It feels good to be asked for things. While sometimes we might grow impatient with people who are constantly asking for something from us, there is a satisfaction in knowing that someone else needs you. We all have a psychological need to be relied upon. This is why parents delight in giving gifts to their children, especially the kind of gifts that will help them to be better people. Fathers especially derive a sense of satisfaction in providing for their families and working for an honest living.
Looking at good and virtuous earthly fatherhood gives a window into understanding God as our heavenly Father. He too loves to bestow gifts upon His children. Most especially, He gives us Himself in the Holy Eucharist and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. But He is not satisfied only to give us these gifts, and He wants to give us many other manifestations of His grace as well. It’s like at Christmas, when children receive not only the big presents under the tree, but often even more small items in the stockings hung over the mantle. Like a good earthly father, God wants us to ask for good things from Him. He delights in our expressions of our reliance upon Him when we see ourselves primarily as His sons and daughters who rely upon Him as the giver of all good gifts.
Sometimes, though, when children ask for gifts, their parents know that such a gift would not truly be good for them. Such was the case for me as a young child every time that my siblings and I asked for video games. To use a more up-to-date example, when an adolescent male asks his parents for a smartphone, they know that he is unlikely to use this device for virtuous ends, and choose rather to give him something more suited to his age. Or at least they equip the phone with software that ensures he does not have unfettered access to the internet, lest he encounter things that would be harmful to his soul. Or what father who has a young daughter has not been asked at some point for a pony. The young girl wants a pony because, on television, ponies wear pink bows and are the very picture of femininity. But every father knows that if his daughter had to feed, water, groom, and clean up after a real pony, she would quite quickly resent having made such a request. (Such, I imagine, were the thoughts of my parents when I asked Santa one year for a moose. I received a small stuffed moose toy and was fortunately quite content.) The father whose daughter asks him for a pony knows that, in fact, his daughter does not really want a pony, or at least she does not want anything that an intelligent adult would identify as a pony. She wants the pony she has seen on TV.
Something very similar often happens to us when we ask the Lord for things. We can frequently be deceived about what we really desire. This is often the case when jealousy becomes involved: “Lord, why can’t we be happy like that family? They always seem so perfect, but we’re always fighting.” Or, “Lord, why can’t we have more financial security like those people? They have a big house, drive new cars, and wear the best clothes. Are they such better people than we are that they should receive such blessings?” However, when we desire the possessions of others or immaterial goods like their happiness, we often do not see the carefully disguised pain that lurks just below the surface. Envying the happiness of another person is particularly dangerous because all of us carry secret burdens and sufferings, and sometimes those who appear the happiest, who have the most carefully crafted, picture-perfect lives on the outside are the ones carrying around the most hurt and suffering. Even if they do not yet know it.
At other times, it seems that our prayers are not answered because we ask that the Lord remove some suffering from our lives. It could be a suffering that you experience yourself or that someone dear to you experiences. While suffering is a result of the fallen state of the world, itself the result of original sin, it is important for us to remember that suffering is not the greatest evil. That, rather, is sin, but this truth has been obscured by the modern world’s pursuit of pleasure and comfort at all cost. We live in a society that views discomfort as being intolerable, and therefore cannot accept that God would allow anyone to suffer. In reality, though, God will allow us to suffer only as much as He knows that we are able to handle with the help of His grace. This is why we should frequently seek the help of the sacraments when we are suffering in body or in spirit: the Eucharist as often as possible, Confession on a regular basis, and the Anointing of the Sick when suffering finally brings us to face our bodily death. This is not at all to say that it is wrong for us to pray that our sufferings be removed, and especially for the sufferings of others to be removed, since, after all, seeing those we love suffer is often much more difficult than suffering ourselves. Rather, we should always ask in our prayers that we also be granted the resignation to suffer well what we experience in body and spirit, being ready to offer our sufferings for the good of our brothers and sisters and the salvation of the whole world.
The third and last kind of prayers that we frequently see as unanswered are those prayers by which we ask that God remove true evils from the world. Since suffering, as I have explained, is not true evil, these are the evils of sin. Why does God allow so much unbelief? Why does He allow our government to pass laws infringing upon the rights of all persons to life and threatening the sanctity of marriage as a life-long union between one man and one woman? Why does He allow the media and entertainment industries to poison the minds and hearts of people young and old?
It may seem strange, but God allows so much disbelief in Him in the world because He wants to increase your faith. That’s right: God allows others not to believe in Him because He so greatly desires you to believe in Him. He wants you to love Him with the fervor of all those who do not love Him, to pray on behalf of all those who do not pray for Him, to follow His teachings more closely on behalf of those who do not know them or simply choose not to follow them.
The older among you will remember being taught to make acts of reparation, acts of sacrifice and prayer to make up for all those who do not love the Lord or follow Him, or to visit Him in the tabernacle and console Him for the lack of love shown to Him by so many who neglect to honor His presence. All of us would do well to take up such practices, especially on the First Friday of the Month, particularly dedicated to Our Lord’s Sacred Heart. When we struggle to understand why God seems not to answer our prayers, rededicating ourselves to our belief in what we know to be most real, our Lord’s presence in the Eucharist and the other sacraments, grounds us in the sure knowledge of His existence and His love for us. No matter how much it seems that God has abandoned us because He seems not to answer our prayers, His abiding presence in the Blessed Sacrament shows that He will never abandon us.
Visiting Jesus in the tabernacle, while it is a great act of love for Him, is not enough to increase your faith. God allows others not to believe so that you might have the opportunity to grow in your faith as you seek to share your love for God with them. Oftentimes it is only when we are called upon to give an account of what we believe that we realize how important our beliefs are to us. If you find yourself struggling at times to believe in a good and loving God, either because God seems not to answer our prayers or for any other reason, ask yourself whether you have been hesitant to confess your faith before others, and ask the Lord for an increase in the virtue of courage in order not to fear the temptations of the world and value the opinions of men and women over the love of God.
When we struggle to understand how God is working in our lives, it is always good for us to turn to the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She dealt with so much uncertainty, from the mysterious announcement of the Virgin Birth to Her Son’s death on Calvary, but She did so always with a spirit of faith and trust, never abandoning Him. Do not forget to ask Her to see the Lord’s work with trust and always to respond as She did, “Let it be done unto me according to Thy word.”
The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson
St. Charles Borromeo Church, Fort Wayne, Ind.
XVII Sunday through the Year