I have been talking to God for as long as I can remember. I hold my parents and teachers responsible for this ongoing conversation in which I assume that the Lord God listens to my every word. My parents taught me about prayer when they ushered me down the street for Sunday Mass, prayed grace before meals and gathered our family for the rosary when serious illnesses threatened those we loved. When my uncle lay dying, my dad instructed us to ask God to take him to heaven where he would be healthy and happy again. When she tucked us into bed, my mom reminded us to tell God we were sorry for what we did wrong and to ask God to take care of those who needed God most. The good sisters and priests of our parish added their own lessons in prayer which increased my ease in talking to God whenever I was not talking to someone else. When my dad passed away, I spoke my first words of grief to God.
In sixth grade, I finally recognized myself in the Parable of the Persistent Widow. I wondered if God had listened all those years simply to quiet me. In Luke’s gospel (Luke 18:1-8), Jesus offers this parable to make a point about prayer and God’s absolute attention to our needs. Jesus tells us that this widow feels very strongly about her case, and she refuses to allow a disinterested and dishonest judge to deprive her of justice. She accosts him at every turn. This judge has little interest in justice. Still, he wishes to rid himself of this troublesome woman. He realizes that he had better do so before this widow strikes out at him and gives him a black eye. (Yes, this is the precise scriptural translation!) So it is that the judge rules in her favor, offering the widow all that she hopes for. Jesus goes on to explain that since God cares for us exponentially more than any judge ever could God will see to our needs with exponentially greater love, compassion and efficiency than any judge ever would. All that God asks is our faith in Divine Love in good times and in bad times.
This past week, a somber anniversary reminded me of the importance of that faith. Five years ago, bad times took hold of our family unexpectedly and brutally. My husband and I were on our way up north when his brother called. As soon as Mike responded, “Oh no! No! No!” I knew. Mike’s youngest nephew, Sergeant John Penich, had lost his life in Afghanistan. No words can dispel the sorrow that overwhelms a parent who loses a child, and there was nothing more Mike could say to his brother than to share tears in unison. In a bout of uncharacteristic speechlessness, I muttered weakly, “Help them.”
I cannot forget the sorrowful pall that weighed heavily upon those who love John. I also cannot forget the knowing glances and the firmness with which we hugged and held one another’s hands as we gathered to mourn him. These simple gestures said all that needed to be said. Unexpected consolation came in the friends and comrades who attended John’s services. Each one indicated that John’s presence had made a remarkable impact upon him or her. Though tears continue to flow at the mention of John’s name, our faith in the depths to which we are all loved brings peace. After all, John has known that love first hand for five years!
Jesus teaches us through the persistent widow because we have much to learn from her. God knows more than we do the imperfections of life on this earth. None of our loved ones leave us at just the right time, and it is difficult to accept that any child is meant to leave this life before his or her parents. Suffering sometimes seems to be the most consistent condition in this world. Nonetheless, we join the persistent widow with our hope and our dreams for better things to come. The persistent widow believed that she would eventually move the judge to rule on her behalf. This is the reason she pushed on day after day. Perhaps the lesson we learn from her is not a lesson in persistence, but a lesson in faith that all will be well in the end.
Jesus tells us to pray always, and, indeed, this is what we must do: Pray with absolute faith. Know that we are heard. Know that we will be answered with great love.
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