Prayer is not a ‘sometimes’ ( Part 1) – Retreat talk to the SVD seminarians in Pune

Prayer is not a ‘sometimes’ (Part 1) – Retreat talk to the SVD seminarians in Pune

I would like to change our view of prayer especially for those of us in the religious life. For many of us prayer is a ‘duty’ and if we don’t believe it to be so we are sometimes made to feel it, especially in houses of formation. Prayer is a PRIVILEGE and not a duty. So I would like you to try to change your perspective on the way we approach prayer. If we see prayer as a duty then it most certainly will become a drudgery for  us. The problem stems in the way we have conceptualized the understanding of prayer and perhaps the way we have presented prayer to others. 

The role of prayer is not to produce guilt. There are many who are worried if they have prayed long enough and others who wonder if they have prayed fervently enough. It is not uncommon for a priest to be told by a penitent that they were ‘distracted’ in prayer. Prayer was given to us by God not to infuse guilt but to alleviate guilt.  So in Luke 18:1-8 Jesus tells us a parable to help us to pray always and not to lose heart. (Please read Luke 18:1-8)

What we need to state clearly is that Jesus is making a contrast rather than a correspondence between God and the judge. So far from being an unjust judge who did not want to be bugged by the widow, God does not mind being ‘bugged with our petitions and prayers’. When the unjust judge does give justice, his reason for doing so is that the woman won’t come back to worry him.

At the time of Jesus the courts belonged to men. She is a widow and a woman, that’s what we call a double whammy. To make matters worse this was a judge who was godless for he had no foundation of being a judge, nor had he any moral or value system. We are told he had no sympathy for any one and had no compassion. The widow is of no consequence to him nor to the position he holds.

Yet she wrangles judgment from him because she is PERSISTENT and because she is persistent she gets what she wants; namely justice.  The Greek word for persistence translates as ‘without shame’. The argument presented in the Gospel is one which is called ‘from lesser to greater’. Jesus Christ is saying that God is not like this judge at all. This is the point of the parable. If a wicked judge could give justice to the woman then how much more will God give us what we ask for?(lesser to greater) If a wicked man could hear her petition then how much more will God hear our petition?

Our God is not some cold-hearted judge because we know from our experience that can go to Jesus anytime. Which begs the question, do we? Look at the woman; she had to literally haunt the judge. She had to follow him everywhere and pester him till finally he grants her request because she won’t get lost. There is a lesson in persistent prayer which is found in verse seven. If a godless judge can grant her petition then how much more should we persist with a father who is not a judge?

Let’s look at the woman in relation to ourselves.

She was facing a court of justice, we approach the throne of grace.

She is a widow, we are the bride of Christ.

The widow was a stranger to the judge, we are ‘chosen by God’

The widow stands at a distance, we can boldly approach a loving God.

She has to plead her case, we have Jesus as our advocate.

She came to a judge with no promise for an answer, we have promises made to us, sworn by God.

Her access to the judge is limited we have 24 hours access to God. We are on unlimited Wi-Fi with super-fast speed.

We see something similar in the Gospel of Luke 11:1-13. The Lord’s prayer  is found in both the Gospel of Matthew and  in Luke . Jesus is teaching his disciples how to pray  and tells them a story to explain to them how one ought pray; namely with persistence, without shame; like a child who asks again and again.  The point of this parable is similar to the point of the unjust judge and widow. If the unwilling householder will give because you ask shamelessly then how much more will God who is a loving father give to his children who ask?

We are not wrangling gifts from an unwilling God but going to one who knows our needs better. There is no such thing as unanswered prayer for God always hears our prayer. He may choose not to grant it in the way we so desired it but that does not mean he has not heard us.  In often not answering our particular request He has  still taken care of what we truly need and not merely satisfied our greed.

So what then is our excuse for not praying? Someone well said, “prayer is not a sometimes”.

Fr Warner D’Souza

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