The readings for these early days of Lent are focused on teaching us how to accomplish the various disciplines of Lent – which really are the various disciplines of the spiritual life. The whole point is that we enter more deeply into the spiritual life during these days of Lent, with a view toward growing in holiness. Today’s discipline then, I think, would be persistence in prayer. And this is a tough one, because I know very well that there are some of you here, maybe most of you, who have been frustrated by unanswered prayer, or at least prayer not answered in the way that you had hoped. So bear with me.
In the first reading, we have Queen Esther, who is really between a rock and a hard place. The king does not know she is Hebrew, and worse than that, if she goes to the king without being summoned, she could well lose her life. But, Mordecai, the man who was her guardian and raised her as his own daughter, revealed to her that the king’s advisor had planned genocide against the Jews, and she was the only person in a position to beg the king to change his mind. So today, she prays that her life, as well as those of her people would be spared. Esther prayed for three days and nights that her prayer would be answered, and her persistence was rewarded. She received the reward that Jesus promised when he said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
So we see in Esther’s case the beauty of persistent prayer answered. And we have in the Gospel Jesus’ directive to be persistent in prayer. But that brings us back to the issue I started with: how frustrating it is when prayer is not answered. I think that what we always need to remember about prayer is that it is not like wishing on a star or anything like that. There’s no magic to our words. We may or may not be rewarded with the exact gift we pray for; in fact, that rarely happens. But we will always be rewarded with the loving presence of our God in our lives. In fact, it could well be that God’s answer to our prayer is “no” – for whatever reason – but even in that “no” we have the grace of a relationship that has been strengthened by our prayerful persistence.
The Psalmist prays, “Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.” This Lent, may the discipline of persistence in prayer lead us to a renewed and enlivened sense of the Lord’s will and presence in our lives.