Ask a Franciscan

Is God Listening to My Prayers?

Man praying

Although I keep praying, little happens. I know that I have obsessive-compulsive disorder; counseling has helped up to a point. Often I feel as though the United States is a hostile country in which to live. I feel like saying to a lot of people: “Don’t you know how to love? Be nice, be kind, gentle, and loving.” What else can I do? 

I hear you. Consider the following questions: What do you hope your prayer will accomplish? Is it to remind God about all the things you need and about which God could do a better job in providing? Do you pray to create some obligation on God’s part—or to affirm an obligation on your part? 

In Luke 18:9–14, Jesus describes two men praying in Jerusalem’s Temple. The Pharisee’s “prayer” at the front of the Temple, in fact, sounds to me more like an audit: “God, are your records as good as mine? Don’t forget all the good things that I’ve done for you.” 

On the other hand, the tax collector’s prayer at the back of the temple is very short but radically honest: “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” 

Which of these very different styles of prayer does your attitude more closely resemble? Does your prayer progressively open you up to God’s grace, or does it say, in effect, “God, here’s what you need to fix in my life—and lately you have not been doing a very good job”? 

In a sense, that Pharisee’s prayer is dishonest. He could pray that way for 50 years and would probably have only a greater sense of entitlement and that God has wronged him. The tax collector’s prayer, however, perfectly states the relationship between God and that person. 

Now, back to your prayer. If “little happens” means that your list gets longer while God seems to be increasingly negligent, then ask yourself: “Is my prayer opening me more widely to God’s grace, or is it closing me down?” 

I think most adults have prayed for something that they felt very sure God must approve—and yet their prayers seem unanswered. I know that I have felt that way at times. 

Perhaps God has already been answering your prayers but in ways that you did not expect. When you join other Catholics in praying at Mass, is their joining you in prayer already part of God’s response? 

Your private prayer will not guarantee that other people will become more nice, kind, gentle, and loving, but your prayer should help you recognize and appreciate the people who live out those virtues as you try to do the same. 

Yes, the world is in bad shape, but hasn’t it always been that way? Haven’t the problems in the world always been caused by people who consider God’s ways too difficult, too slow, and unable to produce the results needed? Were many of these problems caused by people seeking some shortcut around God’s plan, or by men and women who implicitly consider themselves much more realistic than God? 

If you name some year, era, or society that you consider ideal or a “Golden Age,” any good historian can quickly identify people who were marginalized then—who were, in effect, told, “You don’t really count.” 

The solution is not to quit praying but rather to pray with greater honesty, with greater depth, realizing what God is already doing and how you might contribute to changing the very things that upset you. 

Honest prayer cannot change someone else, but it certainly changes the person praying in that spirit. Perhaps Person B will change because Person A lives out the changes Person B needs to make. Honest prayer will also surface the changes that Person A still needs to make. 

Please, don’t give up on God, who has not given up on you. 

What Do These Terms Mean?

What are differences among Franciscan priests or brothers designated as “Friars Minor,” “Conventual,” or “Capuchin?” I see these terms in various magazine articles but have no clue what they mean—other than being parts of the Franciscan family. 

The first two groups trace their roots back to the 13th century, to the time of St. Francis of Assisi, who died in 1226. Within five years, when he was reburied in that city’s new Basilica of St. Francis, these two groups had already started to form. 

The Friars Minor then tended to live in smaller houses, engage more in itinerant preaching, and were more open to manual labor as a way of living their religious profession. The Conventuals gravitated toward living in larger buildings, pursuing more ministries serving a particular area, and seeking more education in order to promote the kingdom of God. All such generalizations, of course, have their exceptions. Both profess the same Rule of Life and, until 1517, were juridically under the same worldwide government. 

The Capuchins began as a reform group in the early 16th century but soon became a separate religious community. They also profess the Rule that St. Francis wrote in 1223 and engage in a variety of ministries. 

All three groups are committed to the radical conversion that “living according to the Gospel” requires. 

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2 thoughts on “Is God Listening to My Prayers?”

  1. God answers all prayers: The answer are, yes, no, not now, maybe. I always end all prayers with thine will not mine. As Jesus did in the garden.

  2. I’ve pretty much already given up on God. I see no reason to keep praying. Praying doesn’t change anything.

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