Friday, August 12, 2005

You Cannot Petition The Lord Through Prayer Because He Knows Better

Tonight I passed up a chance to say the rosary with some friends before the statue of Our Lady of Fatima, pleading a long day and exhaustion. While I am glad to have stayed home and rested this evening, I felt sad and guilty for having said no.

I wonder: Why pray? I mean, I can think of a few reasons. To give praise to the Lord. To reach out to God, who will more than meet us halfway. To tell the Divine Doctor what ails us. In other words, to communicate our love, our gratitude, and our need for the Lord.

More specifically, why pray the rosary? Other than meditating on the life of Jesus, through Mary -- which is a worthy activity. Don't get me wrong, I'm not accusing anybody of Mariolatry.

I'm just confused about the promises. Popular devotions, such as the one to Our Lady of Fatima, promise specific outcomes for saying the rosary, as well as punishments for not saying it faithfully. But I believe that God's mercy and love, not our prayers, are what saves us from His judgment. This is a mystery, for which I can only give thanks and praise.

It seems, then, that maybe Jim Morrison was right about one thing: You cannot petition the Lord with prayer. You can't call on the Lord as if He is going to do your bidding; as if he was your Heavenly Concierge. As if He will do Y provided you do X.

In Romans, St. Paul talks about faith versus works: "What occasion is there then for boasting? It is ruled out. On what principle, that of works? No, rather on the principle of faith. For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law."

Every week my priest tells us that only utter dependence on the Lord through the Cross, and not our own effort, will make us holy. In his column, John Allen reminds us that our own Pope Benedict XVI, back when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, affirmed
that grace, not human efforts, is what brings us salvation. Ironically, the pope is now promising indulgences to pilgrims attending World Youth Day.

Prayer is tough and praying on the promise of getting out of Purgatory quicker, or because you're afraid that the world is about to receive a Divine Smack, makes it tough to pray without feeling like a liar. As Flannery O'Connor put it:

The virtue of novenas is that they keep you at it for nine consecutive days and the human attention being what it is, this is a long time. I hate to say most of these prayers written by saints-in-an-emotional-state. You feel you are wearing somebody else's finery and I can never describe my heart as "burning" to the Lord (who knows better) without snickering.

This is how I pray: I pray that God is listening not to my own words, or the words of others, but to the inward groanings of my spirit. That He is moved, not by my efforts (weak as they are), but through his love and mercy.