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Constant Prayer

Lectio Divina: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C

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Roman Rite
Ex 17.8 – 13; Ps 121; 2 Tim 3.14 4.2; Lk 18, 1-8
Ambrosian Rite
Is 60.11 to 21 [1 Pt 2, 4-10]; Ps 117; B 15-17.20-21; Lk 6.43 to 48
Third Sunday of October
Dedication of the Milan cathedral
1) Constance of prayer: we must pray always.
This Sunday’s Gospel begins with this sentence: “At that time, Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary” and ends with the Messiah’s question: “When the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth? “ In addition to the invitation to constant prayer, St. Luke draws attention to the question of constant faith. Will we be able to keep it steady, or will it be only a matter of giving and taking for the solution of our problems?
Regarding prayer, though Jesus’ statement about the need to pray with perseverance, persistence and confidence are never questioned, the question that immediately comes to mind is: “How is it possible to pray always?” If it is true that prayer is the breath of faith (Pope Francis), therefore to pray is a necessity because if we stop breathing we stop living. This spiritual breath is not as automatic and spontaneous as the natural breathing. What is spontaneous in nature in the spirit is the result of asceticism and a work that, we could say, is a fight that involves all energies.
  To listen, to meditate, to talk and to be silent in front of the speaking Lord is an art that is learned by practicing it constantly. Prayer is a gift that asks to be welcomed. It is God’s work, but it requires commitment and continuity on our part.  Continuity and consistency are important.
Persevering in prayer we will understand and experience that the prayer is the breath of life in the same way as love is breath for two people that are in love.
Prayer is our communion with the Son and the Father in the Holy Spirit that brings us into communion with the creation and with our brothers and sisters. Prayer is the human life fully realized. For this reason, we must pray always without becoming discouraged if God seems deaf to our prayer. It is not important what He gives us. Important is that we are with him and we trust him. This is the real fruit of prayer. It is like an open channel in which flows the oxygen of God, the life of God that we breathe.
In profound friendship with Jesus, living in him and with him the filial relationship with the Father and through faithful and constant prayer, we can open the windows over God’s Heaven.  Moreover, following the path of prayer we can help others to follow it. Even for the Christian prayer it is true that, walking this path, other paths, that must be faithfully followed, can be open.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta taught: “The fruit of silence is prayer. The fruit of prayer is faith. The fruit of faith is love. The fruit of love is service. The fruit of service is peace “. To the question that a nun had asked on how to learn to pray, this great and humble saint replied: “Praying”. She added: “We are not asked to be good, but to be faithful. Start and end the day with prayer. Go to God like children. If you find it hard to pray, you can say: ‘Come, Holy Spirit, guide me, protect me, and clear my mind so that I can pray’. Prayer does not require you to interrupt your work, but to continue the work as if it were a prayer. What matters is being with Him, live in Him, in His will. “In order to be with Christ it is not necessary to have a doctorate of any kind but just to be like Mother Teresa, a person of prayer and faith. It is enough to be like the farmer, a parishioner of Ars, that every evening after work in the fields went to church and spent a long time there without opening his mouth but contemplating Christ on the cross. To the question of the Saint Curé of Ars on how he filled that long prayer time, this humble worker of the land answered: “I look at him (the Christ) and He looks at me.”
2) Constance of faith: we must always persevere in faith.
In the first paragraph, I tried to give cues regarding the question “how to pray always?” Now I will try to sketch an answer to the question of Christ: “The Son of man, when he returns, will he find faith on earth?”
