Then he told them a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. He said, “There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. In that city was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” ’For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, ‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I will grant her justice, so she may not wear me out by continually coming. The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:1-8)
In the prayer series I am facilitating at Pilgrim Center of Hope called Lord, Teach Me to Pray, we are taught the Ignatian Spiritual Exercise of ‘sitting’ with the Gospel. We are instructed to read a passage three times very slowly. Each time we are to take notice of a phrase or even a word that sticks out. We learn it is the Holy Spirit that uses the Word, this two-edged sword, to cut through our imagination, memory and perceptions and teaches us how to know, love and serve God.
The formula is quite easy:
1. Find a quiet place for a space of 15 minutes.
2. Ask our Lord to sit with you, “Come Lord Jesus.”
3. Ask for a particular grace/virtue you are trying to cultivate (perseverance, for instance.)
4. Read a Gospel passage three times slowly.
5. ‘Sit’ with a word or phrase from the passage that strikes you with each reading.
6. Ask the Holy Spirit about it.
8. End with an Our Father.
It is through the Word, conversing with the Holy Spirit and praying to the Father that God, in all three Persons of the Trinity, reveals Himself to us and reveals who we are to Him.
Let’s take the passage on the persistent widow above as an example of how this works:
I am trying to cultivate the virtue of perseverance and I struggle with how God does not quickly answer my prayers even though I am confident what I am asking is a good prayer. What gives? This is the question that hangs in my heart.
First reading: The word/phrase that strikes me is: ‘kept’ as in “In that city was a widow who kept coming to him. . . ” and also, Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.
Obviously, I am struck by what I am struggling with and so I ask, “Why do we have to keep coming to ask? Why is once not enough when You are God and you obviously know what we are going to ask before we do?”
Second reading: The phrase that hits me is, “Grant me justice against my opponent.”
The Holy Spirit is now asking me to contemplate so I sit with this phrase for a few minutes and respond, “How bold she is! She knew what justice is, she knew it was due her and she was not going to stop coming until she got it. How often do I ask with such confidence?
Third reading: I am sensing a new path the Holy Spirit wants me to walk because the phrase He stops me on is, “because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice . . .”
The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says.” What did the judge say? He said the word ‘justice’ as if he knew exactly what the justice rendered should be, he just didn’t feel like giving it to her. Why? Could be any number of reasons: perhaps it meant more work for him or maybe he never felt he got justice so why should anyone else. Or maybe, it was just a power trip, who knows?
God knows. He knows the judge’s heart and what the Holy Spirit was telling me is that there was a purpose to the consistent ‘coming to him’ through the widow’s perseverance. He was relying on her persistence to force the judge to choose good.
That choice for good may have been the crack God was waiting for to enter this dishonest judge’s heart. God was counting on His faithful daughter, this bold and confident woman, to not give up. He needed her faithful perseverance to be the hammer that made the crack in the judge’s stony heart.
What about the stony hearts in our lives? How often do we pray for others only to give up before we see the results we want? How many hearts have stayed sealed because I failed to remain confident in prayer? I think of what God told St. Catherine of Siena, “I created you without you, but I will not save you without you.” Or others either, it would seem. This passage reveals that it is the very act of persistent prayer that is the force that effects the outcome. Our lack of confidence in an all-loving, all-knowing, all-merciful God results in us too often putting down the hammer of our asking, just before the heart is set to crack.
I end with the Our Father thanking God for helping me know His Way, to love Him for showing me who I am created to be, His confident and faithful daughter, and the opportunity to serve Him in perseverance.
I read the parable one more time and stop at the end . . . .
But “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
If we remain persistent in confident prayer . . . . Yes!