Sunday 16 October 2022: Trinity 19, Twenty-Ninth in Ordinary Time, Proper 24
Prayer as ‘Need’
Exodus 17:8-13; Luke 18.1-8
Context: Sunday Mass in a middle-sized, largely middle-class, Catholic parish
Aim: to reassess and recommit to the priority of prayer as a daily necessity
We are living in a world where luxuries have become necessities and necessities luxuries. List those luxuries that are now necessities and it is frightening to see the ‘must have’ we couldn’t imagine doing without. And the list is increasing all the time. But isn’t it amazing that with the enjoyment of these luxuries, so many of which are supposedly time saving devices, life’s necessities have actually become luxuries? Like time itself. How often do we overhear ourselves saying, during the course of a day, ‘Sorry … must dash … too busy … can’t talk now … catch you later’? We’ve no time to talk. No time to do one of the most important things. No time to do what time was invented for and meant to be filled with. And so, we let spending time with the ones we love become a luxury we can’t afford, rather than the necessity we can’t live without.
And if we haven’t time to talk to each other, we are unlikely to make the time to talk to God. If wasting time with the ones we love has gone out of the window, then that wasting time with God we call prayer has probably become a luxury too, rather than the necessity and ‘need’ it actually is. Luke uses that telling word to describe prayer in today’s gospel: ‘Jesus told them a parable about the need to pray continually and never lose heart.’ So, prayer is a need, a necessity. Just like the food that we eat and the air that we breathe. Cut out the protein prayer provides, cut off its oxygen supply, and we die.
In today’s first reading we heard how as long as Moses kept his hands lifted in prayer all went well in the battle with the Amalekites. But if he let them fall, they would begin to lose the advantage. Whenever we let prayer slip further and further down our list of daily priorities, we are putting ourselves at a distinct disadvantage. We put ourselves at risk. Our life loses its focus and direction; we become more fearful and anxious; things begin to fall apart. In contrast, when we dare to make prayer a priority each day, no matter how difficult that might be to maintain, the making sense of our life which it brings in its wake, the possibilities which it opens us up to, the keeping ourselves in touch with what really matters; together, these make it the most powerful resource there is – and it’s all for free!
I’ve been reading the diaries of a remarkable young woman who died in Auschwitz during the last war. Her name was Etty. What a beautiful human being she was! Although it becomes clear to her what her fate will inevitably be, there is no hate in her heart, no bitterness. She describes her story as that of a girl who ‘learned how to kneel,’ a girl who ‘learned how to pray.’ And in her diary you begin to feel that prayer is her secret. It’s what held her whole life together. It’s what put her in touch with her dignity and kept her in touch with her destiny. It was the key to her identity, and it was how she became the beautiful person she was, in spite of all the evil around her.
Etty’s diaries demonstrate how prayer didn’t change that evil, but it did change her and made her the person God meant her to be in the midst of it all. She reminds me of that widow in the gospel who wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. She reminds me of Moses whose prayer made the vital difference that day and brought them victory. And hearing that story again today reminds me of Jesus on the cross. It is His arms outstretched in prayer and love which have won for us the decisive battle that we celebrate each Sunday and whose power we plug into in a mysterious way at every Mass.
Dear friends, we have that same power literally at our fingertips in prayer - the power of the Lord. In wielding it we discover both our beauty and our duty. In it we keep rediscovering our deepest identity and our highest destiny. In the kingdom we’ll surely see that the wielding of that power was one of the most fruitful things we ever did. And history will judge that the exercise of that power is certainly no luxury but an absolute necessity, the need by which we not only stay alive, but thrive.
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