ready for those who love him” (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:9).