Saturday, April 19, 2008

Asking anything

The Gospel for Sunday will sound particularly familiar to daily Mass-goers. That's because we heard it on Friday (first part) and Saturday (second part). In the first part, Jesus affirms, very solemnly, that he is "the Way, the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through me." (Notice that he uses the verb "comes": that's a hint that he sees that movement from the Father's perspective.) In the second half of the passage, Jesus goes on to affirm, "whoever sees me, sees the Father."
And then he says those perplexing words, "if you ask the Father anything in my name, I will do it, so that the Father will be glorified in the Son."
St. Theresa capitalized on that promise as part of her "little way" of confidence. but I suspect many of us, with less complete confidence (and almost certainly less personal holiness) wonder why the many things we ask the Father in the name of Jesus don't seem to happen at all. Does Jesus, like Popeye, mean what he says, and says what he means? Is it really just too good to be true? Or does St. James have it right when he says that "we ask and do not obtain because we ask amiss"?
We surely don't "ask amiss" when we plead for healing, or pray for a loved one in danger or on a wrong path in life. Perhaps we could tweak our prayer a little, though, by trying to bring our desires more and more into conformity with Jesus' ultimate goal, as stated in the Gospel, "that the Father will be glorified in the Son"--or, as it says in the Sermon on the Mount, "see first God's kingdom and holiness," so that "all other things will be given in addition."


Katie Pacyna said...

Hi again Sister...You've opened up Pandora's Box by telling me you like the comments. I'm full of 'em. I can provide no quality assurance though, so bear with me.

This issue you bring up of "asking" and not "asking amiss" is something I think about regularly, usually because I'm waiting for some answer that never seems to come. Except that I was reading my journals from years past the other day and realizing that I have actually received everything I've ever asked's just that the answers rarely (in fact never) came in the package or the time frame I expected.

I'm beginning to wonder if the problem is in the receiving and not so much the asking. We hear so many homilies and reminders about being the "givers" that I think that's become a learned skill. We give freely, we know how to be charitable with time and resources,and many of us experience a relatively privileged life in some way or another. With privilege (granted by having some kind of resource at our disposal--not just money) comes responsibility that we gladly burden; we want to take care of people's needs if we can.

But as givers, we're in control of assessing how best to alleviate someone else's need based on what we can give; we cannot always give them what they want, either because we just don't have it or we see that what they want won't help them as much as an alternative answer.

Flash forward to our own prayer: now we're asking, we have a need, and we're wanting to receive some help but we don't know how. It seems to me that we are not especially great at seeing the "big picture" when it comes to our own needs. We're asking for what seems right, given our perspective, and because we're such good givers (used to solving others' needs) we're convinced we know what we need. I think often we don't. So the answers to our prayers always appear but we usually miss them in the midst of waiting for our *proposed* answer to drop in front of us...right now.

As I see it, receiving is ultimately an act of trust, that we're acknowledged and will be taken care of by a force possessing something greater than we can provide for ourselves at that moment. Not many of us are really good at trust. I know it scares me--deeply. So to compensate or desperately prove my worthiness, I micro-manage my requests and put strict boundaries on them and then proceed to get annoyed when I don't get *my* answer. Meanwhile, basking in my own annoyance, I miss *the* answer with which I'm actually presented. I do think it's always there. Sometimes I get it. Most times...not so much.

And, what I'm beginning to realize is that if I look at the ways in which my prayers were *actually* answered, I can begin to understand better what to hope and ask for. Thus far, these directions always seem to support and direct me to a very real (possibly inspired) image of this ultimate goal of "kingdom."

xaipe said...

What great insights, Katie! Part of the Ignatian method of making the daily spiritual examen is precisely to look over the day for the subtle signs of God's action, so that we learn to recognize how God converses with us through the day--it will not be in a generic way, because God is communicating with us personally, and that's not a one-size-fits-all thing. Maybe the greatest "skill" we can acquire in the spiritual life is to learn God's language with us, so that we can become more and more receptive to grace.