PRAY WITHOUT CEASING
Jesus tells us many times in the Gospel that whatever happens to us, we should carry on praying and never think about giving up. In Luke’s Gospel we read, ‘He told them a parable about the need to pray continually and never lose heart.’ And the parable is of the unjust judge, and the widow who keeps beating at his door until she gets her rights. Or again, he tells the story of the man who knocks on his neighbour’s door in the middle of the night, asking for some food to feed an unexpected visitor. The neighbour has already gone to bed and does not feel at all like getting up, but he has to, or he will never get any peace. Saint Paul, too, reinforces our Lord’s teaching with his instruction to the Thessalonians, ‘Pray without ceasing.’
We see our Lord’s teaching being acted out in today’s Gospel. The Canaanite woman begs Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus does not at first give her what she wants, and so she makes a complete nuisance of herself. The disciples say to Jesus, ‘Give her what she wants, because she is shouting after us.’ Even then, Jesus puts her off, comparing her rather rudely to a house-dog. But the woman will not be put off, and Jesus grants her prayer.
It is very clear therefore that this is how we should pray. We should not take no for an answer, we should not give God a moment’s peace until he gives us what we want. If you ask me why God wants us to behave in this way, I can’t tell you; I’m not God. But if you ask me how to do it, I can make a suggestion. We have in the Catholic Church a very simple way of praying constantly: it’s called the Rosary. If you say a complete chaplet of the Rosary, including the introductory prayers, you will recite six Our Fathers, fifty-three Hail Marys and six Glory Bes. That’s quite a lot of knocks at the gate of heaven. And if you still haven’t got what you want, you can always say another Rosary. There’s no limit to how many you can say.
I have some booklets with scriptural passages and meditations and prayers for all the mysteries of the Rosary. They can be very helpful. But in my opinion, the Rosary is most useful when you say it in odd moments, without a book, whenever the need or the urge arises. The composer Joseph Haydn once said, ‘If, when I am composing, things don’t go quite right, I walk up and down the room with my rosary in my hand, say several Aves, and then the ideas come again.’ I was once on an ecumenical pilgrimage and, finding the hotel lounge empty, sat down and began to recite the rosary. A couple of non-Catholic pilgrims walked in and were mortified to think they had disturbed my prayers. I was at pains to assure them that I wasn’t in the least worried about being disturbed. If I had wanted to be lost in wondrous contemplation, I would have gone up to my room, and probably used another form of prayer.
But the rosary is perfect for saying when you’re waiting for the bus, or on a boring train journey, or waiting to be served in the chip shop. You could be fretting and fuming and wishing the queue would move along; or, if you had remembered to bring your rosary, you could be saying six Our Fathers, fifty-three Hail Marys and six Glory Bes, beating on the gate of Heaven. I can assure you that I’ve often wished the bus had taken a bit longer to arrive, or the chips had taken a bit longer to fry. You’re never bored with the Rosary.