Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Oct. 20)

“Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth,” is the responsorial to the psalm in today’s liturgy. It is a prayer professing confidence in the Lord. He is the one who will help us in our need. He is the one who has the power to assist us because he is the creator of all things.

Psalm 121 describes God in terms of a guardian who watches over our every step. His presence in our lives is not bound by time or place. While a human guard is on post for several hours at a time, God guards us always for “he neither slumbers or sleeps.” The Lord watches over us wherever we may be for “The Lord will guard you coming and your going, both now and forever.”

God is ever-present. He is available to us. He hears our calls and our pleas when we cry out to him. This is the point Jesus is stressing when he uses the parable of the unjust judge. The unjust judge is the one “who neither feared God nor respected any human being.” A woman comes to him seeking a just decision regarding her case against an adversary. There is no way to tell from the parable whether she knew the judge was dishonest. When she does not receive a verdict in her case she comes back again. She keeps coming back looking for a just decision. She is persistent in her petition. The judge finally gives in to hearing her case and giving a just decision, not because he is a good judge, but because of her persistence. The point of the parable is that if the dishonest judge will hear a petition because of persistence, how much more will the honest judge, God, hear His people when they cry to him in their need.

Petition is one of the types of prayer. We pray to God for assistance or deliverance, for wisdom or counsel, for peace or solace. The specifics of our prayers of petition come from our situation in life. Petitions can be for ourselves or for others; for a community or for an individual. We pray for virtue, for charity, for kindness. We pray for relief from sickness or we pray for good health. We pray for our children or parents. We pray for our spouse and family. We pray for mercy and forgiveness. We pray for anything that is good.

The first reading provides us an example of prayer in action. Here the prayer comes at a crucial time in the life of the Israelites. Amalek has gone to war with the Israelites. They are under attack. Moses instructs Joshua to make a counter attack. Meanwhile Moses with the help of Aaron and Hur climb a hill. The prayer comes in the form of an action. Moses will raise his hands to God asking for assistance. So long as his hands were raised to God — in other words, so long as the prayer persisted — Israel would have the better of the fight.

Now as we can imagine, it would not take long for Moses to grow tired and his arms grow heavy as he holds them up. When the arms would begin to fall Amalek would gain the upper hand. To rectify this situation Aaron and Hur would hold up Moses’ arms and support him. Through their help the prayer continues, it is answered and Israel is saved.

The reading reminds us several things related to prayer. First, God hears the prayers of his people when they call upon him. Second, persistence is needed, for the prayer of Moses lasted all day. Third, we make our prayers in the context of community. Moses needed the support of Aaron and Hur so that his prayer would continue.
This notion resonates with us in our life in the Church. In the communion we share with our brothers and sisters in Christ our prayers are not offered alone but with others. We see this in our liturgical prayer. One example is at the celebration of Mass in which the priest offers the Collect at the beginning of Mass, which gathers all our prayers and gives voice to the prayers in one prayer of the community.

Another example is at the end of prayers of petition (not at Mass but many other liturgies) the celebrant will say “gathering all our prayers as one, we pray as Jesus taught us” and then we say the Our Father together. Through these words, we are reminded of the bonds that unite us as one before our heavenly Father. We are also reminded of the obligation to support each other in prayer.

The second reading from the Second Letter to Timothy reminds us that Sacred Scripture is a good source for developing our prayer life. The letter states “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

Prayer with the Scriptures helps us to “listen,” for God may very well answer our prayers of petition through His Word. If we are attentive to His Word, we will receive consolation, wisdom, sympathy, guidance, courage and our faith will be bolstered.

God loves us. He is always attentive to our needs. He will help us and draw us close to himself. So it is with confidence that we, as the psalmist, cry out: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

***

Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.