Prayer is as necessary as the air we breathe to have strength in life; prayer is like the oxygen of life. We are called to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17) following Jesus’ example, as Pope Francis notes: “Constant dialogue with his Father, in silence and in recollection, was the fulcrum of his entire mission.”
Three parables from the Gospel of Luke underline the characteristic of perseverance, the need to pray insistently, without growing tired.
- Lk 11:5-8 “A friend comes at midnight” — We need to pray with insistence, like the man who having to welcome an unexpected guest, knocks on a friend’s door and insists and insists until he forces his friend to get up and give him some bread. When we knock with faith and perseverance, Pope Francis says God always responds: “Our Father knows well what we need; insistence is necessary not to inform him or to convince him, but rather it is necessary to nurture the desire and expectation in us.”
- Lk 18:1-8 “The Persistent Widow” — We need to pray with patience, like the widow who goes to the judge to obtain justice, and exasperated by the insistence of the widow, he decides to please her. Prayer is not momentary, it requires tenacity, and sometimes one might even ‘argue’ with God rather than resign oneself to evil and injustice.
- Lk 18:9-14 “The Pharisee and the Tax Collector” — We need pray with humility, like the publican who go to the Temple to pray. Unlike the pharisee who boasts of his merits; the other feels unworthy even to enter the sanctuary. There is no true prayer without humility, as it is precisely humility that leads us to ask in prayer, to realize our dependence and need, to beg and plead, prayer arise out of our poverty.
We do not stop praying, even when it seems in vain and feels like a waste of time. There are moments of darkness in our life, but the practice of prayer means accepting this struggle too: even if I pray and do not feel anything, even if my heart is dry, arid. Pope Francis responds, “But we have to continue, with this struggle in the tough moments, the moments in which we feel nothing. Many saints experienced the night of faith and God’s silence – when we knock and God does not respond – and these saints were persevering.”
And in the dark nights of faith, we never pray alone. Jesus welcomes us in his prayer so that we might pray in him and through him. This is why the Gospel invites us to pray to the Father in Jesus’ name, as Our Lord says: “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13). Thus Pope Francis says:
Without Jesus, our prayer risks being reduced to human effort, destined most of the time to failure. But he has taken on himself every cry, every groan, every jubilation, every supplication … every human prayer. And let us not forget the Holy Spirit who prays in us; it is he who leads us to pray, he leads us to Jesus.
You are invited to meditate on Psalm 91, a prayer laden with trust, springing from a heart that hopes for everything from God. Christ is everything for us, and the Christian who prays fears nothing.
We see these three attitudes – insistence, patience and humility – reflected in the saints who persevered in prayer through moments of darkness when God seemed to be silent or absent. May we continue to persevere in prayer conscious that we never pray alone, but with Christ himself, in the power of the Holy Spirit. As Saint Augustine succinctly puts it in the Catechism: Jesus “prays for us as our priest, he prays in us as our Head, and as our God he is the one to whom we pray” (cf. CCC 2616).