Trust in God's providence
(Readings: Exodus 17:8-13; Timothy 3:14-4:2; Luke 18:1-8)
Introduction to Mass
All the readings today present God as a help and support to those who turn to him with faith and trust. In the gospel especially Jesus exhorts his followers to always turn to God and ask for his support during difficult or trying times, and to trust in his providence.
Let's begin Mass by asking God's forgiveness for our lack of faith and trust and re-commit ourselves to a relationship of trust and dependence with him.
The readings this Sunday point to the fact that God will always carry us and strengthen us during periods in our life when we face set-backs or crises or suffering and that we, then, on our part, should always persevere in trusting him and having faith in him, especially - Jesus seems to imply - at moments when we feel we've fallen victim to injustice of some kind. Keep praying, he says, and never lose heart.
The very fact that he issues this advice or exhortation shows that he was well aware how difficult it is to maintain a mood of serenity and cheerfulness when we're under pressure or when tragedy strikes. Christ knew how easy it is in those circumstances to lose faith in God, to feel ignored by God and to start believing that he doesn't really exist. It's common for people to abandon religious belief in response to some set-back or disaster in their life, and it's this attitude that Jesus wants his followers to avoid.
One part of our whole framework of Christian faith is a belief in God's providence, as we call it - which doesn't mean a glib optimism about the future or a naive belief that "everything will turn out for the best". It means that everything that happens to us has a purpose or a meaning in terms of our relationship with God.
If we believe our real vocation, and the vocation of every individual, is to be united with God and to take on all the different facets of his holiness - rather than simply to be successful in material or worldly terms - then we will start to interpret our experiences of suffering and injustice as events which have the potential to bring us closer to God and to help us realise our vocation.
Jesus himself followed his own advice. He prayed continuously and never lost heart, and never wavered in his commitment to his unique mission, but that didn't mean that God acted to prevent him from suffering and dying. The conclusion that Jesus' first followers eventually reached was that his submission to suffering and injustice were a necessary part of his mission, and that God was close to him and did act on his behalf - not to divert him from the experience of the cross but to carry him through it.
A very similar pattern emerges sometimes in the lives of the holiest men and women in our tradition, the people we've come to regard as Christian saints. Very often they were men and women whose efforts to bring about spiritual and moral renewal brought them into conflict with others; they became the victims of slander or violence. The Spanish saint, John of the Cross, for example, was kept in prison for several months by his fellow Carmelite friars in conditions that permanently damaged his health and probably shortened his life.
But individuals like John applied Jesus' teaching in the gospel today, not by asking God in the first place to give them success in their plans, but by asking him to bring them closer to him, through the difficulties and pressures that they faced.
Rather than blaming God or losing their faith in God, they turned to him to ask him to increase the power of his grace in them - to stop them from becoming bitter and disillusioned on the one hand, and to strengthen their faithfulness, their forgiveness, their love of their enemies, and so on, on the other.
None of these attitudes is easy to take, but I think it's this sort of direction that Christ is pointing us in with his exhortation to pray continually and never lose heart when we confront injustice.
The psalm this Sunday talks about the Lord guarding us from evil and guarding our soul, and those last few lines of the psalm perhaps sum up the kind of influence God has on us when we turn to him. He guards our souls - protects our spiritual welfare and stops us from falling into the sort of bitter and loveless attitudes that come easily to us when we're being treated unfairly, but which of course actually drive us away from him.
That's one way that I would suggest we interpret and act on the advice Jesus gives to his followers in the short passage of Luke's gospel that we've been asked to reflect on this Sunday.