29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Luke 18:1-8
Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.
The parable of the wicked judge and the persistent widow offers a good opportunity to consider the importance and necessity of prayer. However, there is an objection which must be met: Why does God sometimes not answer prayers? If prayer is truly all powerful and if we are promised that we will receive whatsoever for which we ask, why do some prayers fail?
There are two principle reasons why God does not answer a prayer: either that for which we had asked is not helpful to us or would be misused by us, or we asked for something from God but we did not persevere in our prayer. This point about perseverance in prayer brings up a further question: Why does God not always answer prayers immediately, but instead requires us to persevere in prayer for a very long time?
You contend and war, and you have not, because you ask not. You ask, and receive not; because you ask amiss: that you may consume it on your concupiscences. – James 4:2-3
Why do some prayers fail?
If, in prayer, we persevere in asking for something which is necessary for our salvation, we can be certain that the prayer will be successful. However, God will not give us those things which would be harmful to our salvation. Thus, many prayers fail – for we ask wrongly, seeking things to spend on our passions. For this reason, when we pray, we must always pray firstly for those things which are necessary for salvation – specifically, the grace of final perseverance, the grace to persevere in prayer, an increase in the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, etc. Then we may pray for other things insofar as they relate to these necessary things. Seek first God’s kingdom, and all the rest will be given you besides.
Why God does not answer most prayers quickly
Another reason why many prayers go unanswered is because we do not persevere. You do not receive because you do not ask – that is, you do not persevere in asking. With those things which are necessary for our salvation, the Lord allows us to participate in his plan of salvation. The primary way in which we participate in our salvation is through prayer – the longer we persevere, the more opportunity we have to be true co-operators with God.
This co-operation is worth so much in God’s eyes that he is willing even to allow our salvation to be contingent upon this participation. As St. Augustine said, “God who made you without you, will not save you without you.” That is, though man does not have the privilege in participating in his own creation, he is privileged to participate in his salvation.
Though the primary means of gaining merit is through working and praying with greater charity rather than for much time, it is nevertheless true that our charity grows as we persevere over time. Hence, when God refuses to answer a prayer immediately, he allows us the opportunity to grow in charity through persevering in prayer – in this manner we merit the answer to our prayers.
Does God answer the prayer for salvation?
St. Thomas offers a most interesting discussion of the grace of final perseverance, which alone gains salvation. The Common Doctor tells us that, strictly speaking, we cannot merit final perseverance, since the perseverance of the wayfarer depends solely upon the Divine motion which is the principle of all merit. Yet, if we cannot merit the grace of final perseverance, how do we obtain this grace? St. Thomas tells us, “We impetrate in prayer things that we do not merit, since God hears sinners who beseech the pardon of their sins, which they do not merit … So too may we impetrate of God in prayer the grace of perseverance either for ourselves or for others, although it does not fall under merit.” (ST I-II, q.114, a.9)
How great indeed the power of prayer, by which we gain that which is even beyond merit!