Life & Soul

Persistent prayer will always purify the heart

Moses with His Arms Supported by Aaron and Hur, by Thomas Brigstocke (1809-1881)

The 29th Sunday of the Year
Ex 17:8-13; 2 Tim 314 – 4:2; Lk 18:1-8 (Year C)

“The Lord will guard you from evil, he will guard your going and coming, both now and forever” (Psalm 120). For people of faith, prayer is the first resort in a time of crisis. Sadly, it is also too often the last resort when all else has failed and we have been brought to a realisation of our own helplessness.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the consideration of prayer has an important place throughout the scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments.

The psalms, our response to the Word of God in the Liturgy, are the prayers that have sustained God’s people down the centuries. They express in prayer the differing moods and situations of the heart, and as such are an invaluable support to prayer.

Today’s first reading, from the Book of Exodus, balances prayer and action.

As the tribes of Israel approached the Promised Land they came under attack from the Amalekites. Moses ordered the people to prepare for battle under the leadership of Joshua. When battle was engaged, Moses withdrew to the hilltop to accompany his people with prayer.

So long as his arms were raised in prayer the defence stood firm, but when his arms fell, defeat threatened.

It is an ancient story of tribal survival with few of the sensitivities that belong to a later age. The key aspect of the narrative, however, remains true for all time. Prayer is (and must remain) the unceasing stance that links sinful humanity to the God “who guards our going and coming”. Prayer and action are inextricably linked in such a way that either one will fail without the other.

Jesus emphasised the same point in his parable about the need to pray continuously and never lose heart. The parable is intriguing, speaking as it does of a widow who through her persistence finally wins justice from a reluctant judge. We can relate to the widow’s experience, because for us too prayer can sometimes be experienced as the attempt to summon a reluctant and distant God.

The parable could not examine prayer in all its dimensions. Persistent prayer, however, whatever its immediate occasion, will always purify the heart. Prayer is a communion with God, and as such will refine our mixed intentions. Because sustained prayer brings us into communion with God, it never goes unanswered.

It either gives us the strength to endure with Christ what must be endured, or moves us to another place.