Genesis 18:20-32; Colossians 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13
Persistence always brings a response, maybe not what we want, but nevertheless a response. Persistence can be a notable trait in one’s character. At the death of one of our presidents a eulogist wrote:
“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common that unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”
Racism, sexism, and the elimination of prejudices are being and ultimately will be eradicated by persistence. The road taken by Olympic gold medalists is paved with persistent practice sessions. Concert pianists walked in that path. So do great writers and poets. Greatness in any endeavor comes to us only via persistence.
At times persistence is annoying and provokes impatience within us. Then again, sometimes persistence is affirming, telling us that we are wanted, even that we are loved. Lovers who are persistent often times get rewarded for their continual words of tenderness and love.
In today’s Gospel Jesus is telling us that persistence has the power to overcome resistance. “Suppose,” He said, “one of you has a friend to whom he goes at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him,’ and he says in reply from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.’ I tell you, if he does not get up to give the visitor the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence.”
Remember that this is a part of Jesus’ response to the disciples who had asked Him how to pray. He taught them the Lord’s Prayer, gave them the parable we just heard, and immediately thereafter He told said: “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
Jesus is telling us to pay persistently, to pray constantly, to pray endlessly. Besiege God; continually ask for God’s help, God’s gifts, and God’s love. God our Father knows what we need… what God needs to know is how much we love Him, how intensely we love Him, how much we will love Him no matter what. Persistence lets Him know.
Perhaps this will throw light on understanding what today’s First Reading is all about. Again, it’s not the haggling that God wants; it’s our persistence in seeking His love, His care, and His gifts for us. All lovers want to be wanted; God likewise wants to be wanted. All true love is persistent; it is constantly proclaimed; we never tire of words of love.
Not to pray is to show your indifference toward God. Not to pray is to send the gift of His love back to Him. Jesus taught us how to pray in the simplest of terms. There’s nothing mysterious or mumbo-jumbo about it. The prayer Jesus taught us is utterly simple in its expression of what we need from God. It tells us we need to honor Him, that we need our daily bread, that we need forgiveness, that we need His strength to give forgiveness to others, and that we need God’s protection in times of temptation and trial. Not to use it, not to pray it, is to say to God: “You don’t have anything I need or want.”
Prayer acknowledges that you have a relationship with God. Consequently, the quality of your prayer is correlative to the value you place on your relationship with God. Abraham took God seriously — so seriously that Abraham haggled and bargained with God over the value of what was to be delivered. There was something very serious at stake here so Abraham got serious with God.
Do we need God? Do we take God seriously? We should. We need a higher power in order to extract ourselves from sinking further into the quicksand of sin as we thrash about, sinking further and further down. We need our daily bread — the Bread of Life along with all those daily gifts that nourish and strengthen us. We need that which causes us to grow as persons. And I daresay each and every soul here in this church will admit they need forgiveness. Do we need the strength, the fortitude, and the guts to forgive someone in our lives who has deeply wounded and hurt us? You bet we do. Do we need to have the willingness to forgive others? Yes! For each one of us here there is someone in our lives who has hurt us so much that only an act of God can give us the will and the power to forgive that person.
Are we held in the steel grip of habit and addiction, a particular temptation that conquers us and snatches away our soul every time it visits us? Are we threatened by something terrible that will hurt us — by an evil that seriously threatens our well being? Everyone here knows that is so. We all know that we have been tried and found wanting. We all know that when we face that trial again we will succumb unless the power of God comes to us and helps us out of the quicksand that sucks us down ever more deeply and ever more powerfully to the point that we will suffocate in it.
Prayer reveals that which has been hidden deep within us. In prayer God’s Wisdom presents itself to us. The gifts of God’s Holy Spirit become available to us — wisdom, understanding, knowledge, strength, and courage being among them. Our sorrows can become lighter; our pains can become a little more bearable. Our little part of the world can become more enriched by the presence of God, a presence we can bring to others around us.
That is what happened to Abraham. That is what can happen to us. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer and ask that God forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us, we are praying that we open ourselves up for God’s forgiving love in order to empower us to forgive others and to transmit His forgiving love to others. God does not suddenly change His mind and decide to forgive us simply because we pray. No. God is constantly forgiving us. He forgives us even before we ask. It is we who are hesitant and weak in forgiving. Prayer changes that. Prayer changes us, not God.
The Mass we celebrate is in itself a prayer. If we do not make the prayers of the Mass our prayers, then we give God nothing but our own indifference. To turn Sunday Mass into something that is only optional is to tell God that for us He is only optional.
To pray often, to pray consistently, to be persistent in our contacts with God, lets Him know that we really do love Him, that His presence in our lives is not simply optional, and that in our persistent searching for His caring love we take His love for us very seriously. If we do that then Jesus’ words will come true for us: “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
About Charles Irvin
Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”