“How do you recruit new monks?”someone asked me the other day. The answer is: we don’t recruit new members of the community. We make ourselves known – on the internet – but I would never encourage a man to come as a postulant. In fact, I often try to put people off! It’s really important, that if someone wants to join the community they have to ask – and maybe ask several times, before we say yes.
St. Benedict gave us the model. In his Rule he writes, “Don’t grant newcomers to the monastic life an easy entry, but as the apostle says, ‘Test the spirits to see if they are from God.’ So if someone comes, and keeps knocking at the door, and if at the end of four or five days he has shown himself patient in bearing his harsh treatment and difficulty of entry, and has persisted in his request, then he should be allowed to enter.”
Well – we didn’t make Jeff wait outside on Memorial Drive for four or five days, but we did wait to see if he persisted in his desire and request to come and test his vocation. The important word is persistence. And persistence is the key word in our Gospel today.
There is this kind of funny story about the man who bangs on his neighbor’s door at midnight to borrow some bread. At first he is told to go away – “I am in bed and so is all the family.” But he keeps on knocking – and by now everyone’s awake. Probably the kids are crying. The goats and the chickens and the rooster, who have all been in the house as well, would be making a racket, too. And because he carries on knocking, the man opens the door and gives him the bread.
And Jesus says, the reason he gets up and opens the door is because of his neighbor’s persistence. The Greek word used here is a very strong one, and means kind of a shameless persistence. Won’t take no for an answer!
This story is in the first part of Luke’s chapter 11, which is all about prayer. The disciples have asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, and he gives them the model of the Lord’s Prayer – and then this funny story of the man knocking persistently on his neighbor’s door, and then the three-fold admonition – Ask and it will be given to you. Search and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened for you.
There is this mysterious thread running through Scripture, where God, it seems, loves us to be persistent, to desire something with all our heart and soul and to not give up asking. Of course most famously there is that marvelous story in Genesis chapter 32 of Jacob wrestling with the angel – really with God. He wrestled with him all night, but even through his hip was put out of joint as he wrestled, he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And the angel blessed him because of his persistence – fighting with God, and not letting God go until he blesses you. How could you dare to do that, yet God seems to honor that.
In the Gospels, in Mark chapter 7, a Gentile woman begs Jesus to cast a demon out of her daughter. No, Jesus says, it‘s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs. But she won’t let him go. “Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Jesus is so moved by her persistence that he cures her daughter.
Earlier in Mark’s Gospel, chapter 2, four men carrying their paralyzed friend tried to bring him to Jesus. They tried and tried, but there was such a crowd they couldn’t get near him. So they removed the roof of the house and let down the mat on which the man lay. They actually removed the roof! That’s persistence! And Jesus healed their friend and he walked again.
Persistent prayer is not about knocking on the door of God’s heart so much that in the end he gets fed up and answers our prayer. Persistent prayer, and why it seems to be so honored throughout Scripture, is because it reflects a deep desire and passion – it so often comes from a place of great love.
St. Paul was passionately devoted to his beloved children in Christ and he would pray for them persistently. “I remember you constantly in my prayers day and night,” he writes in his second letter to his beloved Timothy. “I thank God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for you all.” (To the Philippians.) “We have not ceased praying for you.” (To the Colossians.) This is what persistent prayer is, and it underpinned and empowered Paul’s entire ministry. The source of this persistent prayer is love – the love Paul felt for his children. And it is that love which touches the loving heart of God.
And that can be true for us, too. If you find that your life of prayer right now has grown weak, or even dried up completely, maybe you need persistence. But persistence in the sense that Paul prayed – with passion and deep desire. Persistent in the sense that the young man who wanted to enter Benedict’s monastery would sit outside in the sun and rain for four or five days, knocking on the door – he so longed and desired to be a monk.
And when you pray for your loved ones – intercessory prayer – pray with that same passion and intensity of love. You don’t really need words – if a loved one is in need of healing, remember the story of the four friends holding up their paralyzed friend on a mat before Jesus to be healed. Without words, just imagine holding your loved one before Jesus. It can be very hard work. But they didn’t give up. And neither should we.
This is the persistent prayer which God loves and honors and blesses. He takes the offering of our desire and our love and uses it for good.
Our Rule says, “It’s a wonderful thing that God makes us his fellow workers and uses our love, acting in intercession, to further the reconciliation of all things in Christ.”
Today, Jesus says to us:
Ask, and it will be given to you.
Search, and you will find.
Knock, and the door will be opened for you.
If you want your life of prayer to be transformed – pray like that. Pray persistently –pray your heart’s desire. Tell God what you most deeply desire and long for. Open your heart to God.
Be passionate – not polite!
Pour out your heart to God.
Dare to say, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
Anything could happen!
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