It is clear that the main theme of our readings is perseverance in prayer. In the first reading we heard how Moses stretched out his arms in the desert and the Israelites gained the upper hand in the battle. When his arms eventually drooped through tiredness the Israelites began to lose the battle. So, Aaron & Hur had to prop his arms up on a rock so that they would not droop. In this way their enemies were conquered and the victory was won.
What a wonderful symbolic way for expressing something that we have all experienced. We go to mass and often enthusiastically take part, at other times however, we droop. We lose interest and sometimes begin to feel despondent about our faith.
We still go to mass but we find that we can't pray, we may sit there feeling completely depressed but in fact prayer is going on all around us. It is as if all the other people in the Church are holding our tired arms up. The tide of prayer which goes on around us carries us along with it. Maybe it takes us a very long time to regain our energy but eventually we get there carried along by the others.
One of the questions associated with today’s readings is that, if we take the Gospel story as a straight analogy of how God deals with us, we find ourselves asking why does God not answer our prayers straight away? Why does he so often let things drag on, why does he let horrible and cruel situations continue when we know he has the power to intervene?
Why does God allow suffering to go on for so long even when the poor are crying out to him for justice? Is he as heartless as the judge in the story who only cares for his own comfort and dispenses justice only when his own peace is being disturbed? This is one of the most difficult problems that faces us Christians, and often we do not have any ready answer.
In my view the best way to tackle this problem is to look at it from another angle. If God is with us all the time then surely he knows our needs better than we do ourselves. We know that he is constantly pouring out his blessings on his beloved even while they sleep. If this is the case, then God already knows all our needs without being told them by us. So what is it that we are doing when we are praying?
Are we asking God to change his mind, to do something that he wouldn't do anyway? I don't think so. So then what is our prayer doing? According to me, it is opening up the channel of communication between ourselves and God. It is us that is tuning into God's way of thinking not him being dictated to by us and the way we see things.
When we ask God for something we are showing that we trust him, we are showing that we depend on him. I think that the most important thing is that we are letting him know that we acknowledge that he is already doing so much for us and that he has so much more up his sleeve for us. What happens then in prayer is not that we are pressing a button on a vending machine hoping to get a bar of chocolate and if we get nothing then keep pressing the button again and again until something eventually does come out.
No, when we pray what we are doing is opening up a dialogue with God and the longer we pray the deeper the dialogue gets. Often we forget what it was we first asked for, because it doesn't matter anymore, we become caught up in the mysterious ways of God himself. We begin to understand the meaning of some of the suffering and difficulties we are undergoing and we begin to see the hand of God in them. We begin to realise that pain and suffering has a deep and mysterious meaning.
Let us look at a marriage and particularly about the mutual support that is an essential element of any good marriage. Think of the relationship which you have with your partner in marriage as an analogy of your relationship with God. The important thing in a marriage is to be always communicating with your beloved. We do this in a myriad different ways, actually using words only occasionally. The important thing is not the content of the communication but the fact that there is a constant dialogue going on. This is what keeps the marriage healthy and vibrant. In time we realise that what we are actually saying to each other doesn’t matter very much as long as we are constantly communicating.
It's like a man going into a shop to buy a pair of shoes and having a lovely chat with the nice girl behind the counter. He invites her out and leaves the shop elated, only to realise later in the day that he forgot to take the shoes with him. This is how it often is when we are immersed in God. Praying for our immediate needs is actually only the starting point of our relationship with God.
We start our prayers by asking God for this or that grace, we ask him to bring healing for those we know who are sick, we place before him the needs of our families. But then we move on; we start to thank him for the things he has already given us, we begin to praise him for all that he has done in the world, we express our awe at his greatness, we praise him for the wonder of his being and give him the glory that is his due.
We come to realise that there is so much more to prayer than merely asking for things. Asking for things is simply the starting point and from there our prayer broadens out as one thing leads on to another. We move from intercession gradually through a number of phases ending up with praise and from there we move on to silent contemplation. And it is this contemplation which is actually the true object of prayer.
Although sometimes we might feel that God is neglecting us and our many needs, through prayer we eventually realise that he has won the victory; we become certain that in due time divine justice will be dispensed. For we realise that the outstretched arms of Moses are in fact the outstretched arms of Christ. And his arms never droop.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket