Godtalk: Answers to Prayer



After explaining the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer,  St Augustine goes on to speak about answers to prayer.
We do not know how to pray as we ought. You may still perhaps ask why the apostle Paul said, 'We do not know how to pray as we ought'; for it is impossible to believe that either he or those to whom he was saying this did not know the Lord's prayer. 

The apostle shows that he himself is not exempt from ignorance. He hardly knew how to pray as he ought when, to prevent his being elated by the greatness of his revelations, there was given him a sting of the flesh, an angel of Satan to buffet him: which caused him to ask the Lord three times to take it away from him - surely this was not to know how to pray as he ought?

In the end he heard the Lord's reply as to why the prayer of such a great man as he was not granted: 'My grace suffices for you; for virtue is perfected in weakness.'

So in these afflictions that can both benefit and do harm, we do not know how to pray as we ought. Yet because they are difficult and troublesome, annoying our sense of our own weakness, we pray with all our human will for them to be taken away from us.

But we owe this much trust to our Lord God, that if he does not take them away, we should not suppose ourselves to be neglected by him, but should rather hope with devout patience for good things greater than the evils. For in this way virtue is made perfect in weakness.

These things are written to stop anyone thinking highly of himself if his prayer is heard when he asks impatiently for something it would be better for him not to obtain; on the other hand, should his prayer not be heard, he may become utterly depressed, despairing of the divine mercy towards himself, though it may be what he is asking could cause much more terrible afflictions if granted or else bring good fortune which might corrupt and ruin him. In such cases, then, we do not know how to pray as we ought.

So if something happens contrary to our prayer, we should bear it patiently, give thanks in all circumstances, and have not the least doubt that it was more opportune for God's will to be done than our own.    

The Lord gave us this kind of example. When he had said, 'Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me'; he then changed the human will that was in him from the fact of his assuming human nature, and immediately added, 'But not what I will, but what you will, Father.' Hence deservedly, by the obedience of one man many are made righteous '”

Peter Knott SJ