Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Exodus recounts the journey of the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt to the land promised to their ancestors. It was not an easy journey. In today’s reading, they are attacked by Amalek and his soldiers, members of one of the peoples who live in the land through which the Israelites are traveling. Moses was on the hilltop with his arms raised to invoke the LORD’s assistance in the battle below, a powerful illustration of the LORD’s favor upon Israel. If the soldiers were to lift up their eyes to that hill (see Psalm 121:1), they would be reassured by Moses’s presence and posture. Paul urges the Thessalonians to persist in proclaiming the gospel, and Jesus likewise commends the widow for her persistence in pursuit of the justice due her. Whether they preach or pray, the followers of Jesus need persistence through periods of difficulty.
PRAY ALWAYS? HOW?
Today we have two examples that can help us reflect on what it means to “pray always.” The first is Moses, holding his arms up so that the Israelites will have the better of the battle. This is a common posture for prayer in the ancient world, and the Bible is full of references to one’s lifting up hands (and arms) in prayer. The second example is from the parable Jesus uses to demonstrate the principle of praying always: the widow who persistently pestered a judge from whom she demanded justice. Moses’s prayer is a continuous movement extended over a period of time; the widow’s petition is repeated at frequent intervals over time. The Church’s rich tradition of prayer sets before us examples of both kinds of prayer.
IT IS POSSIBLE TO “PRAY ALWAYS”
Early monks who lived as hermits in the deserts of Egypt and Syria took the command to “pray always” so seriously that everything in their life was arranged to maximize the time for continuous prayer. The monks’ disciplines to that end were likened to that of athletes; the practice of all-night prayer was one that was especially admired.
The Church’s primary model for persistent, repeated prayer is the Liturgy of the Hours, which flows from the principle that daily prayer at given times consecrates all of time as well as the work done the rest of the time. Each gathering time is known as an Hour. The most significant Hours are Morning and Evening Prayer (known also as Lauds and Vespers). The prominence of the Liturgy of the Hours in the Church’s tradition is why so many other Catholic prayers and devotions are similarly anchored in time: the Angelus (morning, noon, evening), daily rosary, or prayers arranged for morning and evening found in almost all Catholic prayer books.
Regardless of how we pray, our call as disciples is to become persons of prayer with hearts more and more open to the voice of God in prayer. In the end, this is what it means to “pray always.”
Today’s Readings: Ex 17:8–13; Ps 121:1–2, 3–4, 5–6, 7–8; 2 Tm 3:14 — 4:2; Lk 18:1–8