The Catechism of the Catholic Church on Prayer #30
August 10, 1997
Brother John Raymond
The Catechism of the Catholic Church talks about filial trust in God in the section named "The Battle of Prayer." It points out that our trust is tested primarily in the prayer of petition for oneself or for others. There are some who give up because they think that their petition is not being heard. Why do they think their petition is not being heard?
It is odd that, when we offer praise to God or thank Him for His benefits, we do not ask this question. We do not wonder if our prayer is heard by Him. Yet, when we petition God we want to see results, otherwise He's not listening. Our questioning of God actually turns into a question about our own image of God. Do we see Him as only an instrument to be used? Or rather, as the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ and our Father? I think the former is certainly an attitude we can fall into, given our culture's emphasis on instant gratification of all our wants and desires. Not only do we want instant results but we want it our way. I would call this the Burger King mentality, "Have it your way." One cannot really talk about having a person to person encounter with somebody if one only thinks of the other person as an instrument to some end. The latter image recognizes God as a Person. Further, it recognizes us as His children. This is the proper relationship to have when we petition God in prayer.
So let's say we have the loving Father image of God in prayer. Still our petition does not seem to be heard. What is going on? Evagrius Ponticus, numbered among the more important ascetical writers of the fourth century, tells us, "Do not be troubled if you do not immediately receive from God what you ask of Him; for He desires to do something even greater for you, while you cling to Him in prayer." (CCC #2737) One needs only to reflect on the childless couples in Sacred Scripture who offered up prayers for years for children and finally were rewarded with a special child who would play a most important role in salvation history. (e.g. St. John the Baptist)
St. Augustine, the great Western Father of the Church, has another possible answer regarding petitions to which God does not seem to be responding. He tells us, "God wills that our desire should be exercised in prayer, that we may be able to receive what He is prepared to give." (CCC #2737) Other possible reasons for no response is that we may not be praying for what is really good for us. As a child Archbishop Anthony Bloom prayed fervently that he could do what his uncle did each night take out his teeth! One must remember that God is most concerned with our salvation. At times "God cannot answer us, for He desires our well-being, our life." (CCC #2737) A petition granted for a new car or winning the lottery may bring about negative results in our life.
I heard a testimony given by a man who was spending one hour a week in adoration at a parish that had perpetual Eucharistic adoration. He said that when he began all his prayers were centered on himself. When none of these prayers were being answered he was ready to give up making the holy hour. Then he heard about somebody else who was in need. So he spent the next holy hour praying for that person. To his surprise this prayer was answered. He discovered other people with needs and he started interceding for them. More prayers were answered. Now he has become an intercessor for others. Notice how this man has grown in prayer and charity, something he wasn't even thinking about petitioning God to grant.
One thing that we should be assured of whenever we petition God for something is that He will hear us and do what is best. God has no need for a hearing aid. Let's be patient and keep on praying.