January 24, 2013

Persevering in prayer

In Fr. John Bartunek's book The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer I encountered such a profound reflection that I was moved to share it in hopes it inspires somebody else also:

26 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 27 And Jesus said to them, "You will all fall away; for it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.' 28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee." 29 Peter said to him, "Even though they all fall away, I will not." 30 And Jesus said to him, "Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times." 31 But he said vehemently, "If I must die with you, I will not deny you." And they all said the same.
32 And they went to a place which was called Gethsem'ane; and he said to his disciples, "Sit here, while I pray." 33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. 34 And he said to them, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch." 35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what thou wilt." 37 And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? 38 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." 39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to answer him. 41 And he came the third time, and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come; the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand." [Mark 14]
 Jesus went off to pray in order to align his tormented will with the Father's will. He didn't pretend that what God was asking him was easy -- it wasn't. But he wants to be faithful. Just wishing for fidelity, however, is not enough; fidelity has to be won by persistent prayer. St. Mark tells us that Jesus went off to pray, came back to his disciples, and then went off to pray again. He did that three times. Three times in the course of an hour or more, Jesus literally threw himself on the ground in order to wrest grace from the Father to bolster his flagging human nature.

The lesson couldn't be clearer: fidelity to our mission in life takes perseverance in prayer. Jesus suffered unspeakable fear, distress, and sorrow as the guilt of human sin slowly seeped into his soul and the shadow of the cross darkened his mind. He experienced this Gethsemane for us: to atone for our sins, but also to blaze a trail that we could follow through our own Gethsemane. We each have them. Christ's passion, death, and resurrection -- the Paschal Mystery -- is the pattern of each Christian life. If we are to abide in God's will and accomplish our mission in life, we too much develop sincerity and persistence in our life of prayer.

Everyone's Gethsemane is tailor-made, but the secret to endurance is always the same: persevering in prayer. The spirit is willing, but the flesh -- our fallen human nature with its tendencies to comfort and self-centeredness -- is weak; it needs the constant nourishment and strengthening that comes from contact with God.

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