This past week the world watched with astonishment and joy as the Chilean miners were rescued from the underground mine where they had been buried. The engineering feat was remarkable, and what drove it all, of course, was a fierce determination to reach the miners buried so far beneath the earth under tons of rock and restore them to the surface and to their families. What we have witnessed here can serve as a helpful analogy for understanding the teaching of the Sacred Scriptures that were proclaimed yesterday at Sunday Mass. They deal with prayer. Prayer is essential to our lives. Indeed, in the Christian life it is our breath. What does the analogy with the miners highlight from the readings?
The first thing we should observe is the vulnerability of the miners. Trapped so far beneath the surface, they were absolutely helpless and had no choice but to rely upon others for their rescue. The necessary starting point for prayer is the recognition of our own vulnerability. As creatures we are completely reliant upon God for all things. Pride closes the door to genuine prayer; humility opens it. God alone is God, and we pray, we call out to God, because we recognize that without him, without his love and mercy, we can do nothing.
This reliance upon God is symbolized by Moses in the first reading. With his people in battle against an enemy, he kept his arms held aloft, at times with the help of assistants, as a sign of supplication, of prayer. He knew, as did his people, that without God they were lost. They acknowledged their vulnerability and gave expression to their dependence through prayer.
Second, in their vulnerability the miners trusted. They had confidence that their rescuers would do all that they could to bring them out. Their trust was nourished by many messages telling them that the people above the surface knew they were alive, and encouraging them not to give up. Prayer is grounded in trust. Throughout history God has sent endless messages to his people, assuring them that he knew them, that he heard their cries and that he would answer. The perfect expression of his love was the gift of his Son. Moved by these assurances of the nearness and love of God we pray, full of trust that God, in his love, will never abandon us and will act to make a difference in our lives.
The miners were willing to wait. In fact, being completely helpless and dependent upon the work of others they had no choice. Prayer requires a willingness to wait. God hears our cries; God answers, but according to his wisdom and knowledge and therefore in his time. Jesus uses the parable to invite us to be persistent in prayer. He is not teaching that, in prayer, we should harangue God until he gives in, as the widow did with the judge. He is inviting us to pray always with an attitude of patient waiting and trust, confident in the love and providence of God. This is implicit in his last question: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?” Because we have faith we pray; because we have faith we are willing to wait patiently.
In prayer we get in touch with our weakness and vulnerability, and that can be a scary place, especially when we feel like we are buried beneath circumstances beyond our ability to handle. At the same time prayer brings enormous peace and hope as it leads us to the conviction that God is near, that he is accessible, that he listens and that he will act in our lives to save us according to his purpose.