29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Fr. Francis)
As a seventh-grade math teacher, Angela Duckworth discovered that IQ wasn’t the only thing that separated her highest performers from her lowest performers. Some of her best students didn’t have high IQ scores, and some of her smartest students weren’t among her top performers. This discovery ultimately led Dr. Duckworth to the field of psychology, where she has dedicated much of her research to the science of achievement. After years of studying West Point Cadets, National Spelling Bee contestants, professional football players, and salespeople, Dr. Duckworth found that “one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. And it wasn’t general intelligence; it wasn’t good looks; it wasn’t physical health; and it wasn’t IQ.” Like Moses and the widow in today’s readings, successful people have grit. It’s no surprise, then, that our readings teach us that successful prayer is gritty prayer.
So what is grit? Grit is a combination of passion and perseverance. Gritty people pursue their heart’s desire and work really hard to make it happen. In music, sports, the arts, careers, and yes, even in the spiritual life, “the highly accomplished [are] paragons of perseverance.” Let’s take Moses, for example. When Amalek waged war against Israel, there was no reason to believe that the Israelites could defeat such a strong army. But Moses, filled with the conviction of faith that the Israelites would succeed, raised the staff of God over his soldiers in prayer. Although he grew weary, Moses didn’t give up. His goal was victory through prayer. With the help of Aaron and Hur, with passion and perseverance, Moses held the staff of God high until sunset, and Amalek’s army was defeated. Moses brought grit to prayer, and the Israelites won.
How about the widow in today’s Gospel? Her case lay before a judge who neither feared God nor respected any human being. She had no reason to believe that she would ever receive a just judgment, but she didn’t give up. She wanted justice, so she persistently bothered the judge until he rendered a just decision. The widow brought grit to her pleadings, and she won.
So how can gritty prayer help us? Let’s start off by talking about how prayer helps us. Prayer is the lifting of the mind and heart to God. It’s an act of spiritual communion by which we unite ourselves, our concerns, and needs with God and with each other. Our prayers can’t change God’s mind, but we don’t need to. In God’s mind, we find perfect truth, justice, and love. We don’t need to change that; we need to unite ourselves with it so that we can have perfect truth, justice, and love here on earth. We do that through prayer. Prayer is always effective because every act of prayer brings God’s truth, justice, and love into the world. Here’s where grit comes into the picture.
If we can all agree that truth, justice, and love aren’t just worthy goals but the ultimate goals of human existence, then we should bring every ounce of our passion and persistence to achieving them right now. How do we do that? We unite with God through prayer, passionate, persistent, gritty prayer. When Jesus tells us “to pray always without becoming weary” (Lk 18:1), he’s calling us to gritty prayer. When Saint Paul reminds Timothy to pray always, being “persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient” (2 Tim 4:2), he’s urging Timothy to gritty prayer. Why? Because through gritty prayer, we receive the very grace that conquers lies, injustice, and hatred from its most infinite and perfect source — the God of truth, justice, and love.
Looking at our current political situation and the injustice and violence that plague our world, there’s no reason to believe that we can change things on our own. But “salvation always involves the interplay of divine grace and human cooperation.” That interplay takes place in prayer — passionate, persistent, gritty prayer. Through passionate, persistent, gritty prayer, we summon the courage to shine God’s truth on the lies that tempt contemporary thought. Through passionate, persistent, gritty prayer, we find the strength to right every wrong until God’s justice shall reign on the earth. Through passionate, persistent, gritty prayer, we’re filled with God’s love, the only love that can heal the wounds of division that separate us from God and our fellow man.
Dr. Duckworth’s research shows that with a little grit, we can accomplish amazing things. Well, that’s the Judeo-Christian method in a nutshell. Throughout Scripture, we’re taught that if we passionately and persistently pursue truth, justice, and love, the Kingdom of God will reign on earth. United with God our help, who made heaven and earth, we can change the world for the better. That change begins with gritty prayer.
We need to pray for our Church. We need to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. We need priests. We need sisters and brothers. We need our bishops, including our pope, to be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We need to pray for our country. All of us need to pray that our country truly be one nation under God.
We need to pray for our young people. They are both the present and the future of the Church. The next battle for the Kingdom of God will be waged by the young. One of the greatest blessings I have received is witnessing how so many of our high school, college age and young married have taken their responsibility to the Kingdom so seriously. They want to live for God. They want to care for others. They want to marry someone with whom they can pray. They want to raise children for God. The young always have ideals. We had ideals when we were young. But there is something wonderfully better about the ideals of our present young people. They are determined to be heroes for Christ. To do all this, they have to withstand the horrible pressure they experience every day to give up and give in. We have a responsibility to pray for the young. And they have a responsibility to pray for us. And if they fall, we need to lift them up with our prayers. And if we fall, they need to lift us up.
Five Practical Tips for Pray:
1. Pray simply 2. Read the Bible 3. Make prayer active and multi-sensory 4. Make prayer an integral part of your day 5. Pray expectantly
Fr A. Francis HGN