Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, `Grant me justice against my opponent.' For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, `Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'" And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" (Luke 18:1-8)
Jesus speaks in today's gospel reading to the disciples (i.e. the Church) about the need to pray always and not to lose heart. It is not easy, when life has you down, to follow that sage counsel. We forget to pray and we can, all too easily, lose heart. So as he is wont to do, Jesus tells a pithy story to help them (and us) to remember.
I suspect we all know that widow. She has nothing BUT persistence on her side. Literalists of every stripe get nervous with allegorical leaps that compare God to this "unjust judge" but this misses the point. Parables are not always, or even usually, intended to be read allegorically. They are meant to make us say "aha!" They are meant to make us smile, and even chuckle. They are meant to wake us up.
So I suppose that it is possible to imagine the widow in this parable as an old lady, maybe played by someone like Katharine Hepburn in her later, On Golden Pond years. But I have another film in mind here and wonder about the persistence of Julia Roberts playing Erin Brockovich. Or maybe Sally Field in Places in the Heart?
Whether or not that works for anyone else, it seems to me that much of what passes for prayer in the Church today is way too anemic, pious, and "spiritual." (And by spiritual I mean heretical: I mean gnostic; I mean disconnected from the real world of widows and judges and bankers and teachers and nurses.)
Whenever Jesus talks about prayer, he takes us deeper into the world with all of its glory and all of its pain: he invites us to pray in more earthy, determined, raw ways. He encourages us to pray like we mean it.