Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sunday word, 21 Oct 2007

29th Sunday of the Year C(21 Oct 2007) Ex 17. 8-13; Ps 121; 2Tm 3. 14-4.2; Lk 18. 1-8
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.

Crucial, Communal and Conversational

"Patience and perseverance / have it if you can,/ It’s seldom in a woman and never in a man." In her oft-quoted rhyme perSEVerance was my Irish grandmother’s pronunciation of our perseVErance. While it overstates it, the rhyme does point to the precious nature of persisting in any life. If it is seldom in a woman, Jesus called our attention in the gospel to an unnamed, powerless, persevering woman. The first two readings reminded us that Moses and Timothy persevered; men can possess that same virtue! A few words about it to help you this week.

St. Paul encouraged his coworker, Timothy, to persevere: to remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you have known from whom you learned it, and that from infancy you have known the sacred scriptures. Timothy highlights the personal nature of persevering in Jesus, our Creator and Lord. Growing up with faith isn’t to understand it completely or to know it whole and entire. Rather, growing up with faith encourages us to cultivate a relationship with Jesus, who neither slumbers nor sleeps [who guards] our coming and going both now and forever. Faith is part of each one’s development like muscular, intellectual and ethical growth.

Each of us has one’s responsibility to put an individual imprint on one’s faith-relationship, however, we do not do that alone. Faith is a communal enterprise as Moses showed. It was no shame that Moses could not by his own strength keep his hands raised up while Israel fought. Aaron and Hur supported his hands after they grew tired. Faith is deeply personal; it’s never private. We easily miss that lesson.

To persevere in relationships, in work, in school, in faith, in all of life is important. Jesus reminded us that persevering in prayer is crucial. Generations before and after Jesus, in his Mediterranean world, women had no right to be heard. They relied on their husbands. Thus widows were especially vulnerable, as were fatherless children: hence the prophets’ constant cry on behalf of orphans and widows, their condensed phrase for any and all powerless people.

Power doesn’t win us a hearing from God, who desires first to respond to those without power; faithful persistence does. Nor does persistence necessarily change others. Recall the dishonest judge’s self-description: “I neither fear God nor respect any human being.” No change caused him to respond to the widow; fear she would blacken his eye did! Praying does not manipulate God, it awakens us to God’s gifts to us.

Persistence in prayer is no immersion into a mysticism; nor is it to think of and do nothing else. Persistence in prayer is an attitude, coming to God mindful of our weakness and our dark prisons as well as relying on God’s fidelity to bring light out of our darkness and free us from what constrains us.

The widow highlighted that persevering in prayer is a very focused activity and mindset. Stock answers for not praying in focused ways include “I’m too busy,” “I got out of the habit,” or a subtly dangerous one, “My life is a prayer.” The failure to see results is another reason. Our desire to control is another. Yet love cedes control, and love which is prayer does not struggle to control God’s presence or God’s message. One of the things God’s presence does is cause our idols to surface before our inmost vision. When they surface we are aware of how attached to them we are. Refusing to be honest about how we are in their grip causes us to flee from praying rather than make it our focus./1/

The three messages today are: 1) persevering in praying is crucial to living our faith; 2) faith is a community enterprise which personal praying shapes, and our communal praying shapes our personal praying and living; and 3) faith is God’s self-gift and praying is our authentic response.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, begin leisurely to notice the Trinity creating you with love. Ask the persevering widow in the gospel to present you to Jesus so that you may converse with him about my faith, and how I live it. Express your gratitude to Jesus for his patience with you. Resolve one way you can show another person Jesus’ patience with you. Close by saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. God anticipates us with God’s light and life, and persevering prayer allows God’s light and life to rise with new radiance in our lives.

/1/ Robert J. Wicks, Seeds of Sensitivity: Deepening Your Prayer Life (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1995, 2003) discusses these and seven more in a treasure-trove of much practical insight and encouragement.
Wiki-images of the Prayer of Jesus and the Woman Plead for Her Wayward Son are in the public domain.

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