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Prayer of Petition

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Believers know very well the need and the power of prayer in their lives. Prayer is “one thing that can conquer God” (Tertullian). Prayer is the fountain from which we get the water we need daily to nurture our plants, namely, our thoughts, words and deeds.

There are different kinds of prayer, including vocal and mental prayer. According to the purpose of a particular prayer, our prayer may be a prayer of blessing and adoration, or of praise, of thanksgiving, of repentance, or, most often, a prayer of petition (cf. CCC 2626-2642).  

We are needy and weak. So we humbly approach and ask the strongest to help us as well as others: our omnipotent and merciful God, One and Triune, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We petition the help of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, and also - and above all the saints – the help of Jesus’ Mother and ours, the Most Holy Mary, and also the help of St.  Joseph, Jesus’ Guardian and Mary’s husband.

We are perennial beggars always asking God, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and our saints of personal devotion for something: for grace, for health, for the end of the terrible pandemic caused by Covid-19, for peace, for the relief of our physical and moral miseries, for success … and on and on ad infinitum

How come that at times it seems that God does not listen to us because we do not get from him what we asked for?  Jesus narrates to us the parable of the widow and the corrupt judge, who did not want to listen to her, but had to – after realizing that she would not let him in peace. Jesus concludes: if the corrupt judge listened to the persistent widow, how much more will God the Father listen to you! For sure, God always listens to our petitions and answers them. We have the promise of Jesus: “Anything you ask from the Father, he will grant in my name…; ask and you will receive” (Jn 16:23-24; cf. Mt 7:7); “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it” (Jn 14:14).

The promise of Jesus refers primarily to the “giving of the Holy Spirit” (in Lk), the granting of good things (in Mt), or as fruit of a faithful life (in Jn): “Whatever we ask him, we shall receive, because we keep his commandments, and live the kind of life that he wants” (1 Jn 3:22).

Once a friend sent to me a well-known saying related to prayers of petitions addressed to God: God may say “yes” to our petitions, or “not yet,” or “I’ll give you something better.” St. James tells us: “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures” (Jm 4:2-3). The soul united to God in love – in the living flame of love - says to Jesus: “What you want me to ask you I ask, and what you do not want I do not want” (St. John of the Cross).

Certainly, God always answers our petitions. However, his answers may not be our answers as his thoughts are not our thoughts nor our ways are his ways (cf. Is 55:8; CCC 2736-2737). To receive what we ask for in prayer, we need to continue praying and asking for a strong faith and absolute trust in God. Remember the father who approached Jesus to ask him to please heal his epileptic boy “possessed by a demon.” Jesus tells the father of the boy that if he believes, his boy will be healed. The lovely answer of the father: “I believe; help my unbelief.” Earlier the disciples had tried to heal the boy, but could not. They asked Jesus: Why we could not cast the demon out of the boy? Jesus: “This kind can come out only through prayer” (cf. Mk 9:14-29).

Prayer does not fail but we may fail, and then do not obtain what we asked for. St. Augustine comments: “If God seems slow in responding, it is because he is preparing a better gift. He will not deny us. God withholds what you are not yet ready for. He wants you to have a lovely desire for his greatest gifts. All of which is to say, pray always and do not lose heart.” “I often think that when we come to adore the Lord, we would receive anything we ask for, if we would ask with living faith and with a pure heart” (St. John Mary Vianney).

God our Father in heaven knows best what is good for us not just today or tomorrow, but throughout our lives. St. Basil affirms: “If you asked and did not receive it is because you asked for something that is not good; or you asked for it without faith, or it is not convenient for you, or you did not persevere in asking.”  

When we ask something from God, we must say like Jesus, your will be done; like Mary, fiat, let it be.  St. Francis of Sales encourages us to say: “Father, if it is possible, let this chalice pass from me”; however, let us courageously add, “but not my will but yours be done.” Therefore, with faith in God, we are quite confident that if we ask him for anything, and it is in accordance with his will, He will hear us (I Jn 5:14).

God’s will is the best will for us! God the Father, through Jesus in the Spirit, gives us the grace we need to do his holy will. This grace is given to us not as a dole out but as a “divine seed” to water and nurture with our modest cooperation: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them – though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Cor 15:10).

The fruits of our prayers, including the prayers of petition or intercession, are wonderful: prayers increase God’s grace and love in our hearts, help us obtain what we ask for, and – if our prayers are done with “actual attention” - we shall also feel God’s sweetness (Blessed Alphonsus Orozco).

Let me close with the reassuring words of the protagonist - a young, humble and good priest - of Georges Bernanos’ novel Diary of a Country Priest: “When has any man of prayer told us that prayer has failed him?” Never! Hence, the prayer of petition cannot fail, although we – sinners - can fail, and do fail when we pray the wrong way or ask for the wrong things. Nevertheless, and with great confidence, we continue praying and asking the Good Lord - always!

By Fr. Fausto Gómez, OP