Before I left Rome this past week, I took the opportunity to visit the most important churches there and to contemplate the many millions of pilgrims over the past centuries who also stopped to say at least one prayer in these temples of faith. Once populated by thousands of local parishioners, many would be empty except for the tourists who come to see their beauty and offer prayers for all kinds of needs and intentions.
In the Gospel according to St. Luke, Jesus admonishes his disciples to pray without ceasing and without becoming weary. How do we accomplish these two things in the midst of everything else in our lives? We have plenty of things that compete for our time and attention. For many of us, the demands of our families, our work, and other responsibilities can be all-consuming! How then can we manage to devote the time and effort to praying unceasingly, as well as without becoming weary? It seems like a rather tall order. But prayer is not intended to be just one more thing on our lists of things to do. Rather than adding it on top of everything else, prayer must be in the midst of everything else.
We might think that prayer is a matter of being still and doing nothing else. This can be one small form of prayer, but prayer takes many forms. St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Colossians: “Whatever you do in speech or action, do it in the name of the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with your whole being.”(Col. 3:17-24) So, dedicated properly and carried out well, action, in the right circumstances, can be another type of prayer. From the Book of Deuteronomy, we hear this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.” (Deut. 6:5) The Lord desires that we commit our entire self to Him in all that we do. When we do our work in the name of Christ and for Him, all that we do becomes a form of prayer. This means that whoever we are and whatever our work in life, we can bring prayer into all that we do.
In the Book of Exodus, the army of Amalek poses a serious threat for the tribes of Israel. But Moses, at least, seems confident that the Jewish people can stand up to them. He directs Joshua to engage the enemy, not with all able soldiers, but only with certain chosen men. As long as these selected fighters can see the staff of God held high by Moses, they will prevail against the enemy. When Moses grows tired and lowers the staff, the Israelites lose the advantage on the field. As a result, Aaron and Hur must stand on either side of Moses all day long to ensure that the staff of God is held aloft and visible for the Israelites fighting below.
What we learn from this story is how Moses was the very symbol of prayer for the Jewish people in their struggles with a great enemy. We learn from the example of Moses the importance of perseverance in prayer, but we also learn that we do not pray in isolation. Moses was able to persevere in prayer, not only because he was a man of prayer, but also because he had help from others who helped him with his prayer, and together they were able to help the community. Following along this line, Saint Paul, in his second Letter to Timothy, urged the beloved, “Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed” and he encouraged them to “be persistent” in proclaiming the Word of God “whether it is convenient or inconvenient.” This message is further reinforced in the Gospel passage, where Saint Luke relates that “Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.”
In the nearly two-thousand year history of the Church, we have seen perseverance in prayer practiced in countless situations, from the situations involving the Universal Church to those involving individual parishes and other Catholic institutions.
For those who specialize in healthcare or work or volunteer in hospitals and are confronted with illness, suffering, and even death on a daily basis, they know better than most the need for prayer in the midst of their essential work. Just as Moses extended his hands in supplication to God, they, too, extend their hands to care for those in need of healing. Being on the front lines for those in need, it is their hands that bring not only healing, but also the presence of Christ to those who seek Him. Jesus speaks of persistence in prayer from the parable in Luke’s Gospel. He tells us we are to avoid becoming weary in our prayer. The persistence of prayer, for which the Lord calls, is something that happens when we’re aided by the support of others. We rely on the help of others in our common work to accomplish our daily tasks; this is the help that only comes from the Lord in prayer. Encouraged by Him, we are able to incorporate into our daily work the paramount virtue of charity. The grace that the Lord extends to us through the sacraments is a powerful way that we grow in the virtue of charity and so imitate Christ himself to those whom we meet; for the Lord always seeks to equip us with the strength to care for others. By committing ourselves to the Lord in a spirit of prayer, we bring our prayer into all that we do. In this way, the charity that we foster within ourselves enables us to be Christ for others, and we are united with them as children of the one and same God.