How long must I wait?

Hearing of the plight of Moses in the first reading brings to mind a similar plight once experienced by a young altar server attending to an aging visiting priest presiding at Mass. It fell upon the young server—no more than eight years old—to hold the large heavy missal for the priest at the prayer following the Gloria.

Moses, Aaron and Hur

Moses, Aaron and Hur

Now normally this would be of little consequence, for the time necessary to hold was brief, but on this particular day and at this particular Mass the visiting priest called the tiny waif over at the very outset, thus commanding the child to hold the large heavy book with outstretched arms for what must have felt like eternity.

With great unhurried reverence and a deep sonorous voice the priest began with the sign of the cross, then slowly and decorously intoned the penitential rite and then the Confiteor, followed by the Lord have mercy—by which time the poor hapless server was most assuredly trembling in agonizing agreement, praying “Lord, have mercy!”.

As the choir sang the Gloria with great abandon and enthusiasm, the server’s distress became increasingly dire and the heavy Missal began to shake and lower, coming closer and closer to slipping from the thin wispy arms of the small child now so desperately trying to outlast the moment, ever as the priest stood completely enthralled by the music and oblivious to the plight of the small child in front of him.

Just when the missal was near crashing to the floor, the server was rescued by two of his fellow servers who rushed over and lifted the weary arms of their distressed companion.

Only then did the priest realize what was happening. With a gentle smile he acknowledged the perseverance of the server and the attentiveness of his helpmates, then quickly read the prayer and relieved them of the book they had so faithfully upheld.

So too did Moses persevere with Aaron and Hur serving as living crutches for his aching arms.

Saint Paul charges us “to proclaim the word; [to] be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.”

And Jesus admonishes us of the necessity to persevere in our prayer, to not lose heart when our prayers aren’t answered as quickly as we would hope or in the manner we would hope, but to “pray always without becoming weary.” This of course, as we have just heard, can at times be a difficult, if not impossible task, especially if and when we attempt to go it alone.

Jesus tells us, “Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.“ But, we cry, “Not fast enough!” or “How long, Lord, must I wait in answer to my prayers?

It is God’s desire to help those who cry out to him night and day; God is always eager to answer our prayers of supplication. Yet, when we pray, endlessly, it seems at times, more often than not we feel as though God is not in any hurry to respond to our desperate pleas. Like the young server or Moses, our pain and suffering seem to extend far beyond our ability to endure. And we ask God, “Why, Lord, why do you prolong this pain, this agony of one who loves you?

You begin to wonder if God is even listening; you begin to lose faith. You start to believe you are trapped in one of those labyrinthine telephone answering systems, hearing over and over again, “God is very busy at the moment. Your call is very important to him, please stay on the line and your call will be answered as quickly as possible.” It isn’t what you wish to hear, is it? After all, your need is grave, your plea is just. So why will God not respond? “How long must I wait“ you ask?

Of course the answer is: our prayers will be answered in God’s own time and in God’s own way. We think and act in our own time and our own ways and forget that our thoughts and our ways are not God’s. He has told us as much but we too often are so centered on our own needs and desires that we lose sight of who we are and who God is.

God said in Isaiah: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”1

Father John Kavanaugh, a Jesuit priest now deceased, was a gifted and insightful writer, who once wrote on the need to maintain perseverance in prayer. He wrote of a time when he spent over a year pleading with God for a miracle for a young woman in need of God’s assistance:

And this is the complaint of only one—one person in the sea of humanity—with one prayer seemingly unanswered. My little voice is lost in the roar of pleading that resounds through the ages. Families in desperate poverty and loss join the chorus. Chants rise from Aleppo, requiems from Rwanda, dirges from the bloody wars, screams from the ghetto. Lost in the din of history is the weeping from battered children, abandoned souls, distraught minds. Who will prop up the outstretched arms of humanity, pained with almost endless ache?

The object of our belief is a God free of space’s limit, of time’s transience. It is the God who deemed us good and abides in that judgment beyond all the evidence we provide to the contrary. It is the God who made our outstretched arms his own in the crucified one, who even in crushing loss said, ‘Into your hands I commend my spirit.’

What is required of us is to pray always. Our very being must be a prayer, a petition. What is asked of us is that we never lose heart; our very existence must become an act of trust.

There are, when it comes down to it, only two responses to our condition. We can give up hope in humanity and the God who fashioned us, or we can believe that the last word, beyond all our earthly disasters, is the word of love from the one who called us into existence.

Thus, for God incarnate a fundamental concern looms large. Christ asks but one thing of us: not that we comprise an invulnerable army, never wounded or pained, at the end of time, but that we form a vast cavalcade of men and women who, despite the sufferings of history, believe in his promise.2

The key to our prayer, as Father Kavanaugh so eloquently wrote, is to let our very being be a prayer, a petition to our Father in heaven. When we give ourselves over to God in complete surrender, we must, of necessity, pray always. Our weariness can never overcome us nor can we ever lose heart as long as we offer all that we have, and are, to God.

Yet it is our nature to question and to object to what we perceive to be God’s apparent reluctance to grant our plea. We are unwilling to accept his response, quick to remark that God is not listening when we find no immediate answer.

What we too often fail to consider is that God has indeed answered and his answer is ‘no’. We simply cannot comprehend God ever denying us what we believe is essential or necessary, right and just. We forget that it isn’t for us to make demands of God but for us to accept and obey his commands; we forget that his ways are not ours.

Gregory of Nyssa wrote on prayer:

Those who fail to unite themselves to God through prayer cut themselves off from God, so the first thing we have to learn from the Word is that we ‘need to pray continually and not lose heart.’ Prayer brings us close to God, and when we are close to God we are far from the Enemy.

Therefore, even if you give thanks to God unceasingly throughout your life you will hardly meet the measure of your debt for present blessings, and as for those of the past and future, you will never find a way of repaying what you owe.3

Thus, we pray always without becoming weary: pray first in gratitude and then in supplication.  God knows what it is we need; he will respond, in his own way and in his own time. Amen.


Homily # 091
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time — Cycle C
Exodus 17:8-13
2 Timothy 3:14—4:2
Luke 18:1-8

1 Is 55:8-9.
2 John Kavanaugh, SJ, The Word Engaged: Perseverance, The Sunday Website of Saint Louis University.
3 Gregory of Nyssa, On the Lord’s Prayer: PG 44, 1119.1123-1126.

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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