Summer time in Wisconsin is beautiful. Extra time, hopefully, to relax, renew, and recreate in body, mind, and spirit. Possibly, it allows for a little extra prayer time.
Our understanding of prayer is meant to evolve as we grow in our relationship with God over the years. As children we might find ourselves asking God for very specific things: a new toy, a special prize, not to be punished for doing something wrong, and so forth.
What difference do prayers make?
As we get older our experience shows us that some of our prayers seem to be answered while others are not. So, we might wonder why should we pray if it only seems to work some of the time. If God is going to do what he wants, what difference does it make if we pray or not?
What do we make of Jesus' words when he said, "Whatever you ask the Father in my name will be done for you?" After all, didn't Jesus pray in the Garden of Olives, "Father, if possible, please let this cup of suffering pass me by?"
Not even Jesus, his only son, was able to sway the impending course of events which his Father had asked him to endure. Or was he? We must not miss those all important words of Jesus as he lovingly prayed to his Father and said, "Your will be done."
The Lord's prayer
These words are contained in the Lord's prayer, in the prayer Jesus taught us and the one we say so often, especially at Mass, the "Our Father."
We always pray, "thy will be done." What do we mean? Whatever God does is okay with us? Well then, why did Jesus teach us to ask the Father to help us if his mind is already made up about you and me and the people and creation we love?
There are seven petitions in the "Our Father": hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done; give us this day our daily bread; forgive us our trespasses; lead us not into temptation; and deliver us from evil.
Is there anything in these prayers about a sick child, the suffering of the innocent, or broken hearts that tells us that God won't let bad things happen to good people if we pray to him?
Can we make someone's cancer go away? Free people from the prison of mental illness? Stop drinking to excess? Quit abusing family members? Being the cause of ulcers in the work place if we pray to God in the name of Jesus?
Is this the type of thing we are being told to pray for or not? Because if it is, then why don't these things stop? Why is there so much suffering in the world or pain in your lives and mine?
Are we to knock on the door of hope until God does something? Even if, as it says in Scripture, the whole household has to be awakened? Are we supposed to raise a ruckus? Abraham in the Book of Genesis is portrayed as beseeching God with incessant requests. Would God spare the city if only a few faithful were found there?
Praying in trust
In other words, should we recognize that even though our requests are not always answered exactly the way we want, that praying, seeking, knocking, and asking is still what we must do because Jesus did it, too?
"Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, 'Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.' He said to them, 'When you pray, say: Our Father…and the Father in heaven who knows everything about giving good gifts to his children will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.'"
This is what we are to pray for and we can be very specific about what we ask from God. We ask with trust that he will give us and those for whom we pray the good gifts only he knows how to give.
In the words of a spiritual writer, "Prayers that appear to go unanswered are answered in surprising ways and in God's own good time. Often, we become what we pray for: prayers for peace create people of peace; prayers for healing form hearts of compassion; the emptiness of seemingly unanswered prayers is filled by the gift of God's Spirit."
Let us pray for one another in the summer time and all the time.
Msgr. Daniel Ganshert is the vicar general of the Diocese of Madison.