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The Anatomy of Prayer
Gospel Reflection for Thursday, October 10, 2023
Jesus said to his disciples:
"Suppose one of you has a friend
to whom he goes at midnight and says,
'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread,
for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey
and I have nothing to offer him,'
and he says in reply from within,
'Do not bother me; the door has already been locked
and my children and I are already in bed.
I cannot get up to give you anything.'
I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves
because of their friendship,
he will get up to give him whatever he needs
because of his persistence.
"And I tell you, ask and you will receive;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives;
and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
What father among you would hand his son a snake
when he asks for a fish?
Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?
If you then, who are wicked,
know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit
to those who ask him?"
This is truly an astounding promise! “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find.” and, in another passage, Jesus states, “If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.” We know it is true, because Jesus said it. As our Lord just explained, He and the Father are one. God cannot lie because all that exists is the expression of His will. Nothing can exist in opposition to His will, except for man to whom He gave free will. Even the angels who rebelled against God no longer have free will – their fate is eternally sealed.
To understand this, lets turn to Fr. Spirago’s Exhaustive Explanation of the Catechism, written in the late 1800s:
By means of prayer we can obtain all things from God; but He does not always grant our petitions immediately.
We have Our Lord's promise: Ask and it shall be given you (Matt. vii. 7), and again: "All things whatsoever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive" (Matt. xxi. 22). St. John Chrysostom declares that by prayer man becomes almost omnipotent. St. Augustine terms prayer the key that unlocks the treasury of the divine riches. As a man can get almost anything from his fellowmen for gold, so he can obtain almost anything from God by means of prayer. Let him therefore who is in affliction call upon God for succor. If he fail to do this, let him blame his own indolence and folly, not complain of his misery. Who would have patience with a beggar, half-starved with cold and hunger, if he would not apply for aid to a rich man who had promised to help him? The apostles prayed when the storm arose on the lake, and it was calmed. God does not always grant our petitions at once. One must knock long and loudly at the gate of this sovereign Lord, before it is opened to us. Monica prayed for her son's conversion for eighteen years. God keeps us waiting for an answer to our prayer, both to try us, whether we are really in earnest, and also to make us value His gifts more when we do obtain them. He who is truly in earnest perseveres with more insistence than ever, the longer the answer to his prayer is delayed. So the blind man by the wayside on the road to Jericho cried out much more when Our Lord appeared to pay no heed to his cry: "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me" (Luke xviii. 39). " Thou dost delay, O Lord," says St. Augustine, " to give us what we ask, that we may learn how to pray." Sometimes God does not grant us what we implore, because He knows it would be prejudicial, not beneficial to us.
The last sentence is very important. We all have unanswered prayers. Although I am loathe to give any praise to Garth Brooks (being a devotee of real, traditional country music as opposed to his pop version), he sang a very good song on his break-through album, entitled “Unanswered Prayers”. One line sated, “Just because he don’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care.” Poor grammar aside, this is true. Our perspective is incredibly limited, while God knows and sees all. What we want is not always best for us or for others. We must trust that God will, indeed, work all things together for our good, and that a faithful life of suffering is worth far more than an easy life in which we have all we want. God will give us what we need, even if that is only our daily bread. We are to ask and to be grateful, because God owes us nothing. All we have is through His benevolence.
That said, God does not expect of us some sort of heroic stoicism. He is not offended when we pray to Him honestly, “God, I am disappointing, I am lonely, I hurt, I am sick, etc.” when our prayers are not answered as we wish. In such moments of honest humility, God will answer our prayers in ways we often do not see or understand. To rely on God, in faith, is not to be dishonestly happy when everything seems to fall apart. Turn to God in your sorrow and He will comfort you. When we are weak, He becomes our strength. He values our tears more than all our words and will never fail to help the brokenhearted. Most often, we only truly come to rely on God when we are broken. Only then do we realize how foolish we were to rely on our own strength… which is infinitesimally small and weak compared to the greatness of God. Tell God your troubles and learn to trust in Him. Someday, you will look back and realize that it all worked out for the best and had you or I gotten our way, we would have screwed everything up… just like the character in that song who sees his high school sweetheart at a reunion while dancing with his wife, “Sometimes God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”
Judson Carroll is the author of several books, including his newest, Confirmation, an Autobiography of Faith. It is Available in paperback on Amazon:
His new podcast is The Uncensored Catholic https://www.spreaker.com/show/the-uncensored-catholic