Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sunday word, 20 Oct 13

Love Cedes Control
29th Sunday of the Year C (20 Oct 2013)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.

Patience and perséverance
Have it if you can;
It’s seldom in a woman
And never in a man.”

Pers√©verance was my Irish grandmother’s pronunciation of our perseVEERance in her oft-quoted rhyme. Its humor was lost on me as a boy: that few women and no men can persevere. Though it overstates, the rhyme points to the precious nature of persisting in any life. Jesus spoke of it to help us pray: a nameless, powerless woman persevered. The first readings reminded that Moses and Timothy persevered; men can possess the virtue! I hope a few words about it help you rediscover it and live it anew.

St. Paul encouraged his coworker, Timothy, to persevere: 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 personified a persevering relationship with Messiah Jesus, our Creator and Lord. Growing up with faith isn’t to understand it completely or to know it whole and entire. Growing up with faith cultivates a relationship with Jesus who neither slumbers nor sleeps and...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 is responsible to put an individual imprint on our faith-relationship, and we do not do it alone. Faith is a communal enterprise. Consider Moses. It was no shame that Moses could not by his strength keep his hands raised up while Israel fought. Aaron and Hur supported his hands after they grew tired. Their help tells us faith is deeply personal; it’s never private. That feature of faith is easily missed: personal not private.

To persevere in relationships, in work, in school, in faith, in all of life is important. Jesus reminds us persevering in prayer is crucial. His culture highlighted how crucial. In his Mediterranean world women did not have the right to be heard. They relied on their husbands. Widows were especially vulnerable, as were fatherless children. That helps us appreciate the prophets’ constant cry on behalf of orphans and widows. Their phrase includes all powerless people. 

Power does not win a hearing before God, who desires first to respond to those with no power. Faithful persistence wins a hearing. Persistence does not 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!

To persist in prayer is no immersion into a mysticism; nor is it to think of and do nothing else. To persist in prayer flows from being mindful of both our weakness and our dark prisons. That realism relies on God’s fidelity to enlighten our darkness and free us from what constrains us.

The widow personified a very focused awareness in her petition. Stock answers for not praying in a focused way include “I’m too busy”; “I got out of the habit”; or a subtly dangerous one, “My life is a prayer.” Not seeing results is another reason. We prefer everything fit our categories, including the mysteries of love, grace, darkness and light. Our need to control is another reason not to pray. Love cedes control, and love which is prayer does not struggle to control God’s presence or message. Prayer is love because it sustains our relation with our triune God. God’s presence causes our idols to surface before our inmost vision. Noticed that way we are aware how attached to them we are. Refuse to be honest about how we are in their grip and we flee from praying rather than pray with focus.1

The three messages today are: 1) persevering in praying is crucial to live our faith; 2) faith is a community enterprise: communal praying shapes our personal praying and living; and personal praying deepens communal prayer and life; and 3) faith is God’s self-gift to us to which praying is our authentic response. Persevering, persistent praying is our authentic response to God’s constant, creative gift of God to us. It is always so even and especially, when we experience that our only companion is darkness.2 God’s light and life await us in those times, and persevering prayer allows both to dawn with new radiance in our lives.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Pause to ask the Trinity for their light.
  • Ask the persevering woman to present you to Jesus with her courage.
  • Chat with him: praise Jesus for creating and redeeming you; thank him for giving you his prayer, especially when you lack words.
  • Ask Jesus for grace to deepen your confident courage to pray in his name.
  • Close saying slowly the prayer he taught us. Its opening words remind us we come to no judge or uncaring taskmaster but to the author, giver and sustainer of our lives, Jesus’ father and ours.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise

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  1. Robert J. Wicks, Seed 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.
  2. Psalm 88.19.

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