In this week’s Theme, we read, “Jesus calls us to persevere in faith and prayer without losing heart.” The word persevere is key. Taking up our cross and following Jesus is a long and often difficult journey. We face many disappointments, setbacks and trials. We face opposition – often from the world, at times also from our friends and loved ones, and most tiresome of all, from our own broken nature. Jesus never promised us a peaceful life on this earth. He warned us that we will experience division, even in our closest relationships. Throughout our journey, we experience a struggle between the spirit and the flesh, between the good that we want to do and the sin that we sometimes end up doing instead.
In today’s first reading, the Israelites are journeying through the desert, and are therefore experiencing all the hardships of life in a hostile land. Now, to make matters worse, the Amalekites come and try to destroy them. Moses tells Joshua to go out and engage the enemy, while he will be praying on the mountaintop. As Moses prays, lifting up his hands to God, Israel gains the advantage. But as the battle drags on, he grows tired and lets down his hands, and Amalek begins to get the better of Israel. With the help of his two companions, Moses perseveres in prayer, and Israel finally defeats Amalek.
We can learn much from this story about our own struggles with our enemy. First of all, we are in a struggle; we are being attacked by our enemy continually. Our situation is comparable to that of the Israelites. Right before this passage, the Israelites were complaining to Moses about being tired and thirsty. They were happy to be free from slavery in Egypt and to begin a journey through the desert, but as the journey dragged on, they grew weary. Then they come under attack and must fight for their lives. This is what life is like. When we experience some blessing from God, some freedom from the sin condition which was enslaving us, we initially rejoice and are happy to follow as God leads us. But we soon grow tired and begin to complain as we find that the journey to true transformation in Christ is not a quick or easy one.
Too often we act like sprinters, eager to dash off a quick victory and be done. But the spiritual life is more like a marathon. We need to take on a different mindset. What God offers us is wonderful beyond our understanding – eternal life united with him in heaven! We cannot bring it about with a short burst of effort and fervor. St. Paul exhorts us in the second reading, “Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed.” He also tells us to “be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient.” Like persevere, the words remain faithful and be persistent are telling; they teach us that we should expect the journey to be a long and arduous one.
Knowing our own weakness, how can we not be discouraged when we see the difficult path which we are called to walk? How can we fight the temptation to give up? The actions of Moses give us some clues. He knew that victory could only come from the Lord, and that the key was perseverance, so he did everything he could to persevere. We must do the same. We must be diligent about obtaining for ourselves whoever and whatever supports our life of prayer. We need friends who will pray with us and for us. The whole Church is a family united in prayer, but we also need a few close companions who can help us when we grow tired. We also need a rock to sit on. The rock represents all the physical and practical aspects of our spiritual life – where we pray, what books we use, what posture we take, the schedule and setting and disciplines that help us remain focused on the Lord and dependent on him. A rock is not necessarily comfortable, but it is solid and reliable.
Scripture is an especially valuable tool for fortifying our Christian life. Today’s Gospel Acclamation affirms that God’s word is “living and effective.” It is able to support us and sustain us, and can even transform our hearts. Paul reminds Timothy that “all Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” Therefore we do well to nourish ourselves on God’s word regularly.
Jesus assures us in the Gospel that God will help us to win a complete victory over sin and death, and to gain our “rights” as his adopted children. But he says that we must “call out to him day and night,” as the widow continually pleaded with the judge. We pray for the faith to believe that the One who has called us as his children can and will bring us home to himself if we but persevere in faith. Our Psalm for today assures us of God’s constant help and protection:
The LORD is your guardian; the LORD is your shade;
he is beside you at your right hand.
The sun shall not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The LORD will guard you from all evil;
he will guard your life.
The LORD will guard your coming and your going,
both now and forever.
Do I find it long and difficult to follow Jesus? In my daily journey, how do I experience the struggle between the spirit and the flesh? In my faith struggles, do I call on my friends to pray for and with me?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 15, no. 8. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.