There is a strong link between faith and prayer, because faith is tireless prayer.
Perhaps we do not understand that it is the Lord that desires our cry, our constant prayer. Even when He seems to disappear from our lives and when we feel like the widow of today’s Gospel, He tells us tenderly: “Let me hear your voice, show me your tears, tell me what there is in the profound of your heart”
It is the concrete experience of God’s love and help that everyone has in his life that gives us the certainty that, even when we do not see or we face darkness, the justice and the love of God are at work. Everything will be clear only at the end, when we will have the perfect vision. Now, we are asked to trust God, namely to have faith. A faith that is not easy, and requires strength, firmness and a perseverance like the one of the widow of the Gospel, and the one of Paul who exhorts: “I urge you, brothers, to fight with me in prayer” (Romans 15, 30). In the Greek version the verb is “sunagonizein” (= with agony), indicating the decisive and supreme fight.
The important thing is to believe in the love of Christ, who on the cross shows us that He loves us more than himself. We will then understand that the need to pray always and relentlessly is the necessity of love. Only a loving heart prays faithfully and relentlessly and responds incessantly to the voice of his Beloved. Praying is not madness, or alienation. Prayer is the encounter with the friend that we do not deserve but who offered himself to us, provisional and precarious human beings.
The verb “to pray” has the same root as “precarious”, which means to be a person who gets something only if the other gives it to him. Our relationship with God and with people is always precarious. Every human relationship is precarious, because we have it only if we want it, and if the other gives it to us for free. Prayer is the fundamental act of a relationship that exists between people.
The first thing we teach to a child is to ask and say thank you. This is fundamental. It is the relationship. Otherwise there is only fetishism and reification because, if we do not live an attitude of gratitude, what matters are things and not people.
For this reason, it is necessary to pray always, at all times and in all places, as Jesus did especially at the time of the Crucifixion. With his constant prayer, so persevering as to be made even on the Cross, Jesus leads us to faith and total trust in God and in his will. Jesus wants to show that the God, who so loved humanity and the world to send his only begotten Son (see Jn 3:16), is the God of Life, the God who brings hope and is able to solve humanly impossible situations. The trusting prayer of a believer, then, is a living witness of the presence of God in the world, of his interest in humanity and of his doing to carry out his plan of salvation.
Of this faithful and constant prayer made in faith, the consecrated virgins in the world are a simple and clear example. These women have consecrated themselves because they believed in the merciful and faithful love of God. For this faith, they have put their entire lives under the sign of mercy and loyalty. Loyalty is persevering and unconditional commitment. God has offered himself to us, once and for all, in his Word. He has never taken it back.  To believe is to give one’s word, to commit to one who has committed to us with no return. Consequently, these women are faithful, persevering and tenacious. They never take back the wows pronounced at the consecration. They do not abandon the good cause of God who manifested himself to them as a Person for whom it is worth living.
Gladly they have given everything of themselves, body and soul, because virginity is not only a state of the body but it is primarily a virtue of the soul. With their consecration, lived humbly in the world, they show that a life given to God in prayer and in the shadows, and virginity are the fruit of prayer and of a faithful and fervent love for Christ. Without love for Christ one cannot be a virgin. Finally, it is worth remembering that the Christian virginity has as model the Virgin Mary. She has been the virgin par excellence, the one open to the action of God. If God became incarnate in her, he did it because of her availability.

