Saint Mary of the Angels homilies and reflections

Homily, October 20, 2013, "Persevere in Prayer for Justice", Fr. Ken Hughes, SJ


St. Mary of the Angels Sunday OT 29 C 10/20/13

Exodus 17.8-13; II Timothy 3.14-4.2; Luke 18.1-8

My Brothers and Sisters,

In our first reading today from Exodus, we see Moses lifting his arms in prayer to God for victory over Amalek. As long as Moses raises his arms, Joshua and the Israelites win.

In World War II, Gen. George Patton, frustrated by days of rain, told his chaplain, Chaplain O’Neil, that he wanted him to write a prayer for good weather and have it sent to all the soldiers to pray. Reluctantly, (because he did not want to ask God for good weather for the sake of killing) Chaplain O’Neil composed a prayer. The men prayed. In 24 hours the skies cleared and stayed clear for a week. The army surged forward, and Gen. Patton, delighted, awarded Chaplain O’Neil the Bronze Star for his "potent praying."

And how many of us were praying for Tom Brady in the last 73 seconds of the Pats-Saints game last Sunday???

These stories raise uncomfortable questions:

Does God take sides?

Does persevering prayer always succeed?

If my prayer is not answered, what does it say about God and about me?

I will not respond to those questions directly, but I will explore with you today’s Gospel to see what Jesus is saying about prayer. It is not as simple as you may think. It is not just about persevering in prayer. There is more to ponder.

In the parable-story which Jesus relates, we have a powerful judge, who seems to be a law unto himself, versus a poor widow. The word "widow" in Hebrew means "one who has no voice." In reality, a voice is all she has. And she uses it powerfully!

Then, we tune in on the judge’s thinking. He admits that he does not fear God. Nor does he respect people. But, he is concerned about his reputation as a judge. He does not want to be known as an unjust judge. So, he concludes, "I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me." Is he actually afraid that this widow is going to beat him up? In fact, the word "strike" is literally "to give a black eye." But, "giving a black eye" is a metaphor for "giving a bad reputation." And the judge, fearing a bad reputation, yields. The widow, by her persistence, gains the justice she wanted.

Before Jesus told this parable, He said that it was "a parable about the necessity … to pray always without becoming weary." Now, at the end, He clarifies that this persevering prayer is not praying for anything and everything. It is about praying for justice. He asks, "Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night?" Jesus joins together justice and prayer.

"Secure rights of his chosen ones." Does God take sides? Yes! God does take sides. God is on the side of those who suffer injustice. But, God does not intervene directly and overturn injustice in the world. Rather, God works through those who seek justice either for themselves or for others. Injustice, however, is so deep and so widespread in our world that it wears down those confronting it. It takes great perseverance, both in prayer and action, to overcome injustice. Those who do not pray perseveringly to God will not have the grace, will not have the necessary inner strength to persevere in the struggle.

This is an important message for all of us. Grave injustices surround us on all sides. And the powers of injustice are wearing us down. Look at how these powers have been trying to undermine universal health care, thwart gun control, deny immigration reform and maintain the scandalous gap between the wealthy few and the impoverished many. How hard it will be to keep standing against these dark forces unless we steadfastly persevere in prayer with God. Otherwise, we will grow weary and give up.

English poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson insightfully wrote: "More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of." This is especially true when our prayer is for justice for the poor and oppressed of this world. This prayer, we can be sure, God will answer – if we persevere! "But" as Jesus asks us, "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith…?"



Kenneth J. Hughes, S.J.

Brighton, Mass. 10/20/13

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