I have been examining my prayer life lately, and began to wonder if I was praying correctly. I had what I would call a very rich prayer life. I assisted at daily Mass and Eucharistic Adoration, prayed the Rosary, was involved with different prayer groups and spoke to God all day long.
Lately, with all the many different distractions of life, my prayer life has simmered down a bit. Over the last nine weeks, I have been going for radiation treatment for cancer, so I have been more tired than usual. Working unusual schedules to accommodate my radiation treatments, caring for elderly parents and just living life has impacted my usual prayer routines. I have not been to daily Mass in more than ten weeks, I do not pray the Rosary as often, and I have not been to Eucharistic adoration more than twice in the past two and a half months.
Yet my faith is growing stronger; my prayers are more conversational with God rather than set, routine, wordy prayers; my appreciation for Mass on Sundays and receiving our Eucharistic Lord is even more special for me. It is a powerful event and the best part of my week. I encounter Jesus in His flesh and blood and I am always in awe.
In addition, everything around me brings me joy. I love watching the sunrise and sunset, experiencing the different summer weather patterns; the rabbits, deer, toads, birds and bugs that hang out in my yard amuse me and make me think of God, which leads to more conversational prayer, usually of thanksgiving and praise. It is a great prayer just to appreciate His creation, to reverence every creature. Even though my usual prayer routines have changed, I still experience moments of unprecedented spiritual joys and consolations. Still, I wondered whether the changes in my prayer were good or right.
Disappointment in Prayer
My reflections on different ways to pray came to include not just my own prayer life but other people’s. Lately, it seems almost everyone I meet and speak with about the Lord is suffering from what might be called prayer self-pity. I speak with different people of different faiths about prayer and I get a lot of negative feedback. It seems people’s prayers are not being answered in the way they feel they need God to answer them.
I’m tired of providing trite answers to them. So may platitudes, so many nice analogies but nothing substantive. The analogies, insights, and Scripture quotes are all relevant but somehow I don’t think they are penetrating people. These people are like stones in a river. The river water surrounds them but never penetrates them. This past Sunday, I found the answers I was searching for and the special revelation I will share with people who are suffering from prayer self-pity.
One Answer To Why Prayers Are Not Answered
A few Sundays ago, July 28th, the first reading recounted Abraham bargaining with God for the sparing of Sodom and Gomorrah. God had His mind made up; He was going to destroy them. Abraham bargained Him down to ten good people. Sadly, there were not even ten good people there, so God destroyed them, or rather, they called down upon themselves the very wrath of God. They asked for it.
The point is that God will change His mind through prayer. Some people question why they should pray if God’s will is going to be done anyway. The answer is because prayer does change God’s mind. The sparing of Nineveh is a great example.
My parish priest gave a beautiful homily on prayer. He suggested that perhaps people’s prayers are not answered because we have lost reverence. It was like a light went on in my mind. Yes! That’s it! I am guilty of it too, and have confessed being “impatient” with God, but what I really needed to confess was that I was irreverent in the Presence of God in my prayers. Abraham was very reverent, deferential, “awe-fully” respectful before the Lord, and through his intercessory prayer he was able to change the mind of God. As the good priest said, “There is no revelation without reverence.” Reverence is the key to revelation.
This is not to say that praying with reverence guarantees we will get what we ask. God doesn’t answer every prayer, nor did Jesus heal every sick person or raise everyone from the dead. The Bible is full of people who prayed with reverence and did not get the answer they were looking for (even Jesus), but they got what they needed. God may not grant us what we want, but He will always give us what we need. We easily confuse those two, but the Lord never does.
Praying with hope and resigning your heart to God’s will in all things is the sign of a spiritually mature person. It takes time to get there. You may be 99 years old but if you strive to get there, you will. Perhaps the spiritual journey is the spiritual destination.
God’s Perfect Answer to Prayer
Besides, even when we pray long and devoutly with no sign of getting what we ask, our prayer has not been ignored or wasted. The Gospel reading from the above-mentioned Sunday, Luke 11:1-13, was about Jesus teaching the disciples to pray the Our Father, and ended with “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?”
The body of the Scripture reading encouraged people to ask, seek, knock in prayer and you will receive. But it never hit me before then. Jesus is not talking only about material and spiritual blessings; He is talking about receiving the Holy Spirit, the greatest of gifts. He may thus answer our prayer in a way we never expected, perhaps not giving exactly what we asked, but giving something much better.
It was an eye opener for me and a confirmation that my prayers have been directed in the right way lately. God confirmed it for me. Although my prayer routines were not as active as before, my prayers evolved, or rather, were conformed to the Our Father prayer, and I did not even realize it. My prayers lately have been something like this: Lord, I really don’t know how to pray or what to pray for. You know what I want and what I need. I am asking that You conform my will to yours and that You fill me with Your Holy Spirit and Wisdom.
Veni Sancte Spiritus
The reality of prayer is, pray constantly, perpetually, day in and day out. Be persistent in prayer but be reverent. Most importantly, meditate on how Jesus taught us to pray, particularly when we pray, “Thy will be done.” So we must ask, knock, seek; be reverent and strive to conform our will to His will; and know that God will not always answer our prayers the way we hope, except to forgive us as we forgive others and, if only we ask, give us the greatest gift of all, His Holy Spirit. What more do we really need? Veni Sancte Spiritus. Amen.