Sunday, October 20, 2019
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Liturgical Color: Green
First reading: Exodus 17:8–13
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 121:1–2, 3–4, 5–6, 7–8
Gospel: Luke 18:1–8
From the Entrance Antiphon:
To you I call; for you will surely heed me, O God;
turn your ear to me; hear my words.
Yes, we’re going to talk about prayer this week, along with what we should expect from a priest.
The Amalekites were a nomadic tribe which moved around the Sinai Peninsula. They claimed that territory as their own and challenged anyone who entered the region. So naturally, they would do this when the Israelites came through, following the Spirit’s guidance. At Rephidim, where the battle took place, there was a spring, and the Amalekites were, in effect, defending their water rights.
The battle is set up a little differently than previous ones for the Israelites. For the first time, Moses puts his young assistant, Joshua, in charge of military affairs. He must choose his men, come up with a plan, and engage the Amalekites in battle. Meanwhile, the elderly Moses, helped by Aaron and Hur, climbed to the top of a nearby hill. From there, he could be seen holding his staff (“the rod of God”) aloft. So long as Moses held his hands up, the Israelites had the better of the fight. But he soon fatigued, lowered his arms, and the course of the battle changed. Noticing this, Aaron and Hur got him a stone to sit on, then held his arms up until sunset, thus assuring an Israelite victory in the battle in the valley below.
What was Moses doing all this time? Just standing (or sitting) there? By no means. He was praying to God for help during the battle, enlisting His aid to protect their lives and continue to lead them onward to the Promised Land.
The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture gives ten examples of early Christian writers (whom we know as the Fathers of the Church) describing the scene. Every one of them speaks of Moses as having his arms outstretched, in the form of a cross. And every one of them compares Moses to Christ on the cross, praying for the salvation of mankind.
“From childhood you have been acquainted with the Sacred Writings.” I found it interesting that, as the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible states, “Jewish children often began instruction in the Torah at age five (Mishnah, Aboth 5, 21).” This instruction would take place in the family, usually with the father teaching his children. These days, we tend to pass that task off to institutional classes and hope that they get the message. More often than not, they don’t. Evidence is mounting to affirm that the traditional method, where the parents are actually the primary teachers of their children, is the best one.
“The Sacred Writings… are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
The Bible is certainly profitable for the soul that reads and ponders it within the ancient tradition of Christianity. However, there are some who try to use this passage to prove that the Bible is the inspired word of God. We can agree that it affirms this point, but it does not prove it. Evidence is lacking. Also, there is the equivocation in the word “Scripture.” What is referred to, and how do we identify it? Things to ponder the next time we hear someone speaking in that fashion.
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching.”
When a priest preaches, he is teaching. Those hearing him must realize that his primary duty is not to entertain, but to help them understand their situation before the Most High, according to the inspired words he has proclaimed.
The Navarre Bible Commentary quotes Alvaro del Portillo, the man who was elected to take over the Opus Dei movement after St. Josemaría Escrivá died, in a magnificent paean to the priest. This is what the Apostle Paul is telling Timothy that he is looking for in him:
What do men want, what do they expect of the priest, the minister of Christ, the living sign of the presence of the Good Shepherd? We would venture to say that, although they may not explicitly say so, they need, want and hope for a priest-priest, a priest through and through, a man who gives his life for them, by opening to them the horizons of the soul; a man who unceasingly exercises his ministry, whose heart is capable of understanding, and a man who gives simply and joyfully, in season and even out of season, what he alone can give — the richness of grace, of divine intimacy which, through him, God wishes to distribute among men (A. del Portillo, On Priesthood, p. 66).
Jesus’ Parable of the Persistent Widow shows the power of unrelenting prayer.
I have used the widow’s technique in ordinary life and found it to be effective — nag, nag, nag until they do what you want, just to get you to stop bothering them. But here, Jesus is talking about prayer, so we must ask in reverence, as well as having a worthy cause.
I want to include the following rather lengthy quote from Pope St. John Paul II because he tells us in simple language why prayer is important. I believe in utilizing easily understandable explanations whenever they are available.
1) We must pray first and foremost because we are believers.
Prayer is in fact the recognition of our limitation and our dependence: we come from God, we belong to God and we return to God! We cannot, therefore, but abandon ourselves to him, our Creator and Lord, with full and complete confidence […]. Prayer, therefore, is first of all an act of intelligence, a feeling of humility and gratitude, an attitude of trust and abandonment to him who gave us life out of love. Prayer is a mysterious but real dialogue with God, a dialogue of confidence and love.
2) We, however, are Christians, and therefore we must pray as Christians.
For the Christian, in fact, prayer acquires a particular characteristic, which completely changes its innermost nature and innermost value. The Christian is a disciple of Jesus; he is one who really believe that Jesus is the Word Incarnate, the Son of God who came among us on this earth. As a man, the life of Jesus was a continual prayer, a continual act of worship and love of the Father and since the maximum expression of prayer is sacrifice, the summit of Jesus’ prayer is the Sacrifice of the Cross, anticipated by the Eucharist at the Last Supper and handed down by means of the Holy Mass throughout the centuries. Therefore, the Christian knows that his prayer is that of Jesus; every prayer of his starts from Jesus; it is he who prays in us, with us, for us. All those who believe in God, pray; but the Christian prays in Jesus Christ: Christ is our prayer!
3) Finally, we must also pray because we are frail and guilty.
It must be humbly and realistically recognized that we are poor creatures, confused in ideas, tempted by evil, frail and weak, in continual need of inner strength and consolation. Prayer gives the strength for great ideals, to maintain faith, charity, purity and generosity. Prayer gives the courage to emerge from indifference and guilt, if unfortunately one has yielded to temptation and weakness. Prayer gives light to see and consider the events of one’s own life and of history in the salvific perspective of God and eternity. Therefore, do not stop praying! Let not a day pass without your having prayed a little! Prayer is a duty, but it is also a great joy, because it is a dialogue with God through Jesus Christ! Every Sunday, Holy Mass: if it is possible for you, sometimes during the week. Every day, morning and evening prayers, and at the most suitable moments! – John Paul II, Audience with young people, March 14, 1979
Finally, a word from the Navarre Bible Commentary to round out our glance at prayer:
Luke 18:8. Jesus combines his teaching about perseverance in prayer with a serious warning about the need to remain firm in the faith: faith and prayer go hand in hand. St. Augustine comments, “In order to pray, let us believe; and for our faith not to weaken, let us pray. Faith causes prayer to grow, and when prayer grows, our faith is strengthened” (Sermon, 115).
Our Lord has promised his Church that it will remain true to its mission until the end of time (cf. Matthew 28:20); the Church, therefore, cannot go off the path of the true faith. But not everyone will remain faithful: some will turn their backs on the faith of their own accord. This is the mystery which St. Paul describes as “the rebellion” (2 Thessalonians 2:3) and which Jesus Christ announces on other occasions (cf. Matthew 24:12–13). In this way our Lord warns us, to help us stay watchful and persevere in the faith and in prayer even though people around us fall away.
In other words, if you and I don’t pray, we are contributing to the lack of faith which we see everywhere around us, because it is in us, as well. We don’t want that, so let us not fail to pray.