By Brother Brian Boyle, C.PP.S.
Persistence is a well-known strategy when facing a challenge, and it works. Persistence is not about seizing the day, but merely enduring it. Athletes who employ a persistence strategy wait for their opponents to make mistakes and die a death of a 1,000 paper cuts. Persistence is one of the themes in this Sunday’s readings.
In the Genesis reading, Abraham asks God numerous times if God will destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, the innocent included among the guilty. I get the feeling that Abraham, in asking God the number of times, he isn’t asking open-ended questions. Abraham’s persistence in asking God repeated questions suggests that he is Sodom and Gomorrah’s advocate.
In the second reading, Paul talks about faith in the power of God saving us from our own sins. If there is any persistence in this reading, it is persistence moving in the opposite direction of virtue. When Paul says “and even when you were dead in transgressions,” it feels like we as humans continue to make poor choices, fail to recognize God in ourselves and each other. We persist in accumulating wealth and power for its own sake. We persist in wasting time. We persist in putting off doing well today for tomorrow. We persist in thinking of our own interests and not acting with courage when put to the test. However, God saves us in spite of that.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells a story of a midnight caller waking up a friend (who would rather be left alone) to provide some assistance with a problem. In telling this parable, Jesus asks us to persist in asking things, outcomes or solutions from God.
Does God answer prayers then? This reading can cause trouble if I look back on my own experiences. I have seen and prayed with many patients in the hospital where I serve as chaplain, and/or family members have persistently prayed, but not gotten any good outcome. Why does Jesus ask us to persist if asking God should be simple?
Jesus is well aware that God is all powerful. Jesus is also aware of other lesser powers on Earth that tear us apart from each other, inspire mediocrity, inspire cowardice, etc. Persistence as a virtue is related to being focused on goals, focused on the common good, focused on continuing to build the Kingdom of God. Being persistent enhances our prayer life in entering a relationship with God who wants to give us life and works for the redemption of all creation.
Brother Brian Boyle, C.PP.S., is a hospital chaplain in Northwest Indiana. He is also the associate director of Companions (lay associates) of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood.