Catholic Homily/Reflection
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C
October 21, 2007

Today’s readings remind me of people who know what they want, who know that what they want is good for them, and who also know that what they want as something ultimately good for them, is worth waiting patiently for, praying fervently for, and working feverishly for.

Where I come from, people have the utmost respect and reverence for farmers. I am one of those who look up to them with awe. My father was an accountant by profession, but a farmer by vocation. He loved to plant. He loved to till the soil and be close to nature. He began planting coffee trees at age 11, together with his even younger brother who eventually died as a boy of something that, by today’s medical standards, could easily have been cured. He knew what he wanted. He knew that what he wanted was good for his future (and ours!). And he worked for what he wanted with utmost dedication, commitment, and perseverance.

For me, on account primarily, though not solely, of my father’s and many relatives’ good example, farmers are the epitome of patience and perseverance. They plant with a long range vision in mind. What they plant today, they know all too well, is not something they will reap tomorrow. They know how to watch and wait. And in the meantime, they fondle the work of their hands with the brightest of hopes accompanied by the most fervent prayer. Persistence and perseverance are two words that aptly describe them in general.

This kind of unflinching perseverance is what juts out of the first and third readings. In the context of a fierce battle that probably could have had something to do with a much-prized and much-coveted watering hole, Moses and his people put up a fierce resistance. Although there seems to be something faintly magical in what he does, the real focus of the passage is not the use of magic, but the persevering and long-suffering nature of what Moses does – raise up his arms in an obvious allusion to the biblical gesture of fervent prayer.

Our usual one-word summary of the first reading, is thus, none other than this simple word … ALWAYS. If we are to take to heart the meaning behind the gesture of Moses (with the help of some equally committed aides), then the allusion to praying always could not be clearer. “As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight.”

The Gospel passage, like the first reading, leads us to reflect on patient, persistent prayer. But there is more than just persistence in both readings. Beyond speaking of persistence, both readings allude to one obvious trait that accrues from, and accompanies, persistence – the capacity to conjure up various means and methods to achieve one’s end. Moses’ aides resorted to the ruse of propping up his hand(s). They took Moses’ noble cause and made it their own, by taking part in Moses’ ministry of intercessory prayer. The widow spoken of in the gospel did all her best to talk the wicked judge out of indifference and carefree insouciance, and cajole him to take action in her favor. Wicked though he was, he fell for the various antics and persistent ways of the widow. ALL WAYS is an apt phrase to summarize both readings. Persistence and perseverance are shown in creative and proactive stances to take up God’s cause – in many ways more than one, just in order to advance one’s vision and achieve one’s legitimate aim. Some Sundays back if you remember, the gospel spoke all about the steward who wisely did EVERYTHING possible to save his own skin (25th Sunday, Sept. 23). St. Paul, too, alludes to this equally multi-faceted power and incisiveness of God’s Word that works in “all ways,” because it is “inspired of God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction and training in righteousness” (2nd reading).

A pray-er prays always and in all ways, and is “persistent, whether convenient or inconvenient” (2nd reading), as St. Paul continues to remind us.

Inconvenient is an apt word to describe many situations of our times. The growing traffic snarls all over the world, particularly in developing – and, I must add – corruption-ridden countries, the unabated rapid destruction of the world’s delicate ecological balance, epitomized by the raging – if, irreversible – phenomenon of global warming, along with many others, are all in function of the overweening desire to reduce or banish whatever is inconvenient. Inconvenience, too, is what draws people away from church, or from personal prayer. Inconvenience, too, is what explains the loss of sacrality and solemnity in our hurried and harried Masses in far too many churches in our times. Inconvenience, too, is what explains the loss of the culture of “Sunday best” in people’s attire in Church on Sundays. It’s too much hassle to dress up properly and go to Church Sunday in and Sunday out. It is too inconvenient to be spending quality time each day for personal prayer and reflection, when that precious time could be used to be more productive and economically fruitful. I have heard quite a number of people complain vociferously when the priest, in his homily, does so much as add a minute or two to his “ten responsible minutes.” And those who complain, by the way, are usually also those who come late for Mass – precisely for the same reason as “inconvenience.”

When convenience and the search for quick results become the true protagonists in the daily drama of life, the “always” and “all ways” character of prayer bows out of the stage of everyday life. Like the proverbial dodo bird, they just fade away from the scene, and their absence is effectively masked and covered over by the more attractive pull of what gives comfort and convenience for the here, for the now.

Where I come from, I saw many years ago (don’t ask how many) very good examples of these “always” and “all ways” of prayer that is as persistent as it is creative and proactive. My grandmothers of both sides were women of prayer. As a boy, the most vivid memories I have of both of them were when they were praying. Like most old people I knew back then, they were praying when they were not working, and they were working when they were not praying. And it was hard to tell the difference between one and the other. Of course, my mother who knew what she wanted at all costs, prayed fervently for what she wanted above all – the grace of a happy peaceful death. And we all think she got what she prayed for … every day, in every way, all the way.

There is something very real and concrete in what is proposed to us by the readings. Times are both “convenient and inconvenient” for the most dedicated and pious pray-er that, I would like to think, all of us at least fancy ourselves to be at some point or other in our lives. With global warming and its effects hanging like a Damocles’ sword on each and everyone of us, with the specter of so much self-destructive behavior that societies are all too prone to, with so much corruption in and out of governments, along with the progressively diminishing natural resources that more and more people are vying for and even fighting for, like fresh water, less and less time and energy is given to what is perceived as a non-productive activity that prayer is perceived to be.

But we just have to take God’s word for it. We simply have to make good what we, in fact, pray for each day: “Give us this day, our daily bread.” Such daily insistence and persistence … such daily perseverance are of the essence of prayer. Peter John Cameron is right … “The heart of prayer is praying with our heart.” It is praying with all our heart, with all we’ve got … time, means, effort, faith, and all … We need to stow it in our hearts and show it in our lives … pray with persistence and perseverance … ALL DAYS, ALL WAYS, and for ALWAYS.

National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians
Paranaque City, October 16, 2007 8:45 AM