Luke 18:1-8, 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
I’ve been praying to God to work on my younger brother, to make him more responsible than he’s been all his life. Dad is 80 now, but he’s still “lawyering”. He says he loves working. But I know that he’s carrying Jonathan and his family on his shoulders every single day that he shows up for work. So, I’ve been praying this petition…for 25 years now. Awa ng Diyos, magpasahanggang nayon, ganon pa rin si Jonathan. At malamang, hanggang sa mamatay na sa pagod ang daddy, ‘di na siguro matututo sa buhay si bunso niyang mahal.
I used to feel hesitant preaching about today’s parable. It’s right up there with the Gospel where Jesus says, “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, etc.” I’ve known very well since childhood that there are things God doesn’t grant me no matter how persistently I ask, no matter how long I ask. So when I was a younger priest, I didn’t want to raise anyone’s hopes by telling people, “Keep praying, keep asking—remember the persistent widow?”, especially when I was preaching to people in much grimmer conditions than I. I was scared to tell them to persist in prayer, because if ever God didn’t grant them what they desperately needed, they might lose heart, and lose hope, and lose faith in God.
But you know what, sisters and brothers, now that I am older, I’m convinced that my fear back then was baseless, even ridiculous. Because as far as I’ve seen, people who persistently ask God for something but don’t necessarily get what they wish—they’re the ones who seem to never lose heart, and never lose hope, and never lose faith in prayer and in God. This cuts across social lines—whether it’s an Alabang mother asking God to cure her daughter’s cancer, or Ate Cora of Tundo who’s still praying for a better life for her kids, but both have yet to see any of that happening—these are the people who have not stopped praying or going to church or even serving in church. And I know many people like them in desperate need, who aren’t seeing their prayers answered exactly as they envision them, but none of them, not one, is showing any sign of quitting on God or on prayer.
On the other hand, I noticed it’s when I am no longer praying as constantly as I should that I find it easier to despair. When my life is going well and I grow cavalier towards praying, and then I hit a snag and ask God for something, and it doesn’t happen—that’s when I turn a shade more cynical. That’s when I feel a worm of distrust of God.
These two experiences have led me to personally believe that constant, persevering prayer leads us not necessarily to a place where we eventually find for the taking everything we ask for from God—but rather to a place of quiet, trusting, hopeful, and faith-filled surrender to God. Those who know God deeply also know themselves deeply. They know that in the end, what they really long for and desperately desire is God Himself—in whatever way, shape, or form God could give Himself to them—yes, even through the silence of desperate, aching need. We wish to persist in praying to God, dear sisters and brothers, so that whether we’re exactly granted our petitions or not, we shall have journeyed far enough with God to realize that it’s God Himself whom we truly, deeply desire. This is what lies behind the prayer of many, many people in tremendous difficulty who finally say, “Panginoon, kahit na po ano ang mangyari po, ‘wag po Ninyo kaming pababayaan po, Panginoon.” People who persevere in praying eventually realize it’s really & ultimately God Himself whom they desire.
In the novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I’ve had a favorite line since I was a child. It’s the one that goes: “Sacred heart of Jesus, I know that there is but one thing impossible to You: to be without pity for those who are suffering or in distress.” It’s really not asking for anything in particular, is it? “Kabanal-banalang puso ni Hesus, kahit na ano pong mangyari, maawa po kayo sa amin;” a longing for God Himself, our merciful, ever-loving God. Amen.