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“Pray Always” (Luke 18:1) – A Reflection on Prayer for Lent 2017
by Melissa Carnall | March 1, 2017
“Pray Always” (Luke 18:1)
A Reflection on Prayer for Lent 2017
By Melissa Carnall
In Biblical lingo, the number 40—as in 40 days and 40 nights of rain, or 40 years wandering in the desert—basically means “a really long time.” So the invitation to participate in 40 days of Lenten prayer means “go pray a lot.” But before you start to feel overwhelmed or doubtful that you can do it, read this reflection by Catholics on Call alum Melissa Carnall on what it can mean to pray always.
“Pray always without becoming weary?!?”
“But I’m already weary, from constant shuffling of the kids to basketball practice and piano lessons, walking the dog, and refereeing their fights, not to mention taking care of grandpa and worrying that my teen might be struggling with depression. I’m supposed to constantly pray too?! And oh yeah, I got another reminder about a late bill. Hmmph. Pray always! Only monks can do that!”
I imagine this to be the first response of many of us. Our churches are full of good and faithful people. Yet for most of us, between careers and family lives, “praying always” sounds like a pipe dream, something reserved for the select few.
But maybe that’s because we’ve narrowed “prayer” and “faith” too much. Prayer is more than petition, and faith is more than intellectual assent.
Prayer can more fully be understood as communion with God, and faith is a response to God’s invitation in our lives.
What does God want us to respond to? God tells us one thing over and over, through Scripture and through church teaching. We are called to care for the poorest among us and see Christ in the least of these. The persistent widow in Luke’s gospel reminds us of this (Luke 18:1-8). Widows and orphans were among the most vulnerable in biblical times and we can see Christ in her, just as we are taught to see Christ in the naked, sick, imprisoned, lonely, and thirsty. We see Christ in her need, and in her advocacy for the oppressed. And Church teaching reminds us that our lives and theology should always have a “preferential option for the poor.” Our faith is our response to God’s invitation in our lives, an invitation to see no distinction between the rich and the poor, the deserving and the undeserving. We are all God’s people, made in the image of God.
The widow’s faith is not believing in a certain doctrine, but participating, advocating, petitioning, and communicating with the one who has the power to change her circumstance. She shows us that if the unwilling judge eventually listened to her, how much more will God—who initiates relationship with us, who beckons us to reply—always be there to for us, and especially for the oppressed, “to see justice is done speedily” (Lk 18:7).
Faith is not just assenting to the doctrine of the Trinity, for example, but embodying the communion of the Trinity in Whose image we are made.
And prayer is not continually uttering words of petition to a God who needs convincing, but a way of life that communes with God through uttering words of gratitude and living into communion with all in the midst of a world that needs convincing that we belong to each other.
Maybe we can get behind this. Maybe we can “pray always” after all. And God will find faith among us. Because we can respond to God’s invitation to be people in communion when we advocate for the oppressed like the gospel’s widow, when we ask for forgiveness from our spouses—or offer it to them, when we offer ourselves in service to our infant who needs to be fed and changed 3 times during the night, when we take care of grandpa after he can no longer take care of himself.
Faith is our response to God’s invitation—in the beggar, in the baby, in the sick. We pray always when we persistently try to live in communion with God in our neighbor.
Melissa is the Pastoral Associate at Old St. Mary's Church in Chicago's South Loop neighborhood. She was a 2012 Catholics on Call participant and then received her Masters of Divinity degree from CTU in 2015. Before coming to Chicago originally for Amate House, the young adult volunteer program for the Archdiocese of Chicago, Melissa received her bachelor's degree from Furman University in Greenville, SC with majors in Religion and Economics.