29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Exodus 17:8-13; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2; Gospel Luke 18:1-8
Prayer – Why and What is it about

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at the Church of St Joseph, Victoria Street
on 16th October 2016

In today’s Gospel that we just heard proclaimed, Jesus is very clearly urging us “to pray continually and not lose heart.”  Jesus then goes on to speak about the parable of the widow whose persistence in her pleas have eventually led the unjust Judge to give in to her pleas. 

There are several aspects of today’s Gospel that we could reflect on: like how we are each called to treat others who are in need justly and compassionately unlike the “unjust judge”, or how if the “unjust judge” could cave in to the pleas of the poor, oppressed and helpless of our society, all the more, “Would God who is infinite Love and Compassion not give us all that we ask for?” 

More graphically, Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew 7:7-8, assures His Disciples and the crowd, “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.  For one who asks always receives; the one who searches always finds; the one who knocks will always have the door opened to him.” 

However, many of us may feel otherwise about the effects of our prayers?  We are tempted to say that even though Jesus promises us that our prayers will be answered if we pray continuously, in our experiences we tend to lose heart in our prayers because God seem to take His time and we easily get impatient with Him . . .  

My brothers and sisters in Christ, before we jump into such conclusions and allow our emotions to distort our faith in Jesus and the Gospel, we have to first ask ourselves, “What type of prayers do we say, and how do we speak to God?”  “Are our prayers wholesome or narrow?”  

General Douglas MacArthur once prayed for his son in this manner. 
“Build me a son, O Lord,
who will be strong enough to know when he is weak,
brave enough to face himself when he is afraid . . .
Build me as son,
whose wishes will not take the place of deeds . . .
Lead him, I pray, not in the path of ease and comfort,
But under the stress and spur of difficulties and challenges.

Let him learn to stand in the storm;
let him learn compassion for those who fall.

Build me a son,
Whose heart is clear, whose goals are high;
A son who will master himself before he seeks to master others;
who will reach into the future, yet never forget the past.

And after all these things are his, add, I pray,
enough of a sense of humour
so that he may always be serious
yet never take himself too seriously . . .

Then, I, his father will dare to whisper,
“I have not lived in vain.” 

And so, my sisters and brothers, the first important point we need to take note of is that if we want God to answer our prayers, then our prayers, like that of General MacArthur, must be wholesome and not just narrow, and superficial.

More importantly, not only do our prayers need to be wholesome but we must first understand that, to “pray continuously” as Jesus is urging us, is essentially to be “connected” to God in all that we do and how we live daily.  And this in turn is inseparable from the quality of our relationship with God. 

And so when we pray, the basic question we need to ask ourselves is, “Is our relationship with God, built on love for God or built on our needs in life?  If what we do and how we live is continually founded on our love for God, then everything will fall into place – in God’s Time and Ways.  What can often happen in our relationship with God is that we tend to forget that we cannot relate to God as though we are “equals”; as we relate to our colleagues or fellow volunteers in the church.  God is almighty and He Loves us so deeply as our Father, so unconditionally as our Saviour, and so continuously as the Spirit living within our hearts and present in our homes and the world.

In other words, in this relationship, we have to be more fully aware that God is almighty and infinite Love while I am merely a finite creature who is weak and often sinful through my selfish needs, self-centred interests that can even lead to pride and arrogance because people do not agree with me or when they hurt me. 

To develop our relationship with God, we need the simplicity and humility of Mary to give us the right perspective of who God is and who we are.  We all know that when the Angel Gabriel announced that it is God’s Will that she be the Mother of the Savour of the world, her response was “I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to God’s Word.”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, to pray is not simply about “saying words or singing songs, but more importantly, when we pray our whole person must be “connected to God”; our words in our prayers must come from our hearts, and they must be incarnated and expressed in the way we live our lives. 

Our prayers do not just end in words, but must penetrate our thinking, our attitudes and our behaviour, and thus the quality of our daily living that nurtures or dilutes our relationship with God.  And when this happens, we can then say to Jesus that we are actually, “praying continuously” as He is urging us in today’s Gospel. 

St Mother Teresa once explained that we need to pray continuously because, “Prayer is the oil that keeps the lamp of our faith burning brightly.”  To put this differently, we can say that “prayer” is needed to nurture our relationship with God who Created us as our Father, Saved us in Christ and continues to reside in our hearts to through the Holy Spirit to enlighten, encourage and empower to love Him more wholeheartedly in our daily living.

The world-famous French pioneer surgeon and biologist, Alexis Carrel (1873-1944), a Nobel Prize winner for Medicine once testified on why prayer is so powerful.  He said, “As a physician, I have seen men, after all other therapy had failed, they are then lifted out of disease and melancholy by the serene effort of prayer.  It is the only power in the world that seems to overcome the so-called “laws of nature;” the occasion on which prayer has dramatically done this have been termed “miracles.”  But a constant, quieter miracle takes place hourly in the hearts of men and women who have discovered that prayer supplies them with a steady flow of sustaining power in their daily lives.  When we pray, we link ourselves with the inexhaustible motive power that spins the universe.  We ask that a part of this power be apportioned to our needs.  Even in asking, our human deficiencies are filled and we arise strengthened and repaired.” (Modern Man in Search of a Soul, pp. 277-8).

As I draw my homily to a conclusion, I like us to remind ourselves that when Jesus in today’s Gospel is urging us to “pray continuously and not lose heart,” it would be helpful for us to recall some of the key points that we have been reflecting on during this homily. 

Firstly, let us allow Jesus’ to challenge our narrow thinking about prayer where we tend to over focus on our self-centred needs, instead of our prayer being our wholesome, realistic and sincere expressions to God as in General MacArthur’s prayer. 

Secondly, in prayer, we need a humility that acknowledges God as our almighty Father and Creator, as Son and our Saviour and as the Holy Spirit who is constantly residing in the Temples of our hearts – encouraging, enlightening and empowering us daily, to live in God’s Love and Ways.
Thirdly, in prayer we must also have a “trust” in God who never fails us because He loves us infinitely, personally and unconditionally.  And as such, Jesus is urging us to persevere in our prayers, as the “widow” in our Gospel. 

Fourthly, in prayer we must also have a sincerity of heart that does not relinquish our responsibilities in our lives, and does not allow our impatience in prayer to make us persons who are superficial, self-serving and worse still superstitious in our thinking and attitudes towards life. 

Fifthly, even as we pray fervently, we also need to challenge ourselves to look for solutions and work at them with a faith that creatively seeks God’s Will, instead of simply expecting God to give us solutions that ease our challenges and trials of our lives.  However, for many of us, sadly we tend to drift into focusing on our materialistic needs, egoistic desires and immature dreams of life that “uses” God in our prayer to satisfy our needs, instead of loving God in our prayer and expressing that love in our daily lives.

And, in all of these, let us be reminded by St Mother Teresa that indeed, “prayer is the oil that keeps the lamp of our faith burning brightly.”


Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

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