Have you given up on prayer?

Published October 20, 2019, 12:05 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



Fr. Rolando V. Dela Rosa, O.P.
Fr. Rolando V. Dela Rosa, O.P.

To urge his audience to pray unceasingly, Jesus narrates the story of a persistent widow who pesters an unjust judge so he would render a decision favorable to her (Lk. 18:2-3).

At first glance, the story appears like free ammunition for cynics who want to shoot down the Catholic habit of repeating prayers over and over. They would quote the statement attributed to Albert Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different outcome.” Indeed, it seems crazy to continue doing an action that fails to produce the desired result.

But Einstein, if he really uttered that statement, must have been thinking of a mental defect called “perseveration,” which Ryan Howes describes in his article in Psychology Today as a pathological, persistent, and non-productive repetition of a word, gesture, or action caused by a glitch in the brain of a person.

The widow in today’s gospel reading is certainly not perseverating, nor is she insane. She is, in fact, exercising a virtue which our fast-paced and impatient society considers as a vice: perseverance. Perseverance is persistently doing an action with an unshakeable hope that it would produce the expected outcome.

The widow resembles the athlete who never stops training despite repeated losses; or a painter who continues to perfect his art despite the cynical remarks of critics; or an elementary student in a barrio who never absents himself in class despite the daily ordeal of walking through muddy roads; or employees who consistently reports on time for work despite the horrible daily commutes.

It is often easier to give up than to persevere. That is why the ending question in today’s gospel is important. “When the Son of man comes, will He find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8). On judgment day, will He find us persevering in our faith like the widow? Or, will He see us as having given up on God and prayer?

Imagine the tragedy if the widow simply gave up because she was fed up with being ignored by the judge. How many blessings have we missed because we gave up on prayer when we didn’t get the answer we expected?

Praying without losing heart: that is how the widow expresses her faith. If we have a faith like the widow’s, we shall not consider praying as waiting for God to show up and act. It is rather the other way around. We continue and consistently show up,day after day, because we are firmly convinced that God is in the moment.

Every day, I see a young man spending time inside the adoration chapel of Santo Domingo Church. Once, I asked him: “What do you expect to get from these daily visits?”  His reply: “Wala lang. I just feel happy knowing God is there in the Blessed Sacrament.”  I followed up: “What do you tell him?”  He smiled shyly and confessed: “Most of the time, I don’t know what to say. So I just kneel or stand before Him.”

He reminds me of what St. Paul says about prayer: We really do not know how to pray properly. But if we persevere in prayer, the Holy Spirit takes up our childish and distracted mumblings and lift these up to God, transforming these into praises and petitions worthy of God’s attention. To persevere in praying, we don’t need to free our minds from worries and anxieties. We can always approach God as we are — troubled, confused, not knowing what to say, and overwhelmed by many cares and concerns. God meets us where we are.