Prayer is Not About Getting What You Want

The Rev. Vallee, a priest and philosophy professor at the local seminary, St. John Vianney, distributes his upcoming homilies through e-mail. I try to read them regularly and they are a source of great comfort to me. Excerpts from one of his homilies:

Being healthy and pragmatic modern people, we tend to think that prayer works when we get what we want. I fear it is not so simple as that. Sometimes God answers our prayers and the answer is “no.” Sometimes God is silent. Sometimes prayer is not about getting what we want but about learning to reach down deeper for our faith when we don’t get what we want….

Prayer is not about arguing with God, influencing God, convincing God or getting what we want from God. Prayer is something much simpler than that. Prayer is simply about trusting, no more and no less. In the end we are, each one of us, very like the little boy Bishop Noonan saw in the Irish restaurant. We don’t always get what we want. But in the end all that matters is that our trust in the Father remains unbroken.

Aside from the Catholic teachings, for which I need all the lessons and reminders I can get, I trust the source completely, which allows me to focus on the message itself. In contrast, I enjoy reading Garry Wills, but since he is such a critic of the Vatican, and of the late John Paul II in particular, I’m always weighing how that bias influences his views on the Gospels. On a secular level, it’s the equivalent of watching NBC’s political coverage.

The email address to request to be put on Vallee’s email distribution list is Cioran262@aol.com. See the entire homily from 8/17/08 below.

I. The bishop in Ireland Bishop Noonan told me a story today of a little boy he saw in Ireland who, all through a meal, was pestering his father for something. Finally the father said,”Enough of this foolishness, eat your meal and don’t be a brat.” When the meal was over the boy snuggled up next to his father and the father gave him a big hug. If you are Irish, you realize what a big deal this is. I used to joke with Bishop Noonan that the basic principle of Irish morality is: “Never touch another man, except in anger.”

II. Cannanite woman
Today’s Gospel gives rise to similar questions as the story: How do you deal with the silence God? What do you do when God says, “no.” In this today’s Gospel, Jesus encounters a Caananite woman with a very reasonable request: She wants her daughter cured. Not only does Jesus, at first, refuse to help her but he is downright rude. He calls her and her sick daughter, “dogs.” “It is not right to take the bread of the children and cast it to the dogs.” The woman responds with an extraordinary acclamation of faith, “Even the dogs eat what falls from the master’s table.” Jesus cures her daughter and concludes, “what great faith you have.”

III. Prayer is not about getting what you want
I think there is important message about prayer contained in this little passage. Being healthy and pragmatic modern people, we tend to think that prayer works when we get what we want. I fear it is not so simple as that. Sometimes God answers our prayers and the answer is “no.” Sometimes God is silent. Sometimes prayer is not about getting what we want but about learning to reach down deeper for our faith when we don’t get what we want.

IV. How would I respond?
Imagine you are this poor woman, who has not only been told no by Jesus, but has been called a dog by Jesus. How would you respond? As for myself, I fear that I would get angry or be hurt but I pray that I would respond as the woman did, with a deeper and more trusting faith. No wonder Jesus tells her, “what great faith you have.” Pray for faith like the faith of this woman. It is easy to believe and trust when you get what you want. It is much harder to believe and to trust when God is silent or when God says, “no.”

V. The illogic of prayer
This woman is extraordinary on all accounts. The dramatic heart of the dialogue comes when we wait to see how she will respond to being called a dog by Jesus:. She says: “Truth, Lord, but even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the master’s table.” There is a certain lack of logic here. The woman admits that Jesus has no responsibility to help her with the “truth, Lord.” Then, she proceeds to beg Jesus to help her. I think this bit of illogic is the whole secret of prayer. Notice that in the Our Father we pray that God’s will be done at the same time that we pray for our daily bread and a bunch of other things. How do we explain the contradiction? As I said, this is the deepest mystery of prayer.

VI. Prayer is about trust
Prayer is not about arguing with God, influencing God, convincing God or getting what we want from God. Prayer is something much simpler than that. Prayer is simply about trusting, no more and no less. In the end we are, each one of us, very like the little boy Bishop Noonan saw in the Irish restaurant. We don’t always get what we want. But in the end all that matters is that our trust in the Father remains unbroken.

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About Jorge Costales

- Cuban Exile [veni] - Raised in Miami [vidi] - American Citizen [vici]
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