Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Why some prayers fail

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!


Wild Bill said...

Fr. Reginaldus, I have no disagreement with your post but I have to wonder: how many prayers are not being answered because we men are not giving our wives the proper respect? I suspect a lot.

"Husbands, likewise, dwell with them [wives] with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered." (1 Peter 3:7)

I learned this one the hard way 20 years ago but God in his mercy led me to this passage before it was too late.


Bender said...

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.

Not necessarily. We must also ask with sincerity and humility.

Herod prayed that Jesus give him a sign, perform a miracle, so that Herod might believe. Now, of course, believing in Christ was necessary for Herod's salvation.

But what was Jesus' response, that is, God's response? Silence. He ignored him.

God is under no obligation to answer or even listen to a prayer that is not made respectfully or otherwise is blasphemous or essentially puts God to the test.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Bender (Oct 23, 1:17am),
I agree with your first point. Prayer which perseveres must also be humble and sincere. However, I think you are a bit too critical in your comment...any prayer which perseveres will always be humble and sincere -- perseverance requires humility and sincerity...thus, it is enough to say that if we persevere in prayer, we will be answered (in those things which are necessary for salvation).

In your second point (regarding Herod), you are incorrect -- there is a logical fallacy in your argument.
While it was necessary for Herod to believe in Christ in order to be saved, it was not necessary that he see a miracle. He should have believed in Christ based on the testimony of the Apostles and also the power of Christ's words. Thus, what Herod asked for (a miracle) was not necessary for his salvation; hence, his prayer need not have been answered (and, in fact, was not).
Had Herod asked for faith (and persevered in this prayer), Christ would have given him the faith to move mountains!

Do you understand?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Wild Bill,
Thanks for the great reminder! It is true, if a husband does not love his wife and give himself for her; he will scarcely be able to entrust himself to Christ who loves him and gave his life for him.
Peace to you!

Richard said...

This is a great article. Our "Why Catholic" formation group is studying prayer this period. As always, thank you very much.

GWAM said...

Somewhat late in commenting - but still...

A story.

In late 2006 I finally found my way to a local area indult Latin Mass and immediately realised it was exactly what I had been searching for.

In summer of 2007 the Motu Proprio was issued and I started to consider how best to support the Holy Father's intentions. Prayer formed a major part.

In early summer 2008, the local Ordinary made tentative public noises about erecting a diocesan parish solely for non-indult Extraordinary Form use under the provisions of the Motu Proprio (thus breathing new life into a fairly run-down but beautiful old Pugin church [some readers may recognise the details of this story - but the geography is unimportant]).

Somewhat too giddily I interpreted this as the answer to a whole barrage of prayers and resolved to play an active part in making this "new-old" parish work (even to the point that, within 24hrs of hearing the news, I'd made a reccy visit to the church, was horrified by the weeds encroaching into every available crack and determined exactly which gardening tools were required). Less than 48hrs later, for reasons far too complicated to go into, the whole plan was shelved and the blow was a crushing one. From a high to a low to the end of the show, it seemed.

In the summer of 2009 I was saying a novena to St Martha for an unconnected private intention. She delivered in plenty, well before the nine weeks elapsed. Instinctively, I knew I had to give something to God in thanks. Equally instinctively, I knew exactly, without a shadow of doubt, what that something was that God required. The clarity of mind was quite intoxicating, in fact.

Thus I made a discreet enquiry around the diocese as to whether there were any secular priests who were hatching their own plans to start saying EF Masses. I reasoned that, you know, maybe they're treading cautiously? Or maybe they're just waiting for an approach? Or maybe, and most pointedly, they needed an Altar Server? For over the previous six months I'd happily recognised (having been three years into attending the Old Mass) that I had the competency and confidence to serve. I'm not a naturally confident person.

Incredibly, at exactly the same time, a local priest, whom I'd never heard of, had been making discreet enquiries of his own as to whether there were any competent Altar Servers out there who could help him ensure that a weekly, Sunday EF celebration would become a regular parish Mass. The two ends met.

It turned out that the parish in question is but a 10 minute drive from my home - and the number of other coincidences that have since emerged which tell me that it was no accident that I was directed towards that particular church and priest is quite astonishing.

I've now got 65 EF Masses under my belt, I've finally found a parish that I can call a home after years of being a nomad and I think I'm more spiritually alive than at any stage in my previous 43 years.

God knows when and how to answer prayers. I know that now more intimately than I ever have.

Turns out that my Plan B was His Plan A all along.

* St Martha - pray for us (and no, the humour is not lost on me that she was super-instrumental in leading me to a ministry of service!)

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