Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

21 October 2013

Persons, Persistent and Persecuted

As a "verbivore," I devour words. In this respect I am not unlike the prophet Jeremiah, who said:
"When I found your words, I devoured them; they became my joy and the happiness of my heart, because I bore your name, Lord God of hosts" (15:16)
Scanning the Scripture readings from this past Sunday, I noticed two words: persistence and persecution. They share the prefix per, which means “through” or “thorough.” The base words are sistere, “to stand,” and sequi, “to follow.” As far as I know, they do not exist by themselves; that is to say, we don’t just “sist” or “secute.” Why stand, if you don’t stand firm, and why follow, if you don’t follow all the way, or follow through? 

Another meaning of sequi is "to pursue," which intensifies the action of following. In the famous 23rd psalm, the line "Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life" could also be rendered, "Only goodness and kindness pursue me." Uh oh--look out for goodness--it's on your tail!" It reminds me of a quote from the author J. D. Salinger: "I am a kind of paranoid in reverse. I suspect people of plotting to make me happy."

But that’s not how a great many of us look at this life. “When’s the next shoe gonna drop?” “I can’t handle this!” “Won’t these people just leave me alone?” “It’s so hard to shake this bad habit.” And where is God in it all? Life oftentimes feels like a persecution.

There are parts of the world where Catholics and other followers of Christ are still being persecuted to the shedding of their blood; but the more prevalent form of persecution consists in pesky temptations and thoughts of how awful we’re doing, of how much better off he has it, how much holier she is. If persecutions are persistent, we must be, too.

Such is the example of the Gospel widow who obtains a favorable judgment, and of Moses who secures the Israelites’ victory over Amalek in the first reading. We must be careful not to treat prayer as a tool for getting God to smooth out our lives and give us what we want, even when we are kind enough to pray for other people’s needs. The importance of these passages, and therefore the importance of prayer, lies not in the outcome but in the attitude; and not even so much in the attitude as in the Power Source.

With every technological advance in the world we have not witnessed the end of disease or mishap. We have not been able to pray sin out of existence. Our own lives can testify to these facts, both in terms of what we have done and what we have experienced.

The life of faith urges us not to abandon the efforts of prayer and service, because every prayerful word and work is an investment in a personal relationship. More than an exercise in interpersonal communication, our prayer may rather resemble a visit to a vending machine. You don’t enter into a relationship with a vending machine! 

Well, maybe this vending machine.
Person: a third "per" word, added this time onto sonare, "to sound." In olden theatre, actors wore masks, through which they expressed ("sounded") the characters they played. Persons know and are known, love and are loved—and the Holy Trinity is a communion of Persons who have chosen to share their life and love with the human race. By entering freely and consciously into prayer, it’s as if we are “charging and syncing our device” with the mind, heart, and will of our God. This results in a deepening of our personhood (understanding and freedom), in a greater sense of our value in our Father’s world and in the lives of others.

Like Moses, we must remember that we do not and cannot pray alone. In the Church’s communal prayer and personal prayer, we are united with the saints and angels in heaven. We are united with the Sacred Scriptures and the Holy Sacraments. Aaron and Hur were there to lift up their persistent leader’s weary arms. For our part, we ought never be ashamed to seek help from others. We ought never be ashamed to need help; whether we want to need it or not, we do, so why fight it? And if we need it, then it stands to reason that others do, as well, and through our openness to God’s power we may find ourselves in the position to offer that help. What a blessing!

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