The encounters we experience with Our Lord when reading the Gospels may unsettle us. The parable in the 18th chapter of St Luke’s Gospel, in which God is seemingly compared to an unjust judge, is rather startling. However, it is important to realise that when the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity took on our human nature in the Incarnation, He became like us in all things but sin. It should not surprise us, then, to discover that the Word Made Flesh had a sense of humour. This might be difficult for modern people to imagine. Since the 1960s there has been a tendency to brainwash us into thinking of Our Lord as an earnest moraliser who came to earth to lecture us on “preferential options” and “development goals”. This po-faced social justice warrior is a far cry from the Jesus of the Gospels, who paved the way to the Cross by offending against the political correctness of His day.
The nagging widow in the parable (Lk 18.1-8), who wears down the judge so successfully that he eventually caves in to her wishes, is a type that many parish priests will recognize. Persistent laity sometimes have an important role to play in challenging the inertia that can devitalize the Church’s mission when the clergy become weary under the weight of administration and bureaucracy. We can be grateful for those stout-hearted matrons of ancient Rome who refused to take no for an answer and kept the flame of faith alive during the early centuries of persecution.
The point of Our Lord’s parable seems to be the importance of perseverance in prayer. If even this bloated self-satisfied judge eventually gives in to the poor widow’s demands, how much more should we not hope for from a God Who loves us, and Who desires whatever is good for us? And if our prayers do not immediately seem to meet with success, we need to keep praying with ever greater persistence, until our requests are answered. Perseverance is of the essence in the Christian life, and it merits rewards.
One of the most dangerous delusions we can fall into as human beings is a sense of self-sufficiency. When we lose awareness of our dependence on God, then we enter a realm of unreality which can only bring us disappointment and ultimately despair. The prayer that Our Lord Himself taught us is full of petitions and requests: “Give us this day our daily bread … forgive us our trespasses … deliver us from evil”. Asking God for what we needs reminds us that we were created from the dust of the earth, and we depend on His Providence for all good things.
The human race at the moment seems to be going through a particularly rocky patch, in which there is great deal of anxiety about the present and much uncertainty about the future. In these circumstances, it is natural that we should concern ourselves about what we can do to make this planet a better and safer place, for ourselves and for the generations that follow. Often we can feel helpless, as if everything is in the hands of forces outside our control. But we have a secret weapon which is supernatural and ultimately invincible, and which grounds us in the reality of a universe in which nothing happens unless it is willed or permitted by the Almighty Creator – the gift of prayer. In our Baptism we receive a vocation to communicate with God, and part of this communication includes asking God for what we need. This is actually pleasing to God because it shows that we acknowledge that all good things come from His hand and that we take nothing for granted.
So what should we request when we pray? We can never be certain that God wants us to drive a Ferrari, or to own a holiday house in the sun. We can be quite sure that He wants His peace and His justice to reign in our hearts so that we may extend His Kingdom in that part of creation that is under our influence. If we are exercised about the current condition of politics or the state of international relations, we should certainly pray for peace and justice in the world. We can also be confident that He wants us to be full of faith and hope and charity. Sometimes He may allow us to suffer because of some great blessing He wishes to bestow on us in eternity. It is certainly legitimate and proper to pray for relief from sickness and pain, but even if this prayer seems to go answered on the physical level, we can be confident that prayer will bring the spiritual reinforcements needed to sustain us through the trial.
So we should pray for all of these goods. At the moment, especially, we need to ‘storm Heaven’ for peace in the world.
November is the month of the Holy Souls. It is an act of great charity to pray for these members of the Church who are undergoing purification before their entry to Heaven, and it is also useful: every soul liberated from Purgatory by our prayers and Masses is a new saint in Heaven who with Our Blessed Mother will intercede for us and for this world at the Throne of Grace.
Fr Julian Large