Have Courage in Prayer

Silence. What do we do when we pray and nothing happens?

The woman begs Jesus, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.”

The Gospel of Matthew tells us Jesus did not respond at all; he seems to ignore her completely. To walk on in silence.

This narrative really hits home with me, having a brother suffering from a brain tumor. How difficult it is to know his need of deep healing and comfort, and my prayers – like those of the Canaanite woman – seem to fall off into silence (so it seems).

In faith, we must believe, it isn’t that the Lord doesn’t hear the woman. And it isn’t that the Lord doesn’t hear my prayers for my brother. He is asking something more, something deeper from me, and from the Canaanite woman. In fact, this Gospel shows how God works at many levels, not just for the one praying.

Let us imagine for a moment that the day of the encounter between Jesus and the Canaanite woman is over. It is evening and Jesus is sitting with his disciples. Perhaps, while stirring the coals of the fire he simply questioned them, “Remember the woman on the road today? The one calling out repeatedly?” And I can imagine the disciples answering him, “Yes, Lord. And why did you ignore her?”

This is a teaching moment. Jesus knows that there will times in the future when, after his Ascension into heaven, the disciples are going to pray to the Lord and, seemingly, not be heard. Jesus knows that the disciples are going to have the responsibility to give answer to the people’s questions, “how is it that we call out to the Lord, and we don’t see him. We don’t find healing that we are seeking. Doesn’t he hear us?”

The disciples are going to recall this story of the Canaanite woman. They are going to remember very clearly just how well Jesus heard the her plea, and they will be able to answer with conviction that yes, God hears our cries just as much. Jesus is helping the disciples understand, there is a persistence in our prayer that we are called to, especially when we don’t hear an answer, but only silence. Can we do that? Can we be people of such fervent prayer? Even when all that comes back to us is silence?

The Canaanite woman understood this. She demonstrates her comprehension when at last Jesus speaks to her; she knows she is in the presence of something greater than herself. For this reason, she can say:

“Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”

A translation might read (loosely), “Yes, it’s true I don’t deserve to be in your presence, Lord, yet I believe, that even the ‘scraps’ that I get will be enough for me.”

Looking at the woman’s faith gives us room to ponder and to pray, and to ask the Lord to give us a faith like hers. But in our asking, we must be prepared for silence, and perhaps to be rebuked from time to time. Not because Jesus looks at our unworthiness (even though we are), but He sees each of us beyond the measure that we see our self. And, like the Canaanite woman, we too are called to have courage in prayer, and thus be men and women of deep, lasting faith.

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Gospel: Matthew 15:21-28

Sr. Lisa Marie

Sr. Lisa Marie

Sister Lisa Marie Doty is a Canossian Sister. She enjoys giving retreats and vocational talks to teens and young women, and providing on-going formation to her Institute’s Lay Canossian Associates. She is a director of youth and young adults at Our Lady of the Annunciation Church in the Diocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the national director of the Association of Lay Canossians, and regional coordinator of vocations for her religious family. She also gives retreats and talks on various religious topics. In her spare time, she enjoys graphic design, learning guitar, taking walks and making rosaries. Her website is Nunspeak.

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5 thoughts on “Have Courage in Prayer”

  1. There have been so many difficult things happening in the world of late: starvation in Somalia, riots in Britain, global economic uncertainty, mass murder in Norway… on it goes. Each engenders more prayer. Yet, it seems that prayer does not ‘fix’ these things. The world remains filled with horrible things happening. Perhaps prayer is making a difference that is imperceptible to our understanding. I’ve been questioning along similar lines as you share here in your post. Perhaps I’m experiencing ‘prayer fatigue’, if you will.

    “there is a persistence in our prayer that we are called to”

    We are left to continue in prayer and listen to his silence… perhaps this is where silence is found to be golden. Thank you for your timely post, Sr. Lisa. I join in prayer for your brother and for you.

  2. Very good article! This is a difficult passage for me because it portrays Jesus as somewhat brutal and distant, but you did a good job fleshing out the bigger picture.

  3. Pingback: Assumption of Our Lady | The Anchoress

  4. Thank you, Margaret, for your thoughts on this topic. It is true, we are witnesses to many tragedies that afflict the innocent, and it is right that we prayerfully ask, ‘why?’

    At the same time, there is a need to remind each other that God, being who He is, knows our hearts and concerns. In our listening in the silence, God comes to us. Sometimes it feels like absence of the Divine. But it is there, if we brave to not fill it with ‘noise’, we encounter God’s love as a salve for our souls. God bless you!

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