Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 16, 2016
A small, rural parish decided to undertake a much needed restoration of their historic church. So, in addition to his pastoral duties, the priest, together with parish leaders began a series of meetings interviewing and retaining architects, engineers, contractors, designers and decorators. It was time consuming and exhausting. What demanded the lion’s share of his time, attention, and concern however, was the finances. Budget meetings, fund raising plans and campaigns seemed to be never ending. As one group dreamed about how beautiful their church would be, another group struggled with the need to pay for the project.
Eventually someone approached the pastor, explaining that part of their work responsibilities included completing and filing grant applications. Apparently there is an art to asking big corporations and charitable organizations for money. There is even a “giving season” that means tracking and meeting deadlines for the filing of the lengthy paper work. Each application requires a detailed description of how any gift of money will be used. The pastor, fully aware that he had no time left to tackle this effort, not to mention his lack of experience in the area; was very appreciative that someone else was willing to take on this responsibility; which was clearly a “long shot.”
The pastor soon discovered that he didn’t get off so easy, constantly being drawn into the process. Although appreciative to the person heading up the campaign, he was getting a little frustrated by the numerous requests for information for yet another grant application. Casting around for free money turned out to require as much of his time in meetings, discussions, fact finding and document gathering as every other aspect of the project. But the “volunteer” kept after him, confident that someone would take the bait and award a grant.
What he did come to see with time however, was that the exercise of completing the grant applications had an unanticipated benefit. It seemed that each time he meet with the eager volunteer, to complete yet another long list of questions; things surfaced that no one had previously considered: a potential problem, a better way of doing something, an area that had been overlooked, a less costly method. In other words, as annoying as the tedious process of applying for free money could be; it offered the benefit of re-examining and improving the plan.
Then, one day as he sat down to sort through a particularly large stack of mail that had accumulated on his desk, the pastor took a second look at an envelope that he assumed was an advertisement. Rather than discard it; he thankfully opened it. A very brief transmittal letter from a corporate charity, enclosed a very large check! The persistence of the good hearted volunteer had paid off. Not only did the parish benefit from the “free money” but the entire project was made better by virtue of the application process that involved re-evaluating the project with each and every application. Asking for money helped the parish to see their needs in a new light every time they approached a new, potential donor.
What we call “intercessory prayer” is like that!
Of course when we ask God for something, no matter how great or small, critical and urgent, or minor…God already knows exactly what we need. This is no detail that we can add that will in anyway enlighten or inform our “all knowing God.” But, much like a grant application, the process of prayer brings with it an opportunity for us to consider and re-consider our wants and our needs as we present them to God in hopes that God will satisfy our desires.
The prayer process itself, enables us to recognize potential problems with “our plans” and wait for the Holy Spirit to enlighten us to a better way of doing something. If we are truly discerning in our pray, and patiently wait for God’s response, we might actually discover on our own, an area that we had overlooked. For example: prayer is an occasion to consider cost. Is there a less costly method; or if I actually get what I am asking for, will there be a hidden cost to me that I am not willing or capable of paying?
Have you ever asked someone: Are you listening to yourself? Do you actually hear what you’re saying? Persistence in prayer gives us a chance to do that. By praying repeatedly, we might actually listen to ourselves…what we are actually asking of God…and come to see how silly, or selfish, or materialistic we are. Better still, persistence in prayer means that we are repeatedly engaging God in conversation. If, over and over, we talk to God, even if the topic is always the same, there might come an occasion when we give God a chance to get a word in edge wise. Persistent prayer gives God the opening to TELL US…what we really need…what is truly good for us…what is life giving and genuine.
St. Ignatius of Loyola put this all into one, sage little thought: PRAY AS IF EVERYTHING DEPENDS ON GOD…WORK AS IF EVERYTHING DEPENDS ON YOU! Today’s Readings add only this…BE PERSISTENT ABOUT IT!