Work and Persistent Prayer

21 October 2007. 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Exodus 17, 8-13; Psalm 121; 2 Tim 3, 14 – 4,2; Luke 18, 1-8

The readings today affirm the importance of work and prayer in proclaiming the Word of God. The parable of the judge and the widow and the letter of Paul to Timothy show why persistent prayer is necessary.

Let us take the characters in the Gospels today. We have a Jewish judge who settles personal disputes before it reaches the higher court of the elders or any similar public venues. During the time of Jesus, Rome appointed magistrates as judges. These judges were corrupt: they extorted money from the plaintiff if they want their cases settled quickly.

We also have a widow in the story today. During the time of Jesus, widows occupied the lower ranks of society; without the protection and support of their husbands, widows were poor and therefore defenseless from these corrupt government officials. But what made the widow stronger? She was persistent in her request. If a corrupt judge hears the cry of the widow because of her persistence, how much more will God who loves listens to our needs? The responsorial psalm today affirms this: Our help is from the Lord who made heaven and earth.

But Paul’s letter adds more to persistence: it tells us to persevere in our prayers whether it conveniences or inconveniences us. Prayer takes effort. We find the right place to pray. If coffee shops capitalize on ambience, prayer also benefits from a beautiful environment. When the place is conducive for prayer, we look for a passage in scripture to aid us in our meditation or contemplation. We carry our bibles or our breviaries that focus us on the Word of God, as Paul advises Timothy. Prayer also takes time. It takes 15 minutes from your work time, as those who are in the Retreat in Daily Life program. It takes one hour from your Sunday rest time, or even more for those who travel. In other words, we show our persistence by the very effort we put into developing a habit of prayer.

Moreover, the first reading from Exodus adds another dimension to this idea of persistent prayer. Prayer and work go together like two faces of one coin. St. Benedict lends us his rule: Ora et Labora (prayer and work). We see that in the partnership between Moses and Joshua. While Joshua engages Amalek in battle, Moses would keep his hands raised up. And as long as Moses could keep his position in prayer, Joshua wins. On the other hand, if Moses rests his hands, Joshua loses against Amalek. In other words, persistent prayer and work go inseparably together --- Ora et Labora.

Our daily routines shape and structure our lives. This, we all know. But we have questioned the practical effect of prayer on our work lives. Here’s a personal reflection. Prayer gives meaning to my work. I have listened to God in prayer, and believed that working with my students and accompanying them in their lives is what I was meant to be. The joy I feel when I am with them is incomparable. Yesterday, I have married one of my students. Moreover, prayer gives direction. Oftentimes, I find myself lost in the complications and busyness of life that I needed time to reflect and to regain my vision and goal. Furthermore, prayer gives me hope. Despite the many challenges that often discourage or exasperate me, I know that there is hope. And I am not alone. Having that hope makes me move on and drives me to continue believing in what I can do, and what God can do with my willingness.

Just as we believe that God works in us through the Holy Spirit that encourages us and gives us strength, simultaneously, when we work, we participate in God’s grace. Remove prayer, we fail as when Moses rests his hands. Remove work, we also fail because Joshua’s work contributed to the defeat of the Amalekites. Put work and prayer together, we experience miracles.

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