Msgr. Joseph Prior

Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Oct. 16)

“Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth,” we proclaim in the responsorial psalm in the readings for this Sunday’s Mass. The prayer is a prayer of faith in God’s benevolent and loving care for his people. The prayer is a prayer of trust relying on God for his divine assistance and protection. The prayer is a prayer of confidence recognizing God’s goodness and faithfulness to his people.

Jesus uses the parable of the persistent widow to highlight God’s loving care and the need for prayer. It is helpful to look at the context in which Jesus introduces the parable. He is offering a teaching “about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.”

A widow seeking a just decision from the corrupt judge represents the stress on personal prayer to the Father. The widow is persistent in her prayer. Her petition is just and she seeks to have this verified and satisfied by a judge.

In reading the parable, it seems like the unjust judge does not listen to her at first. In his experience her persistence is seen as pestering because she will not give up until the petition is heard. He thinks to himself: “because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her.”

Jesus emphasizes her tenacity. She will not give up. She knows her cause is just and she seeks justice. It might seem strange that Jesus uses an “unjust judge” as the one to receive the petition. The unjust judge is not an image of God, our heavenly Father, but rather is used for contrast. Jesus describes the judge as neither fearing God nor respecting any human being stressing the fact that the judge is unjust. The judge himself echoes this when he thinks to himself: “it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being.”

The contrast comes at the end when Jesus gives the interpretation of the parable. If the unjust judge does what is right in response to the widow’s persistence, how much more will God, who is just, come to the aid of all who call upon him.

The widow and her petition represent the pray-er and the prayer. At the heart of our prayer is the quest for God’s will which is always just for he is the author of justice. When Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray, he gives them the “Our Father.” This is, most likely, the prayer that nearly all Christians have memorized. In the “Our Father” we regularly pray “thy will be done.” In seeking divine assistance, we come as children longing for what is right and good from the one who knows, in absolute terms, which is right and good.

The first reading for Sunday’s liturgy comes from the Book of Exodus. It recalls the passage where the Israelites are in battle with Amalek. The prayer for divine assistance is represented through an action. Moses holding the “staff of God” in his raised hands is a prayer for divine assistance.

So long as his hands are raised, the Israelites will be victorious in defending themselves against the onslaught of Amalek. It happens, as well could be expected, that Moses grows weary holding his arms raised in the air. Aaron and Hur assist Moses and he is able to continue.

In this story we see another example of persistence in prayer. We also see that the prayer, represented by Moses’ raising high the “staff of God,” is not Moses’ alone; he has assistance. God hears the prayer of Moses and the Israelites and he helps them to become victorious against their aggressors.

The second reading for the liturgy comes from the Second Letter to Timothy. The passage reminds us that the Word of God reflected in the Sacred Scriptures is a great aid to our life of faith. “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.”

The Sacred Scriptures provide a rich source for our prayer and reflection. We can use the Scriptures, for example the psalms, to help us articulate our needs or blessings before God. God also uses the Scriptures to speak to us. Through pondering and meditating on the Sacred texts we are drawn into the mystery of divine life.

Jesus invites us to pray regularly and persistently to our heavenly Father. The responsorial psalm gives a communal acclamation of our confidence in God’s goodness to us. We say: “Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

The Lord invites us to turn to him in our need, to call on him for help. He has heard the “cry of the poor” in the past and he continues to hear that cry when we call upon him.