"True victory comes with perseverance and confidence in God's goodness,"
The 1959 film, “A Dog of Flanders” is a lesson in persistence through adversity. (I don't know if a “***spoiler warning***”is necessary for a 50 year old movie based on an even older novel, but consider yourself warned.)The story is about a young boy and his desire to be a great artist. He lives with his ailing grandfather and together they eek out a meager living selling milk in the village market. Along the way, the boy, Nello, rescues a dog who has been beaten and left for dead by its owner. Nello and his grandfather nurse the dog back to health and he boy and his dog become inseparable.
When the grandfather sees that Nello has true talent, he sells some of his precious belongings so that Nello can but a few proper art supplies. Nello is also helped in his vocation by a local artist who gives him encouragement along with a few more supplies.
Throughout the movie, Nello's greatest desire is to see the painting by Peter Paul Rubens, housed in the Antwerp cathedral. But the painting is only shown to paying tourists and Nello is continually turned way by the prelate.
Nello's life is full of tragedies and setbacks. He loses a local art competition, the prize money would have helped him and his grandfather greatly. His grandfather's health deteriorates and he passes, leaving Nello and his dog, Patrasche to fend for themselves. In addition the locals are turning to other suppliers for milk and so his one source of income dries up.
He finds himself homeless and penniless, even forced to give Patrasche to the young girl he has fallen in love with, the daughter of a wealthy local miller.
But the film, unlike the 1872 novel on which it is based, has a happy ending. In the end, within Antwerp cathedral, the priest relents and, as a Christmas gift, unveils the Rubens painting that Nello has longed to see. It turns out to be “The Elevation of the Cross.” At At the foot of this artistic masterpiece, Nello is reunited with his dog, Patrasche, his young “girlfriend,” and the artist who has come to take him on as an apprentice. The choir swells and the camera pans to the image of Christ on his cross.
***End Spoiler Warning***
The Perfect Prayer
The “Our Father” has been called the perfect prayer. It is the prayer Our Lord Himself gave to us. Each phrase is worth studying and thinking about deeply, because they show us how God wants us to approach him.
There is a danger, however, to simply rattle off the prayer by memory without really putting our heart into the words. And so in addition to the prayer, Jesus teaches us two attitudes that should always shape our prayers.
The first is persistence. Abraham is persistent in interceding with God on behalf of the town of Sodom. Even so, Sodom was destroyed because not even 10 righteous men could be found. Were Abraham’s efforts in vain? Surely God knew the number of good people in the doomed city but God nevertheless encouraged Abraham's persistence.
In the parable of the midnight friend, Jesus teaches us the same lesson, where friendship may fail, persistence is rewarded.
The second attitude is confidence.Since we live in a fallen world, we sometimes project our own imperfections onto God. We think that he, like us, is selfish, easily angered, and resentful. As a result, sometimes we hesitate to open our hearts to him in prayer. But Jesus corrects these misconceptions.
God is our Father, a better father than even the very best earthly fathers.
So if earthly fathers know how to be generous and wise with their children, we can rest assured that God is much more like that with us. He won't give us stones when we ask for bread.
St Augustine understood Christian prayer better than almost anyone. He had learned all about it from his mother, St Monica, who spent almost twenty years begging God with daily tears to convert her heretical and pleasure-loving son.
This experience helped him understand why God doesn't always give us what we ask for right away. It's because he wants to give us more than what we ask for.
By inviting us to be persistent, God is stretching our hearts, making them able to receive more grace, the way you stretch out a burlap sack so you can fill it to the brim.
Here's how Augustine explained it:
"Suppose you want to fill some sort of bag, and you know the bulk of what you will be given, you stretch the bag or the sack or the skin or whatever it is. You know how big the object that you want to put in and you see that the bag is narrow so you increase its capacity by stretching it. In the same way by delaying the fulfillment of desire God stretches it, by making us desire he expands the soul, and by this expansion he increases its capacity."
Confidence in the Father's Love
God never ignores our prayers. If we keep on asking with sincerity and confidence in God's goodness, we are guaranteed to receive, and it will probably be much more than we could have imagined.
When we begin to understand what Christian prayer is, and when we give it its proper place in our lives, we become much more stable, joyful, and energetic people.
Christian prayer, confident, persistent, personal conversation with God, is one of the weapons God gives us to keep us human in a society that is always on the move for the next innovation. Whenever we turn to God in prayer, we put our minds and hearts in contact with the very source of life, beauty, and truth. That refreshes the human soul.
When stress, discouragement, and frustration start to clog our circuits, we don't need to jack up the voltage by working more hours or by distracting ourselves with even more exciting entertainment - no, we need to reboot. We need to pray.
True victory comes with perseverance and confidence in God's goodness, even through tragedy, adversity, and just plain bad luck. We may come to a point where we feel we have lost everything, but if we have friends and family, we will always have enough. God may not answer our prayers the way we want Him to, but He always answers them in the way that is best for us.
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university
Lawrence Klimecki, MSA, is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith and the spiritual “hero’s journey” that is part of every person’s life. He maintains a blog at www.DeaconLawrence.organd can be reached at Lawrence@deaconlawrence.com