Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Why Doesn't God Answer My Prayers?

A great number of wise men is the safety of the world
    ----- Wisdom 6:1-25
Yesterday I wrote about the “coincidence” of our desire to pray for our country and my recent reading of two books on prayers.  I guess I could have included the “coincidence” that I am also reading and reviewing (on my Catechism Study blog) the section of the catechism entitled: Christian Prayer.  And then this morning, “coincidently” I read the words from the Book of Wisdom in the Bible, underlining the ones I quoted above, which focus on knowing God. 
Did I mention previously that I don’t believe in coincidences??
Long ago, when I was a young teenager, my cousin Nick and I used to walk down the alley to the other side of the block to grandpa’s house.  Two or three nights a week we would go over to his house and play pinochle with him; he greatly enjoyed our company, and we his.  I don’t recall why we started going there on a regular basis, perhaps our parents suggested it, or maybe it was our own initiative --- but we knew that grandparents were to be respected, and we treated grandpa that way.  And we enjoyed those nights playing cards with grandpa, and we always had laughs, ---- and grandpa always won.
Despite our youth, Nick and I were fairly intelligent chaps, and we wondered how grandpa did it.  Yes, age and experience should have made him a better card player, but not that much better.  I recall asking him one night: “Grandpa, how come you always win so much?”  I don’t recall his answer, but my memory of his answer is kind of like the one to a question I had earlier in my youth about how Santa ever got up and down the chimney --- it was a wink of his eye, a twitch of his nose, and poof! --- magic.  Grandpa never told us his secret to winning, but after much thinking and watching him, we eventually figured it out, but it wasn’t easy.
Our talks with grandpa those evenings were almost always about things grandpa was interested in.  If he seemed melancholy or distracted some nights, all we had to do was ask about the war or the old country or his job as a policeman, and he would launch into long and interesting tales of the events of his life --- most often the same ones over and over again, but we listened.  He told us about things he was interested in, and what was important to him.  Of course Nick and I had many interests also.  Besides school and church, we both enjoyed sports, for instance, and I fondly recall how during the summers we played endless hours of tennis.  Nick’s challenging game eventually helped me make the tennis team in college, but of course grandpa wasn’t really interested in those things.  If we really wanted to engage him in conversation, we’d open topics he was interested in.
Praying to God is engaging in conversation with Him, and some of the lessons I learned from my parents about conversations with adults apply equally to my conversations with God (or any conversation, for that matter).  First, and most important, I need to respect the adult I am speaking with, and God deserves even more respect than any human being.  Respectful conversation with an adult, I was taught, means: listen and don’t interrupt; humbly accept criticism; assume that with his age he has more wisdom than you --- even if you don’t understand it; and never showing disrespect to him by shouting or cursing or whining if you don’t get your way.  And if all these things prove too difficult for you, (if you can’t do anything else) then grit your teeth -- with your mouth closed so he can’t see your frustration (and you can shut up) – and smile.  This was the respect I learned for my elders, which applies even more to my conversations with God.  My parents taught me all these things, but my time with grandpa taught me even more.
Grandpa loved me and was concerned about me, but concerns which seemed big to me seemed small to him.  If I only wanted to talk about me, the conversation quickly turned into a monologue.  If I wanted a real conversation, one in which I might learn something, I had to be open to grandpa’s interests.   I recall Nick and I discussing sometimes the topics grandpa spoke to us about, questioning our understanding of his concerns, and how often we went home and asked our parents or went to the library to do some reading, to learn more about these things which so concerned grandpa.  (Boy, I wish we had the internet then!)  And when we knew more about things which interested grandpa, we found understood him more, and some of his concerns eventually became our concerns.  We grew in wisdom, by wanting to understand as he understood.  This is a great lesson in the ways of God also.  If we know more about Him (and His Church), we will understand more why He is concerned about some things, and we will find ourselves also being concerned.  And with this common ground, our conversations will not only grow more interesting, they will grow more loving.  And we will suddenly become aware, as we grow in wisdom, that some of our concerns were really the concerns of a youth, minor things, in the bigger picture of His wisdom. 
But of course, in our dealings with God, we will never fully understand all of His ways (not on this earth at any rate).  Like grandpa’s winning at pinochle, we will find it very hard to understand how His ways always seem to be the best ways.  Even if it sometimes looks like He is losing, we find that in the long run He always wins, and it will be a marvel to us --- like poof!, magic.  But if we persist in conversation, in prayer, with Him, even these unknowable ways of God will be perceived by us.  We will know how and why He acts, even if only to accept that He acts in love.  And that knowledge, that faith, will be enough.
Abram asked God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah for ten good men, and God said He would.  As the words of Wisdom above note: “A great number of wise men is the safety of the world.”   
I’ve been led recently to read about and write about and think about prayers for our country, and for the world.  As I’ve learned in the catechism, my concerns go beyond prayers of petition --- prayers for myself, but are prayers of intercession --- for someone else, and this is good.  “Intercession is a prayer of petition which leads us to pray as Jesus did.  He is the one intercessor with the Father on behalf of all men.” – 2634   If you know nothing about how to pray, the catechism encourages you to start the conversation with God by merely calling His name:  Jesus.  If nothing else, a calm, quiet saying of His name is enough to start the beginnings of the conversation, the changing of your heart, the beginning of knowing Him.
“Faith is filial adherence to God beyond what we feel and understand.” – 2609   (Faith is believing without understanding.)  “Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you receive it, and you will.”  (Mk 11:24)  “The prayer of faith consists not only in saying ‘Lord, Lord,’ but in disposing the heart to do the will of the Father.  Jesus calls his disciples to bring into their prayer this concern for cooperating with the divine plan.”  2609  
Bringing into your prayer a concern for “cooperating with the divine plan”?  But how do you do this?  Ah, lessons from my grandpa again:  if you want to have him interested in a conversation, talk about things of interest to him.  It’s like wanting to be loved, you must love first.  Stop focusing only on yourself, and your constant prayers of petition for what YOU want.  What is the divine plan?  You need to learn more about Jesus to begin to understand this wonderful thing he was concerned with, this thing which made a God humble Himself to become a lowly man, this thing which He, a God, was willing to die for.  Read books by the saints, by wise Christian men, Scripture, and try to understand what God is interested in, His divine plan.  Try to grow wise in His ways, to have faith, so that you can have fruitful conversations with Him.  So you can discern how He does answer your prayers, but perhaps not in ways you might wish, for He is wiser than you.  Learn to pray, that you might grow wise, and so you can cooperate with His divine plan, and find peace and happiness with it.  And why is all this important?
A great number of wise men is the safety of the world.  Everything you hold dear depends on it.     

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