Efficacy of Prayer

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

I don't suppose there is a priest in the world who has not been asked about the Gospel's claim that all we need do is to ask and God will answer, seek and God will help us find, knock and God will open. People want to know and ask from time to time why God has not answered their prayers. They want to know if God really answers our prayers.

Some people have taken these verses of the Gospel to mean that we can specify exactly what we want from God and that God will grant it to us. Others rationalize the fact that some of our prayers are not answered by say that the answer was "no." Others claim that we need to persevere in prayer and that it will be answered in God's time, not ours. In my own personal experience, those answers have never satisfied people.

What exactly is Jesus saying here? I believe the answer lies in the first reading for today's liturgy from the Book of Esther. Queen Esther and her people are facing extermination. She bows low before God and asks for God's help: "God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob, blessed are you. Help me, who am alone and have no help but you, for I am taking my life in my hand. As a child I used to hear from the books of my forefathers that you, O LORD, always free those who are pleasing to you. Now help me, who am alone and have no one but you, O LORD, my God." (Esther C:14b-16, 25)

If we look at the prayer carefully (and the quotation above is simply an excerpt), it becomes evident that Esther is simply stating that she trusts God. She trusts God because she has no one else whom she can trust. She simply states that she is powerless and that she is placing her trust in God's power to resolve the situation in which she and her people find themselves.

In the light of this prayer, I have come to see that Jesus is telling us to be like Esther. Ask, seek, knock; these are simply ways of saying that we should put our trust in God. It does not mean that God will give us that for which we ask or that for which we seek or open the door upon which we knock. It simply means that once we have told God of our need, we should trust God to resolve the situation as God knows best. As the Gospel says elsewhere: Fear is useless; what is needed is faith. (Mark 5:36b)

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