domenica 16 ottobre 2016

Fides patiens

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, talking of Jesus’ teaching on prayer, mentions the three principal parables on this issue transmitted to us by Saint Luke, namely “the importunate friend” (Lk 11:5-13), “the importunate widow” (Lk 18:1-8), and “the Pharisee and the tax collector” (Lk 18:9-14). We heard the first of these parables some months ago, today we have read the second one, and next Sunday we will listen to the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Speaking of today’s parable, the Catechism says: it “is centered on one of the qualities of prayer: it is necessary to pray always without ceasing and with the patience of faith” (#2613). The Catechism explains the parable with the words of the gospel itself: “Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.” Luke is drawing an expression dear to Saint Paul: “Pray without ceasing” (2Thess 5:17; cf Eph 6:18). A monk of the IV century, Evagrius Ponticus, pointed out: “We have not been commanded to work, to keep watch and to fast constantly, but it has been laid down that we are to pray without ceasing.” 

But how can we pray always? The Catechism states that it is always possible to pray because “the time of the Christian is that of the risen Christ, who is with us always,” and quotes on this point a sentence by Saint John Chrysostom: “It is possible to offer fervent prayer even while walking in public or strolling alone, or seated in your shop … while buying or selling … or even while cooking” (#2743). The Catechism continues saying that prayer is a vital necessity: without prayer we cannot be saved (#2744). And finally it states that prayer and Christian life are inseparable. It is precisely in this union that, according to one of the great fathers of the Church, Origen, the unceasing prayer becomes possible: “He ‘prays without ceasing’ who unites prayer to works and good works to prayer. Only in this way can we consider as realizable the principle of praying without ceasing” (#2745).

But let us go back to the parable of the gospel. Jesus has no qualms to compare God to a dishonest judge: this surprising comparison serves to him to bring an a fortiori argument: if the dishonest judge yield to the repeated requests of the widow, all the more so will God do. It is interesting the reason why the dishonest judge decides to yield: “lest she finally come and strike me” (literally: “strike me under the eye”). We would say: “It is better to indulge this woman, before she comes and gives me a black eye.” The dishonest judge satisfies the widow just to get rid of her. Of course, this is not God’s attitude. We should rather focus our attention on the persistence of the woman. Does she know that the judge is dishonest? Even if she knows, she does not care: the only thing that matters for her is to get justice, and she will not give in until she gets it. That should be also our attitude before God: our prayer cannot stop immediately; we have to keep praying, persuaded that, sooner or later, God will hear us. Actually, Jesus assures us that he will do justice for us speedily

The problem is not God; we are the problem. I do not know if you have noticed what the Catechism says: “It is necessary to pray always without ceasing and with the patience of faith.” We have to pray “with the patience of faith”: what does it mean? Prayer implies faith: no faith, no prayer. At the end of the gospel Jesus asks a terrible question: “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” We are not required to answer this question now; but we should let our faith be questioned by it. We cannot take our faith for granted: it could vanish, especially in time of trial. That is why the Catechism speaks of “patience of faith.” Even faith has to be patient (fides patiens). And the patience of faith shows itself through prayer: unceasing prayer is precisely the expression of faith that does not give in to difficulties, but keeps believing in God, the just judge, who will do justice speedily.