Perservering in prayer
August 21, 2020
St. Paul wrote, “Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer” (Rom 12:12).
As we saw in my last column, God does not always answer our prayers, at least not in the way we desire. If that is so, why should we persevere in prayer? In fact, why should we pray at all? Why not spend our time on something over which we have more control?
The Catechism addresses these questions in numbers 2738 to 2745. It begins by explaining how our prayers can be efficacious, regardless of whether we receive what we ask for or not.
Earlier this year we considered how God established covenants with his people in the Old Testament. We saw that “prayer is bound up with human history, for it is the relationship with God in historical events” (no. 2568). Now the Catechism uses that knowledge to teach us about the efficacy of prayer, saying, “Faith rests on God’s action in history. Our filial trust is enkindled by his supreme act: the Passion and Resurrection of his Son. Christian prayer is cooperation with his providence, his plan of love for men” (no. 2738).
When we pray, we participate in the central drama of history. Our role is to unite our prayers with the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. God wants to employ us to accomplish his plans. Reflecting on salvation history, especially on the death and resurrection of Jesus, we recognize that even when life seems most hopeless, God is active in a hidden way. On the cross, Jesus felt abandoned. Yet, precisely through Christ’s suffering God accomplished his greatest work. This knowledge should strengthen our resolve to persevere in prayer, trusting that God will bring good out of our efforts, even if we cannot see the results.
Believing and persevering when we do not see brings down God’s blessing (see Jn 20:29). It leads us toward a deeper relationship with God. “Transformation of the praying heart is the first response to our petition” (CCC, no. 2739). Then we are able to center our prayers on the Giver, rather than on his gifts (no. 2740). In a growing union with Jesus, we receive even more than we ask for. We receive the Holy Spirit (no. 2741).
Perseverance is not easy. As we said early on, prayer is a battle. However, “against our dullness and laziness, the battle of prayer is that of humble, trusting, and persevering love. This love opens our hearts to three enlightening and life-giving facts of faith about prayer” (no. 2742). These facts are:
1. “It is always possible to pray” (no. 2743). We can pray anywhere, in any circumstance, because God is always near to those who love him.
2. “Prayer is a vital necessity” (no. 2744). Prayer keeps us from falling back into sin. Without recourse to prayer, we are left to our own devices, which cannot attain heaven.
3. “Prayer and Christian life are inseparable” (no. 2745). We cannot live as God requires us if we neglect prayer. We cannot pray well unless we strive to love God and neighbor.
Why then should we persevere in prayer? Growth in faith and love requires perseverance, opening our hearts to trust God. Perseverance in the face of difficulty unites us with Jesus on the cross. It enables the Holy Spirit to transform us, making us true sons and daughters of God. Then we are able to love God and neighbor unselfishly, and in doing so to gain “far more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph 3:20).
Connie Rossini is a member of St. Peter Parish in Omaha. She is the author of “The Q&A Guide to Mental Prayer,” now available at amazon.com, and five other books on Catholic spirituality.