Rome was not built in a day: No great work can ever be achieved without long and patients effort. Look at the art of Michaelangelo, the Beethoven concertos, the cathedral of Notre Dame (How many chisel-strokes to release the Pieta from its marble shroud? How many brush-strokes to transfer the Last Judgment from Michaelangelo’s teeming imagination to the sanctuary wall of the Sistine?.) Not just the world’s teeming artists and leaders, but everyman, are/is involved in a work of great significance, needing persevering courage to see it through to a successful conclusion; and that work is our salvation. To achieve it, we must co-operate vigorously with God, and in a sense struggle with Him. Today’s liturgy invites us to consider two picturesque examples of perseverance in prayer, and the final success that this achieves.
Moses, the man of God, stands on the hilltop interceding for his people who are struggling for their survival in the valley below, attacked by the violent tribe of Amalek. His arms are raised in the classic gesture of intercession (later immortalized in the Cross of Christ, and still used by the celebrant at Mass.) When, out of sheer weariness, his arms begin to droop, Israel fares badly in the battle. With the help of friends he manages to persevere in his mediating prayer, until victory is won. A beautiful prophetic image for Christ, whose prayer continued even when his soul was sorrowful, even unto death. It supports the ideal of intercessory prayer on behalf of others-not, however, in a superficial way or for petty requests; but for matters of life and death, for salvation, release from sin, recovery from depression, strength to cope with problems, perseverance. And when we pray these things for others, we must do so seriously, with a love that is ready for practical service too.
The widow’s dogged perseverance is reflected in the lives of many strong women. History recalls the struggle of various women to achieve particular aims. Think of the persistence of Joan of Arc, of the suffragettes, the feminists who protest at all inequalities based on gender; the mothers who face up to all bureaucratic barriers on behalf of their family. Their styles of campaign may be different; but the perseverance and the courage are the same. Today we have the story of the widow, who kept up her petition until finally she forced the judge to try her case and give her justice. Her situation was that of a poor person under threat, but with the law firmly on her side. There was no doubt about the justice of her case, but the problem was to get a judge to hear it.
That persevering widow encourages us to pray constantly, for ourselves and for others. We recognize our needs (especially for peace, love, grace and salvation), and ask for them. Our God is not like the unheeding judge of the parable, though it may often seem so. We need to persevere and never abandon hope. In this spirit, eventually all will be well, and into his presence we will come, happy to have reached our final destiny.