Faith is relationship between us and God through Jesus

A girl looks at candles placed on the U.S.-Mexico border fence during an Oct. 8 interfaith protest against what activists say is an increasing militarization of the border. (CNS/Jim West)

We all want to pray well, and so it's important to listen carefully how Jesus instructs us today. He's teaching us how to pray. The first thing he teaches is very clear in that parable about the widow who keeps coming to the corrupt judge begging for justice, demanding justice. This is an extraordinary thing because as you know, at the time of Jesus, women had no rights whatsoever in that society in which he lived, and especially widows; they're totally without any means or any power, any rights.

So she has nothing going for her except her demand, coming back time after time and demanding that she get justice. Well, finally, as you hear in the parable, the judge, not because he turns just all of a sudden, but because he's tired of being harassed, so he finally gives in. Jesus is teaching us to be persistent in our prayer. A very obvious thing that we have to learn about prayer is that we must pray, and pray, and pray, and pray some more -- be persistent.

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Exodus 17:8-13
Psalms 121:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
2 Timothy 3:14-4:2
Luke 18:1-8
Full text of the readings

It may seem strange that Jesus would use a corrupt judge as a symbol, in a sense, of God. But the point he's making is that even if this corrupt person will finally give in, how much more will a loving God who is father, mother to all of us, how much more will that God respond to our prayers if we continue with persistence, keep on praying, keep on asking? The second thing that Jesus teaches us today, obviously about prayer I think, comes from the first lesson: we don't pray alone.

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We pray with the help of our community, of our family, our friends, and this parish family. That's what Aaron and Hur were doing to help Moses pray. As the author of the book of Exodus describes, Moses was praying with his arms extended over the people and he got tired. His arms would fall to the side, so Hur and Aaron help him to sit down on a rock and then they stand there and hold his arms up so that he continues to pray.

Moses needs the help of the community. That's why we gather together as a parish family to pray. We pray for ourselves, obviously, and for our own needs and the blessings that are important in our lives; but we pray for one another; we support one another. That's the way Jesus wants us to pray -- as a parish family, come together around this altar table, celebrate the Eucharist, listen to the Scriptures together, pray together. That way God will continue to respond to us, not just as individuals, but as a parish family.

But then the third thing today in the Scriptures that Jesus speaks about when he's talking about prayer is the question that he asks at the end of the lesson when he says, "But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" Remember, we talked about this before, faith is not just reading off a list of doctrines and giving ascent to those doctrines saying, "I believe this. I believe, I believe. …"

No, faith is much more than that. Faith is coming into a communion of life with God through Jesus, deepening our confidence, our trust in Jesus; that's what it takes. Faith is a relationship between us and God in Jesus. So we have to deepen that relationship in order to make our prayers really genuine and authentic. That means that we have to come to get to know Jesus better and try to deepen our relationship with him, our communion with him.

Jesus, as we know, was fully human. He experienced all the things we experience -- good things, bad things, hopeful things, despairing times, and so on. I think we might find it easy and expect that it would happen, most of all, that we would find comfort, consolation, and joy in our relationship with Jesus. But if we really come to know Jesus, there could be times when we would enter into a difficult experience of Jesus.

Perhaps you've read about St. Teresa of Calcutta. She's been canonized now; she's a saint, not just Mother Teresa, but St. Teresa. But she went through a period in her life, right up to the end where she had no sense of consolation in God, no sense of joy. Here is what was written about her based on her own journal:

For a few months after her call (that is when she received her call to leave the community she was in and to begin the Missionaries of Charity), she felt deep consolation and joy.

But then shortly thereafter, continuing until her death, Mother Teresa began to describe an interior darkness, a feeling of distance from God. To one of her spiritual directors she wrote that God seemed absent, heaven empty, and most difficult of all, her sufferings meaningless. 'In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really being there.' Mother Teresa remained in that state of dark faith and total surrender until her death.

With the help of her spiritual director, she was able to understand this is the spiritual side of her ministry, a way of completely identifying with Jesus even in his feelings of abandonment on the cross.

We don't usually think of saints as people who suffer in that way. We think of saints, "Oh it must be easy for them. They're close to God; they always feel the presence of God; they always know the joy of God."

No. Jesus lived a life where he, too, went through deep darkness. He dreaded his death. In St. John's Gospel, when he's thinking about his death and talking about it with some strangers, he gives that little parable about the seed falling on the ground. The seed, unless it falls to the ground and dies, it remains itself alone. But if it dies, it goes through to new life and produces great fruit. When Jesus was giving that parable, he was talking about his own death.

But then in John's Gospel he says, "But now my soul is in distress. Shall I say, 'God, save me from this hour?' But I've come to this hour to face all this. God, glorify your name." Jesus was in darkness. And it's on the cross. I'm sure we remember when we go to the Good Friday liturgy and hear those words from the Gospel, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Jesus is utterly in darkness. And I'm not suggesting that all of us are going to experience that kind of darkness.

But at times, if we really come to know Jesus, we come to know that, because he's fully human, he went through that period of emotional stress, darkness, and feeling that God his own father was abandoning him, "My God, my God, why do you abandon me?" So it's important, and that's what Jesus is talking about at the end of today's Gospel, "Will I find faith on earth?" Will we be people who believe in Jesus, try to enter into communion with Jesus, even in those times of stress and difficulty where there seems to be darkness?

Can we respond as Jesus did from the cross, when he's being violated and tortured and murdered, can we respond with love to those who do that violence? "Father forgive them," he prayed from the cross. He taught us out of that darkness that new life can come when we learn to follow him and learn to love even those who put us to death, who caused the darkness. It's a very difficult thing to have faith in this sense, to enter into deep communion with Jesus.

And there will be times, of course, when we feel the joy of Jesus, where like at the Last Supper he could tell his disciples, "My peace be with you." Even as he's looking forward to his death, he's feeling that peace. We, too, will share that. But if we really have faith and we try to enter into communion of life with Jesus and his humanness, there will be times when it will be very difficult to pray. But it's at those times, I guess, especially, that we have to try to be persistent, to keep on praying, keep on trusting that God is a God of love and God will always bring us through anything or difficulty or darkness to a fullness of life.

He did that for St. Teresa, he will do that for us. But the important thing for us is to try to be that faithful person, a person of faith who has total trust in God through Jesus, in good times and in bad. That's what it takes to make our prayer good prayer, faithful prayer, and prayer that will bring God ever closer to us. So as we reflect on our Scriptures today, we leave I hope, with a determination to pray, to pray with persistence, to pray with confidence, to pray with one another, and to pray especially in communion with Jesus, our brother.

Bishop Gumbleton's homily for Oct. 16, 2016

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