Patristic Reading
Saint Augustin of Hippo
Sermo 65
On the words of the gospel, Lc 18,1 “They ought always to pray, and not to faint,” etc. And on the two who went up into the temple to pray: and of the little children who were presented unto Christ.
The lesson of the Holy Gospel builds us up unto the duty of praying and believing, and of not putting our trust in ourselves, but in the Lord. What greater encouragement to prayer than the parable which is proposed to us of the unjust judge? For an unjust judge, who feared not God, nor regarded man, yet gave ear to a widow who besought him, overcome by her importunity, not inclined thereto by kindness.1 If he then heard her prayer, who hated to be asked, how must He hear who exhorts us to ask? When therefore by this comparison from a contrary case theLord had taught that” men ought always to pray and not to faint,”2 He added and said, “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man shall come, thinkest thou that He shall find faith on the earth?”3 If faith fail, prayer perishes. For who prays for that which he does not believe? Whence also the blessed Apostle, when he exhorted to prayer, said, “Whosoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord, shall be saved.”4 And in order to show that faith is the fountain of prayer, he went on and said, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed?”5 So then that we may pray, let us believe; and that this same faith whereby we pray fail not, let us pray. Faith pours out prayer, and the pouring out of prayer obtains the strengthening of faith. Faith, I say, pours out prayer, the pouring out of prayer obtains strengthening even for faith itself. For that faith might not fail in temptations, therefore did the Lord say,” Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.”6 “Watch,” He saith, “and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.” What is to “enter into temptation,” but to depart from faith? For so far temptation advances as faith gives way: and so far temptation gives way, as faith advances. For that you may know, Beloved, more plainly, that the Lord said, “Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation,” as touching faith lest it should fail and perish; He said in the same place of the Gospel “This night hath Satan desired to sift7 you as wheat, and I have prayed for thee, Peter, that thy faith fail not.”8 He that defendeth prayeth, and shall not he pray who is in peril? For in the words of the Lord, “when the Son of Man shall come, thinkest thou that He shall find faith on the earth?” He spoke of that faith, which is perfect. For it is scarce found on the earth. Lo! this Church of God is full: and who would come hither, if there were no faith? But who would not remove mountains, if there were full faith? Look at the very Apostles: they would not have left all they had, have trodden under foot this world’s hope, and followed the Lord, if they had not had great faith; and yet if they had full faith, they would not have said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”9 See again, that man confessing both of himself (behold faith, yet not full faith), who when he had presented to the Lord his son to be cured of an evil spirit, and was asked whether he believed, answered and said, “Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief.10 “Lord,” says he, “I believe,” I believe; therefore there was faith. But “help Thou mine unbelief,” thereforethere was not frill faith.
But inasmuch as faith belongs not to the proud, but to the humble, “He spake this parable unto certain who seemed to themselves to be righteous, and despised others. Two men went up into the temple to pray, the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee said, God, I thank Thee that I am not as the rest of men.”11 He might at least have said, “as many men.” What does, “as the rest of men,” mean, but all except himself? “I,” he says, “am just, the rest are sinners.” “I am not as the rest of men, unjust, extortioners, adulterers.” And, lo, from thy neighbour, the publican, thou takest occasion of greater pride. “As,” he says, “this publican.” “I,” he says, “am alone, he is of the rest.” “I am not,” says he, “such as he is, through my righteous deeds, whereby I have no unrighteousness.” “I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.”12 In all his words seek out for any one thing that he asked of God, and thou wilt find nothing. He went up to pray: he had no mind to pray to God, but to laud himself. Nay, it is but a small part of it, that he prayed not to God, but lauded himself. More than this he even mocked him that did pray. “But the Publican stood afar off;”13 and yet he was in deed near to God. The consciousness of his heart kept him off, piety brought him close. “But the Publican stood afar off:” yet the Lord regarded him near. “For the Lord is high, yet hath He respect unto the lowly.”14 But “those that are high” as was this Pharisee, “He knoweth afar off. “The high” indeed “God knoweth afar off,” but He doth not pardon them. Hear still more the humility of the Publican. It is but a small matter that he stood afar off; “he did not even lift up his eyes unto heaven.” He looked not, that he might be looked upon. He did not dare to look upwards, his conscience pressed him down: but hope lifted him up. Hear again, “he smote his breast.” He punished himself: wherefore the Lord spared him for his confession. “He smote his breast, saying, Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.” See who he is that prays. Why dost thou marvel that God should pardon, when he acknowledges his own sin? Thus thou hast heard the cases of the Pharisee and Publican; now hear the sentence; thou hast heard the proud accuser, thou hast heard the humble criminal; hear nowthe Judge. “Verily I say unto you.” The Truth saith, God saith, the Judge saith it. “VerilyI say unto you, That Publican went down from the temple justified rather than that Pharisee.”15 Tell us, Lord, the cause. Lo! I see that the publican goes down from the temple justified rather than the Pharisee. I ask why? Dost thou ask why? Hear why. “Because every one that exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”16 Thou hast heard the sentence, beware of its evil cause. In other words, thou hast heard the sentence, beware of pride.

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Mgr Francesco Follo

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