Today’s Gospel is on the theme of “prayer.” This theme is not so much about our need to pray, but more on our need to persevere in our prayers, like the widow in the Gospel that we just heard. To persevere in our prayers is never easy when our pains are constant and especially for some when they are so intense that sometimes we even want to give up on life. This is so also when we feel that God does not seem to be answering our prayers; when He seems to be deaf to our pleas and numb to our pains.
About a year ago, one of our parishioners (let us call her Lucia; not her real name) came up to me to say, “Father, I just got me medical results and my cholesterol level is so high that it is beyond measure, which is more than 1,000.” Being somewhat desperate and feeling her helplessness and pain, I gave her some holy water from the spring at the shrine of Our Lady of Valengkkani (Our Lady of Health) in Medan and asked her to take a drop of the water each day and prayer to Our Lady. She followed my suggestions and prayed fervently for three months till her next medical appointment was due. When the doctor took her cholesterol blood tests he was shocked to find that while the normal cholesterol level is below 200 her cholesterol, hers has dropped to 180; which is even better than mine!
I know what’s going to happen after this Mass; many of you would want some of this holy water from the Shrine of Our Lady of Valengkkani. Sure, I am most willing to give it to you, but before you do that, let us first remember that the holy water from the spring of the Shrine of Our Lady is not magical, but Our Lord using the water in a miraculous way. There is a difference between magic and miracle. Magic is performed through human trickery and ingenuity; whereas, a miracle is performed by God, in this case through the intercession of Our Lady, but more importantly because of our faith in God’s healing powers and compassion for our needs. The key word here that we need to take note of is faith; faith in God that brings about miracles, and not fantasies that come from human magic.
If someone were to come up to me and say that, “Actually, I don’t care whether it is magic or miracles, as long as I get cured.” I would say to the person, “You don’t have faith.” This is because your primary concern is the cure and not your relationship with the Lord, which is more important than the cure.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us through the parable of the widow, that we are each called to pray“continually and never lose heart,” Jesus wants us to trust Him more fully. When we pray we are deepening our faith in the Lord, that He cares and that we can entrust our lives, our health and all our concerns in His hands.
Did Jesus not tell us elsewhere in the Gospel, “Ask, and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened unto you?” Did Jesus also not saythat, “If your earthly fathers know how to give the best in life to their children,would your Heavenly Father not give you even more? Would He who sent His only Son to save us through His sufferings and death and resurrection, give us a scorpion if we ask for an egg, or a stone if we ask for bread, or snake if we ask for fish? And then again in today’s Gospel, if a persistent widow can persuade a wicked judge to give in to her pleas, what more of our loving Father in heaven? Would He not give us all that is goodand help us in every way to gain eternal life?
Many years ago, an Indonesian lady (let us call her Maria; not her real name), rung my door bell and asked me to bless her. I said, “Sure! Do you have any special needs that I should pray for?” She then shared with me, “Father, I have to go for my brain tumour operation tomorrow;this is my second operation. . .” I felt so sorry for her . . . I then prayed over her for God’s healing grace to come upon her. She then told me, “Father, for many years I have left the Church. I was very angry with God when I found out that I had cancer. I told God, “What wrong have I done?! All these years, I have practiced my faith fervently, I have been generous in my support of the Church, I have brought up a good family, I prayed every day, and is this what I get?! What wrong have I done? Tell me!” I told myself, “If this is the type of God who does not care for me, I want to have nothing to do with Him! So, I stopped praying and stopped going to church as I was very angry with God.
Some months later, I begin to realise that I was getting no where and not getting any happier or healthier by being angry with God. In fact, I was feeling even even more miserable and helpless. So, I went back to church. And when I asked for God’s forgiveness and prayed and continued to come back to Mass, I began to feel peace and strength from God in my illness. Today, even as I am going for my second brain operation, I am no longer afraid of what ever that is going to happen to me. I am now able to trust God even more; I know He will take care of me. Even if I were to die, I will be at peace. My only worry is my young son that I will leave behind; but still I know God will take care of him through my family.
You know what? Before my illness, even as I was a good Catholic, actually I never really needed God in any serious way.I am a very rich person and I used to have the feeling that I have everything in life, but now through my cancer, I know that I was wrong. . . I need God; without God I am nothing; my riches are of no use when I am sick and dying, and when I die I can take nothing with me; what I can bring to God is how much love and faith I have shown to Him and people during my life time. Through my suffering, I now realise how precious God is to me. So, every day I pray that God gives me strength and show me His will regardless of what happens.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, one writer aptly says, “The self-sufficient DO not pray; the self-satisfiedWILL not pray; the self-righteous CANNOT pray. To this I would like to add, “No body can be self-sufficient because that is pride; no body should be self-satisfied because that is foolishness, and no body should be self-righteous because that is utter blindness.
Maria’s life testimony that we just heard captures vividly what Jesus in today’s Gospel is trying to teach you and me. When we have trials, in life, we should all the more turn to God because as a human being, we are weak and helpless. If we stop praying and turn away from God, then left to our own resources, our condition will surely get worse. The true stories of Maria and Lucia that we just heard show us clearly that we should continue to persevere in our prayers; the miracles that God will perform for us will be different and personalised for each of our needs; as they were personalised for the different for both Maria and Lucia.
The key to understanding the deepest meaning of what prayer is, is found in the prayer that Our Lord Himself taught us in the “Our Father” prayer to say, “Thy Will be Done!” Jesus Himself lived this prayer at the Agony in the Garden. When He was about to suffer the most cruel and painful death of the scourging, the crowning with thorns and the crucifixion on Calvary, He prayed, “Father, if it is possible remove this cup, but not my will, but Your Will be done.”
My sisters and brothers in Christ, as I conclude this homily, let us remind ourselves that ultimately, you and I need to ask ourselves the fundamental question of our faith today and every day of our earthly life, “Do we have the courage to seek God’s Will and try to live it in our lives? Maria has shown us that this is possible; and God will surely give us the spiritual strength we need and the divine wisdom to trust Him totally, and thus to transcend our trials and needs in life.
Not a single prayer is wasted and unheard by God; every prayer is invaluable and acted on by God for our good and most importantly for the good of our eternal salvation. If we don’t pray in the right way, we are probably not seeking God’s Will, but our own will. If our prayers are seemingly not answered by God, wait patiently and persevere; our prayers will bear fruit one day and all will be well, if not in this world, it will be well in the next world of eternal happiness .
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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