29th Sunday of the Year 2019 – SMC
Imagine we were praying - funny thing to do in a Church, I know - but imagine we were praying. And imagine someone burst in to the quiet church smashing the door. Crash! What would you do? Turn round, wondering what on earth was going on? Turn around and go sssssh! Turn round and smack the person? Or simply stay focused on Christ, maybe even offering up a little pray for the person who’s come in. This last option is surely the best thing to do for a whole host of reasons: it is the humble, the non-judgemental thing to do and the best thing to do for our prayer lives.
Prayer is the union of the soul with God and so when we’re distracted we’re distancing ourselves from God. There’s the wonderful image in the Psalms of this focus: “As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God” (Psalm 123:2). If you’re a servant you’ll keep an eye on your master so you know what they want before they have to ask for it: to take a plate away or pick up a spoon, a bit like a really attentive waiter or waitress in a restaurant. And that is how we are to be with God. We have a beautiful church so that when we lose our attention, the pictures and the statues take us back to God.
St Luke records in our Gospel today that Jesus tells the parable so that the disciples would pray “continually.” And so the persistent widow and the unjust judge are introduced and she never gives up, just like we mustn’t give up on our faith and on our practise of that faith in our day to day lives. Not giving up means there will be a reliability about us when it comes to our prayer life, a reliability that others will be able to depend on. The widow is an interesting choice by our Lord. On the one hand maybe we are meant to have before us a stereotype of the sort of battle-axe we might have encountered, who you can indeed imagine nagging. On the other hand, the image of the widow will speak to us of one bereft of her loved one and someone who, especially in the age of our Lord, would have little financial assistance or access to support.
The widow reminds us of the Church, surely. The Church is the Bride of Christ (Revelation 21:2), and yet we also live under the time when the Bridegroom is not with us as clearly as He will be in Heaven. Yes, we have the sacraments, yes we have the church that the Lord might abide with us through sacramental signs. But we’re look for the day when we shall see Jesus face-to-face. When, as it were, we will see the wrinkles on His Blessed Face and behold the colour of His eyes. Until that day there is the sadness of the separation and that is why, as Jesus instructed us elsewhere, we are to fast (St Luke 5:35). This sadness leads us not to despair but to cling to the Lord, which we can do thanks to the Sacraments of His Church, chief among them the Mass.
The sadness will be dispersed by the joy of knowing the Lord. Those who have written the morning hymns used for centuries by the Church knew this, so Prudentius wrote 1,600 years ago:
“Ye clouds and darkness, hosts of night,
that Breed confusion and affright,
Begone! o’erhead the dawn shines clear,
The light breaks in and Christ is here.”
Which periods of the day are you particularly good and particularly bad at consecrating through prayer? Mornings, evenings, lunchtimes, when you’re on the beach in the sunshine, when it’s chucking it down with rain, when all’s going well, when things are pretty tough. The command to pray continually requires us to know where there are gaps and to fill them. The Church also gives to us the Office, meaning Morning and Evening Prayer, Night Prayer and other set prayers for the different moment of the day. Morning Prayer is said every day at 9am here and at 9.15m on Sundays. You can buy books and apps to help you to do this at home. Let me know if you want to find out more.
The widow in the parable has a further danger as she approaches the unjust judge: the contents of her heart. Jesus tells us that she wants “justice … against [her] enemy.” In our hearts and in the hearts of so many there is this anger against individuals who have hurt us. So often I see it in individuals who are not even really aware of it, but there is disquiet within them because they have not been able to forgive someone in their past. The widow needs to have this resolved, and we, the faithful bride of Christ, are similarly to have let the grace of Christ release us from it. I suggested to those who gathered for Ian Cossou’s funeral two weeks ago that we might imagine holding our heart in our hands and see what we find there, what sins, what insults we have borne, what guilt of the hurt we have performed. And on our heart we may well find that we have not forgiven some wrong done to us.
Prayer will take different forms. The Mass is the supreme form of worship because it is the closest we get to Christ and more substantially opens up to us the invitation to our soul to be united with Christ, as we behold Him and imbibe His Life given for His sheep. The Holy Spirit comes to usher the age when men and women are nourished by the Mass, as we see on the day of Pentecost. After the Spirit has descended on those gathered together, Peter makes a speech that moves the crowds to repentance and then the life of the Church is described for us: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
Mediation and reflection are a further form of prayer, and to aid us in this is given the Rosary, the opportunity for silence, and Lectio Divina, a particular way of entering deeply into a biblical passage through considering the details of it prayerfully.
It’s useful for us to remember the word Acts when we come to think about our prayer life. Is there enough of each constituent part of Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication? Adoration recognises God is God, beyond all perfection and to be praised in His inestimable love. This will be part of our worship at Mass and it is a great thing for us do during Exposition and Benediction, which I would like very much to have as a regular slot, where folk can come and just spend time with God as He is and to praise Him for it, in His lowliness concealed under the form of Bread.
Supplication or intercession will, again, form part of the forms of prayers I’ve mentioned earlier but can also be a stand alone thing, either working through a list you might have of particular people or situations on particular days, or just the quick arrow prayer of, ‘Lord, this persons needs you’ or whatever the prayer might be. Moses in our first reading, struggling to hold his rod up that the Israelites might win the battle is indeed a prefiguring of this Intercession we see uniquely performed in Christ, our advocate with the Father.
St Paul in our second reading reminds Timothy of the obligation to proclaim the message and to preach the Gospel. He makes this restatement in the presence of the Lord who judges all people. Our prayer life will have regular opportunities for Confession to a priest and, more like daily, a self-examination of how we are living our lives, including that duty to speak about Jesus to those who don’t love Him yet.
Last Sunday, I spoke about gratitude, as we had put before us by the readings set for the day the lesson of the ten lepers, all of whom are healed, only one of whom said thank you. Our thanksgiving is to be in our prayer life too, and this must be kept as specific as possible, as we thank God the source of all blessings and indeed learn even to thank God for those things we’re not very comfortable about. My brothers and sisters, may the saints pray for us and we seek to be more devout in our prayers and through them more united Christ Jesus. Amen.