The Two Sides of Persistence

Reflection on the 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time Readings

Reading 1 – EX 17:8-13

Responsorial Psalm –  PS 121:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8

Reading 2 – 2 TM 3:14-4:2

Gospel LK – 18:1-8

As a child my first experience with persistence was my father’s commitment to praying the rosary every day. Nothing got in the way of praying the rosary. To this day, my father continues to pray the rosary daily without exception.

When we think of the word persistence, we tend to think of it as a good virtue. However, the word has a parallel side, an ugly side: vice.

In the case of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8) and Moses (Exodus 17:8-13), we witness the virtuous side of persistence.

The widow, Jesus tells us, uses her determination to persuade a judge to vindicate her over her enemies.  After a long period, the judge relents not because it is the right thing to do but because of her tenacity. Jesus uses the story to encourages us “to pray always without becoming weary (Luke 18:1). Never to get discouraged in our prayer.

We can find an example of Jesus’ declaration in the account found in the first reading. There, we witness the persistence of Moses during the battle with Amalek. Moses, with the help of Aaron and Hur, kept his arms and the staff of God upright during the battle. This led to an expedient victory over Amalek’s army.

Now, let us consider two examples of persistent vice. First, we have terrorism. The individuals who commit acts of terror are very persistent in their effort. They will stop at nothing to obtain what they want. And these are not just acts perpetrated by people motivated by political or religious reasons. These are also acts perpetrated by parents who terrorize their families, people who physically and emotionally exploit the weak, and anyone who abuses their position of power to obtain what they want.

Another example is our secular society’s obsessively-persistent-love for possessions. This persistence has led to idolatry, selfishness, and self-reliance among other things. Which in turn has created isolation, relativism, and moral decay.

Since Adam and Eve fell to sin, we have been constantly moving back and forth between virtue and vice. Two factors determine how long we stay in one or the other. First, it is the quality of our spiritual life within the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The second factor is what St. Augustine calls in his letter to Proba “our desire in prayer” (Liturgy of the Hours, According to the Roman Rite, Vol. IV, Ordinary Time, Weeks 18-34, page 407-409).

If our spiritual life is sustained by adoration, reflection, and contrition, we will be in a righteous relationship.  On the other hand, if our spiritual life is lacking, we will live in a fractured relationship.

We must constantly reflect on the state of persistence in our lives. Does it lead to God? Is it guided by the Holy Spirit? or Does it lead away from God? Is it guided by darkness? What are we doing or not doing spiritually to remain where we are?

Then there is “our desire in prayer”. St. Augustine tells us that God knows everything we want. He is God, after all. The purpose of prayer is not to ask for His assistance but “to exercise our desire through our prayers, so that we may be able to receive what he is preparing to give us.” The “deeper our faith, the stronger, our hope, the greater our desire, the larger will be our capacity to receive that gift, which is very great indeed.”  What is your prayer life like? Is it constant and filled with desire or inconsistent and filled with desperation? Is our heart ready to receive the gift He has prepared for us?

These are questions that we are unable to answer on our own, however.  A Spiritual Director can be of great benefit to provide spiritual coaching to exercise our desire. Moreover, we must surrender these questions to God. We must petition the Holy Spirit to guide our thoughts and actions. We must pray to Christ to give us redemption through faith, hope and love. Above all, we must subject our persistence to God’s will just like Jesus Christ did at the Mount of Olives “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) Only then, can our persistence draw from its virtues.