Today’s liturgical readings center on prayer. Their message is simple and clear: God answers prayer.
Last week, I brought a group of seminarians to Our Lady’s Shrine in Simala. Personally, I always have mixed feelings whenever I visit the place. Among other things, I feel uneasy and somewhat disturbed to see the blatant and bustling business activities regarding religious articles. One thing, however, never fails to impress me in Simala – the faith of the countless pilgrims that come. Such faith is clearly visible in the faces of those who are deeply absorbed in prayer as they light their (colored) candles. I believe people keep coming to the shrine because their prayers are heard. The endless rows of testimonies of healing and favors posted on the walls of the church powerfully attest to the truth of Jesus’ words, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Mt 7:7)
Today’s readings from Exodus and Matthew particularly teach us to pray with persevering faith. In the first reading, Moses stands on a hilltop and prays for the victory of Israel over the Amalekites. As long as his arms are in lifted up in prayer, the Israelites are winning the battle. But every time he lowers his weary arms, the tide of the battle shifts in favor of the enemies.
In the gospel, the widow is persistent in asking the corrupt judge to grant her justice. The judge finally gives in to her demand not so much for the sake of justice, but to rid himself of her endless pestering. The parable does not intend to present the judge as an image of God. It simply indicates a comparison of extreme contrast, with the force of an a fortiori kind of logic. If a heartless judge is eventually moved to grant the plea of a persistent widow, how much more readily will an infinitely just and loving God grant the plea of his beloved children!
Beyond the lesson on persistence, the readings teach us the primary importance of faith in prayer. Perseverance in prayer is fruit of faith, a faith that is convinced not only of God’s power but even more of his infinite love. It is then a faith that totally surrenders itself to God and his response, whatever it may be.
Anyone who prays with faith is assured of God’s answer. How and when will totally depend on God. God will answer in his own way and in his own time. The bishop Ambrose was absolutely certain Monica would obtain her prayer by telling her, “Go now, it is not possible that the son of such tears should be lost.” And true indeed, after 16 years Augustine was converted and asked for baptism. Eventually he became a priest and a bishop, and now he is one of the greatest saints in the Church.
One interesting note in the story of Moses is that whenever Moses gets tired of raising his hands, his assistants come to his aid by supporting his flagging arms. It is easier to persevere in prayer when prayer is shared. Likewise, prayer is more effective also when it becomes a common prayer. “If two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven. for where two or three meet in my name, I am among them.” (Mt 18:19-20)
These days, we hear much about synodality. It is the earnest wish of Pope Francis that we become more aware of the reality that we are a synodal Church. It means that we are one community (the one Body of Christ, in fact), “journeying together” (syn-hodus) towards the kingdom of God.
The call to synodality is a call to communion, participation and mission. As we strive to learn how to live as a synodal Church, we can start by learning how to pray in a synodal way. Let us pray not only for ourselves or for our personal intentions. Let us learn to include in our prayers the world, our country, our leaders, our parish… War is raging in Ukraine, the Middle East and even in our own island. There is drought and famine in Africa and floods in Asia… All these deeply affect many people, who are our brothers and sisters, co-members of the one Body of Christ. These should affect us too if we are aware that we are a synodal Church.*