There are two stories in our readings this weekend about persevering in prayer. As long as Moses keeps his arms raised in prayer, Israel’s little army has the advantage in their fight against a stronger enemy. The unjust judge is worn down by the widow’s persistence and finally gives her the justice he should have given straight away. The Gospel even tells us that is what that story is about – a parable about the need to pray constantly and never lose heart.
But these stories can easily give us the wrong impression of what prayer is about. God is not an unjust judge who has to be worn down and pestered into giving us what we want. Prayer is not about getting God to change his mind. God is always ready to give us what is right, though that may not fit with our idea of what is right, or with our timescale. The Gospel does not promise that God will give those who call to him day and night everything that they ask for, but it promises that God will see justice done. Prayer is not about changing God, but it is about changing us.
The opening prayer of this Sunday’s Mass asks God to grant ‘that we may always conform our will to yours’. That is the purpose of prayer: to bring our will, our desires, into line with God’s plan for us and for our world. And that is not a quick or easy task, because we are stubborn and wayward, focussed on our own interests and slow to recognise the injustices that others are suffering. It takes persistence, staying power.
There are many ways traditional ways of praying: kneeling or sitting in silent adoration; singing songs of praise and of lament; learning the wisdom of the scriptures; meditating on the mystery of salvation through reciting the Rosary; meeting in small groups to reflect on daily life. And new ways of praying are being added all the time: you can download the prayer of the Church onto your smart phone or tablet, or get into the habit of visiting a website that offers a daily reflection. Recently one of primary school children brought in a picture of the prayer focus she had set up at home and told us she was teaching her Mum to say the Hail Mary. But whatever way you choose to pray, if you stick at it, it will change you.