The 18th Sunday of Trinity
Jesus told the disciples a parable about the need to pray continually and never lose heart. Luke’s gospel tells us, with a hint in the closing words of our reading, that the disciples had been expecting instant answers to prayer, and were getting disillusioned when they didn’t get them.
That gives us the opportunity to reflect on what Christian prayer is, and how we should be practicing it. Christian prayer encompasses a much wider range of activities than is often thought. Many of us as children grew up to think of prayer as essentially learning by heart and repeating well known prayers such as the Lord’s Prayer. I would be the last to decry the value of such prayers – for many devoted Christians they provide real sources of stability, and strength in times of need, and for many on the fringe they remain, the last vestiges of Christian practice that they continue to observe. But there is much more to Christian prayer than that.
The dictionary says that prayer is a petition made to a God, and, of course, that is all right, for Jesus tells us that we must be ready to ask God for things in prayer, and the point of this parable of a persistent widow is precisely that God will answer such prayers, when they are made in his name and according to his will, though in his way and at his time, and that requires of us that what we ask for is, as best we can tell, truly in accordance with God’s plans, and that we wait patiently on God.
But let us get down to basics! Prayer is about building a relationship with God, and that can be done in many ways. It can be done through set prayers, though there is the obvious danger that they become sterile, mechanical, and cease to serve the overall aim of prayer; as we have said, prayers of petition – in which we ask – are also part of prayer, but only part, and it is a blasphemy to ask without being ready to be part of the answer. For example, to pray for those in need without being ready to lift a finger to give practical help must be highly displeasing to God, who calls us to work with him in righting injustice and relieving suffering with all the means at our disposal. But the boundaries of what constitutes true prayer are in fact very broad – we can build a relationship with God in many ways. You could sit and look at a religious painting or a icon or stained glass window, you could listen to a piece of superb music, you could go for a walk across the hills, you could of course remain silent before the Blessed Sacrament, and, if you want, all these things could bring you closer to God.
So, first rule is, keep praying – it is so easy to give up when times are hard, when prayer doesn’t seem to be achieving anything, but second don’t be afraid to find whatever ways are helpful to you to bring you closer to the living God – do that, and you will be praying, even if it seems worlds away from the words of that teacher who said to you many years ago “Hands together and eyes closed.”
Fr. Edward Bryant