29th Sunday in Ordinary Time: The Discipline of Prayer
The National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran, Paranaque, Philippines is the biggest shrine in the world dedicated to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Every Wednesday throughout the year, up to 150,000 devotees flock to the shrine. What draws thousands of people to the shrine?
Many who flock to the shrine are hungry, thirsty, alienated, depressed, excluded, abandoned and deprived in multiple ways and variety of experiences. Despite their poverty, they persistently turn to God and Our Mother of Perpetual Help. For many of them, the only strategy available is persistence in prayer. The plight of the poor devotees in Baclaran is, indeed, a present day retelling of the parable by Jesus in the gospel about the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8).
Today’s readings for the 29th Sunday in ordinary time is about the “necessity of praying always without becoming weary.”
In the gospel, Jesus told a parable about a widow who kept badgering the judge to vindicate her cause. As Fr. Dennis Hamm, emeritus professor of the New Testament at Creighton University in Omaha, USA, explains, a widow in the Ancient Near East is without resources. Since the court of law was entirely a male realm, we are to picture her as a lone woman amidst a noisy crowd of men. An oft-quoted description of Near Eastern litigation describes a raucous crowd of clients competing for the attention of a judge, who is surrounded by an array of personal clerks. Some clients gain access to the judge by supplying “fees” (bribes) to a particular clerk. The rest simply clamor. The fact that the woman is alone suggests that there is no male available in her extended family to plead her case. She is very much alone in an intimidating situation.
The judge is described as one who neither fears God nor is capable of shame before men. Presumably, he is moved only by bribery (the sort of judge implied by Amos 5:10-13), and this woman is either unwilling or unable to use that means. The only strategy available to her is persistence—which finally gets through to the irreverent and shameless judge.
The First Reading also talks about persistence in prayer but with the help and support of others. Moses stands on the top of a hill where he can see Israel battle it out with Amalek. To inspire his general, Joshua, Moses holds out “the staff of God” over the battle. He has to continue holding it out, straight-armed, until the combat is completely done because whenever he lowers his arms the enemy starts to win. This goes on for a long time and Moses’ arms do grow exceedingly weary. Moses was able to keep his hands raised (or “prayed constantly”) with the help of his companions, Aaron and Hur. They even found a rock for him to sit on.
St. Paul too, recommends persistence for Timothy—and us all—in our living and giving of the faith. Paul advises Timothy to “preach the word, to stay with the task whether convenient or inconvenient, correcting, reproving, appealing, constantly teaching and never losing patience.”
Persistence in prayer implies that prayer is a discipline. We tend to be most persistent about what is most important to us. For example, we are persistent in exercise routines, athletic training, musical practice. In the same way, we need to maintain discipline in prayer.
How can we maintain and sustain the discipline of prayer?
In the first reading, whenever Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight. In the same way, we need constantly to lift up our hands to God. This implies regularity in prayer. We do not just pray in times of need but also in times of joy. We do not only pray when we feel like praying but especially in times when we dont feel like praying. Prayer is an essential part of our daily life. This implies the necessity of forming the habit of prayer. We make prayer a habit, by setting aside a regular time for prayer in our daily routine.
Prayer with action and action with prayer
Moses prayed while Israel was engaged in battle. The persistent widow was banging at the gate of the corrupt judge while doing everything to get the justice she deserves. Indeed, prayer must be accompanied by action and action complemented by prayer. In fact, prayer and action should never be separate from each other. As the saying goes, “When you pray for rain, take an umbrella.” We also have a Filipino saying which goes, “Nasa Diyos ang awa, nasa tao ang gawa” (Mercy is in God, action is in people). Action without prayer is shallow and prayer without action is empty.
Praying with others
When the devotee goes to the shrine, she/he joins the thousand others who has their own individual petitions. Each one is inspired to not only pray for his/her own but for and with the others. When one hear the thousands sing and pray the novena in unison one cannot help but experience courage and hope, which provide the strength to go on amidst the struggles in life.
We become more persistent in prayer when we pray with others. Prayer makes us stronger to be in solidarity with others not isolate ourselves from others. Prayer builds communities and communities become more united in prayer.
In our daily lives, we are at a battle. We need both collective action and prayer. Our success in battling the evils and confronting the challenges in our world today depend upon our unity in action and prayer. Most importantly, through prayer we experience that God is ever near, God is with us in our struggles and aspirations. As Pope Francis said,
In our daily journey, especially in difficulties, in the fight against evil outside of ourselves and within us, the Lord is not far away, he is at our side; we fight, with him beside us, and our weapon is prayer, which makes us feel his presence alongside of us, his mercy, even his help.
Pope Francis, Angelus, October 20, 2013
 Dennis Hamm, SJ, “Let the Scriptures Speak” 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time, The Sunday Website at Saint Louis University, October 20, 2019, accessed at https://liturgy.slu.edu/29OrdC102019/theword_hamm.html