Sunday Scriptures

The Value of Persistence in Prayer

Sisters of Life, along with more than 200 pro-life advocates, pray the rosary across the street from an abortion clinic in New York City on Dec. 28, the feast of the Holy Innocents. (Photo: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

by Msgr. Joseph P. Calise

Several years ago, I was asked to visit a parishioner on one of the upper floors at Memorial Sloane Kettering Hospital. It was clear that he was near the end of his life, and so I certainly wanted to seize the opportunity to spend some time with him and his family.

I was a little distracted as I made my way to the hospital, but I got there, stepped on the elevator and pushed the appropriate floor button. Naturally I was dressed in a clerical collar, which got the attention of an elderly Spanish couple with whom I was sharing the elevator. I could understand some of what they were saying, but they were whispering to a young lady, whom I later learned was their daughter. 

On her parents’ behalf, she asked me to pass by her brother’s room to give him a blessing. I agreed that I would visit after I left the man I was on my way to see.

But she said that my plan wasn’t good enough; they wanted their son visited first.  As I explained that there was another family waiting for me, she persisted and eventually I went with them. As soon as we were alone, the young lady explained that her brother was 29 years old. Their parents were just notified that his cancer was terminal. Their hope was that I would bless him before the doctor told him his diagnosis to help him accept it.

We had a nice chat in his room, I blessed him and thanked God for his sister’s persistence in bringing me to him first. His parents were relieved, and I made my way back to the elevator. I pushed the number of my floor again, and this time I made it there, only to be greeted by a nurse who told me that I was not permitted on the psych ward.

I was absolutely baffled. After a few minutes of confusion, it became clear that I was in the wrong hospital. Instead of going into Sloane Kettering, I had entered Weill Cornell across the street. Something special happened that day, and I had nothing to do with it.

The Gospel speaks of persistence in prayer. I am grateful today for that young lady’s persistence on the elevator. In one of my parish assignments, novenas were very popular. One of the elder ladies was talking about a special novena she had to complete because of a special need in the family. I asked her simply what she was going to do if after the nine days her prayer was not answered. Without hesitating she simply told me, “Make another novena.”

She found strength and solace in the very act of persistence. The trust is that God hears our prayers. Faith invites us to leave the answer in His hands.

The real challenge of the Gospel is trusting God’s response. St. Luke asks, “What father among you would hand his son a snake if he asked for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion if he asked for an egg?”

But what would that father do if his son asked for a scorpion or a snake? Should a mother give money to a daughter she suspects of using drugs? Should parents give a new car to a son who has a brand new driver’s license but also has a record of irresponsible behavior? Can there be times when prayers are better answered by not granting a request?

If we trust in God’s response, then we can ask, seek and knock confidently, knowng God’s response will be to our benefit. It is not that God’s two answers are “yes” and “no” — God’s answers are “yes” and “I have a better idea!”

Readings for the Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Genesis 18: 20-32

Psalm 138: 1-2, 2-3, 6-7, 7-8

Colossians 2: 12-14

Luke: 11: 1-13

Msgr. Calise is the pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka and Transfiguration parish, Maspeth.

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