In their long pilgrimage of return from Egypt to the Promised Land, the Israelites under Moses had to battle many peoples. One of their severest battles was with Amalek. As the conflict continued in the valley, Moses stood on the heights, his hands lifted in prayer. When his hands drooped through weariness, the Amalekites seemed to be winning. But when his hands were held high, the Israelites had the advantage. So Aaron and Hur stood beside him and held up his arms till dusk. The Israelites won. (Today’s first reading.)
The whole beautiful doctrine of the Communion of Saints teaches us that God will hear the prayers of one person even more readily when others support him by praying for the same intention – whether the faithful on earth, the souls in purgatory or the saints and angels in heaven. This doctrine is also the basis of Catholic prayer services for healing in our own day.
An earlier example of “campaign prayers” is the apostolate of Bishop Hohenlohe of Germany. Prince Alexander Hohenlohe, a devout German nobleman, became a priest in 1794, and later on an auxiliary bishop. On February 1, 1821, Father Hohenlohe was suddenly cured of an ailment through the prayers of a holy peasant. On June 21, his prayers, joined with those of the same peasant, cured a paralyzed princess. After that, with permission of the pope, the priest began to gather an international list of “co-prayers”. He would specify the time he was going to offer Mass for a certain intention, so at that time the hearts of many would be raised in prayer in several nations. A large number of cures followed. Several were in the United States. The most noted here was that of Mrs. Ann Mattingly of Washington, the sister of Thomas Carbery, a bank president and mayor of Washington. She had been bedridden with an incurable tumor for months. Washington priests asked Hohenlohe to put her on his list. Ann grew worse during the novena, but after receiving communion on March 10, 1824, she was completely cured from her bed. “Lord Jesus!” she cried, “what have I done to deserve so good a favor?”
One person with deep faith, Jesus tells us, can move mountains. But it is quite clear that when a whole crowd of people “lobby” for the same intention, God is still more willing to listen and answer.
-Fr. Robert F. McNamara
Q289: Is today’s parable about the widow and unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8) teaching us that “hassling” God is the only way to get our prayers answered?
The theme of “persistent prayer” needs to be understood not as “hassling” God, but rather as a consequence of a strong faith that believes God hears prayers and will indeed answer them in his own time. So the underlying theme is really the need to have faith in all circumstances, good or adverse.
“Difficult” parables can many times have abundant light shed upon them by comparing the gospel reading with the First Reading. In today’s case the comparison would be to Exodus 17:8-13. Victory came to the Hebrew warriors against the Amalekites only as long as they could see Moses holding up his arms and staff — “signs” that God was present and supportive. If Moses became tired and his arms dropped, the Hebrews would start losing ground, because their faith concerning God’s presence began to waver.
In the gospel story, the poor widow found herself in adverse circumstances. She had been treated unjustly, and now she is also being denied justice from a judicial authority. But she has faith that Yahweh will provide justice, because she knows of his love and care for widows and others who are also powerless. So she continues her efforts based upon that faith. And her unwavering faith leads to a satisfactory ending for her (18:5). Jesus has already told the disciples to have faith and persevere (18:1), and he concludes his story with the question, “will the Son of Man find faith on earth when he comes (18:8)? Will he?
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! One measure of the depth of our faith is our constancy in prayer, because prayer is a battle of faith and the triumph of perseverance (CCC #2573). Do we pray in all circumstances — not just the bad, but also the good (CCC #2609-10)? Humility is the foundation of prayer, as we realize our total dependence on God for everything we need (CCC #2559).
Q602: Why doesn’t God answer prayers and correct all the evils in this world?
When it comes to cultural morality and social justice issues, it is easy to fall into the trap of treating God like a robot. We just pray for something, and then tend to wait for God to act. Well, that doesn’t seem to be the way that God wants the process of intervention to work. Our readings today give us two lively examples of God’s way. In the First Reading (Ex 17:8-13) evil in the form of King Amalek needs to be confronted directly by human beings, and God intervenes by acting in and through these humans. The story clearly shows that victory over evil occurred only with the participation of humans in the process. In the Gospel (Luke 18:1-8) God again intervenes by acting in and through the widow who confronts the injustice she is facing. Her perseverance and willingness to object to injustice gained the victory.
That is exactly the point. God certainly wants us to petition him for all of our needs; we need to keep our dependency relationship in mind and not take God for granted. However, he wants us to participate fully with him in that process of righting the moral wrongdoings of our society. That is what discipleship is all about. We make ourselves available to God, to be his instruments in changing the immoral and unjust climate that surrounds us. On World Mission Sunday, we are reminded of our obligation as disciples to spread the Good News of the Gospel. That always includes the need to confront injustices wherever we find them, and being willing to become God’s instruments to effect change.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Social justice can be obtained only in respecting the transcendent dignity of all human beings, from conception to death; this is a right that comes prior to the rights of society (CCC 1929-31). The Church has retained the symbol of prayer as a battle of faith and as the triumph of perseverance (CCC 2573).
Be Persistent in Good Times and Bad
“Persistence” –That’s the message of today’s liturgy. The Israel depended on God to stand with her against those who would destroy her. Moses holds high the “Staff of God,” the symbol of their interior prayer and trusting faith in God’s protection. In the epistle St. Paul encourages Timothy to persevere in faith, in studying the scriptures, and in preaching the gospel. Finally Jesus tells the disciples a parable about their need to pray always and never lose heart. What are they supposed to pray for so persistently? We should pray for all our needs, great and small, and for those we love and for those in need. But St. Luke seems to have something more specific in mind.The widow secures justice from the corrupt judge by her persistent appeals. The words “justice” and “judge” keep appearing.
This parable is calling us to persistent prayer for a kingdom of justice, for the completion of God’s work in Jesus. The final coming of the kingdom of justice will be with the second coming of Jesus in glory to complete the work he had begun in his public ministry. This is the theme of these final weeks of the liturgical year. So we are reminded today that a corrupt judge will grant justice because the widow persists, how much more will; God grant justice to those who persevere in prayer.
Lord, we are so taken up with our own concerns that we often forget the broader concerns of your kingdom. Help us to see that the coming of your kingdom involves the reconciling, the reintegration of humanity and creation in your Christ. Each time we pray the Lord’s Prayer may we celebrate the progress of the kingdom, ask for its hastening and promise to work to take it a step farther.