A Sermon by Father Francis Maple OFM Cap
DOES GOD ANSWER OUR PRAYERS?
I find the subject of prayers of petition puzzling. Let me explain why ...
What is the point of me asking God to help the starving people of the world when all the while He knows of their extreme suffering much better than I? Surely those desperate parents are praying with far more earnestness for the survival of their babies than I can? If God is a caring God, which He claims to be, why does He not help them? Despite the prayers I make for the starving of the world I know millions of them will die from hunger.
Sometimes it might be tempting to feel that praying is just not worth it, especially if we think our prayers will not bring about a change in God’s mind or cause Him to interfere with fate.
Yet in the Gospel reading we are told the opposite, and in no uncertain terms. Jesus says we must pray continually and never lose heart. Even the unjust judge is finally worn down by the widow’s constant badgering. How much more therefore will the Father of justice and mercy be prepared to be swayed by constant petition? Jesus concludes, “Will not God see justice done to His chosen who cry to Him day and night? I promise you God will see justice done to them and done speedily.”
So, here we have an unequivocal statement from Jesus Himself that God answers prayers, not just that He hears them, and that the Almighty will see justice done. The message is clear that constantly praying about the starving in our prayers has its effect. But this is what we find puzzling that the starving children continue to die in their mothers' arms. The answer to this terrible paradox lies in the fact that God answers all prayer in His way and in His time.
In our own lifetimes we have witnessed how, eventually, terrible things have changed for the better but only after much heartbreak and prayer. The Vietnamese army poured into Cambodia and put an end to the killing fields. Against all expectations the Iron Curtain was suddenly torn down. Much of the bloodshed and hostility in Northern Ireland has come to an end.
Almost always God uses people to get things done.… ordinary soldiers can fight battles in just wars; sometimes politicians sit and negotiate honourable deals; governments on occasion are moved to allow charities to organize relief; a letter is written that Amnesty International has suggested and an innocent prisoner is freed.
Someone may ask, “Is prayer this simple whereby God does nothing, except wait in the background for us to pray, and then gets someone, often unknowingly, to carry out what we requested in our prayer?” I don’t think so.
How can we not cry out to God for our sisters and brothers in need? How can we call ourselves children of God, if we do not bring the pain of the world into the presence of our Father, Who is Love Himself? Sometimes we will be able to act; sometimes we will be able to influence others to act. But we should always pray as St Augustine said: ”We should act as if everything depends on us – and pray as if everything depends on God”.
Not to pray, because we are powerless to act, is a dereliction of our duty. For it is to God that our prayers are addressed, and He will make use of them in the best way He can. To pray for something - a person, a place, a country, peace talks, famine relief - is to see the person, the place, the situation, held in the hands of God the Creator of everything good.
But we know that He does not conveniently hand out a miracle as soon as someone prays, even though that is how we would like it to happen. For this would mean that we could escape having to live with the consequences of Original Sin that came with Adam's fall.
What we must do is to place in the hands of our Father all the millions of innocent people around the world who suffer injustice. This is a form of prayer both simple and powerful. That action is a prayer and an act of worship for we place our trust in God.
The essential nature of prayer demands that the heart and mind be raised in communion with God Whom we are contemplating. And bringing our needs before Him is part of the same act - we can't ask God for things without first coming into His presence and contemplating His true nature. The people who mix the prayers of petition with prayers of adoration are doing well. When we pray for the starving in the world, we hold the suffering people in the hands of God, and we know that He suffers too.
The most powerful prayers have to be those of God’s Son Jesus. He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father if it be possible let this chalice pass Me by.” He was so afraid of what He had to suffer. His Father did not take that chalice from Him. He made Him drink it to the dregs. Are we to say His Father never heard His prayer?
Certainly not! But it was the Father's will that the Son should undergo those sufferings for the salvation of the world. If the prayers of Our Lord were not answered as He wanted, because His Father had a bigger picture in mind, how true must that be of our own somewhat pathetic supplications? But recognising this fact should not cause us to be disheartened in our own praying because no prayer is ever wasted.
Lord Jesus, when we find no solution to some problem may we bring it before You and say, “Your will is my peace.” In this way we express our trust in You that whatever You will will be for the best and it will bring us peace."
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