Does God answer prayers? And don’t just say that the answer is sometimes “no.”

Jesus is very clear in the gospels that we can and should ask God to help us with our needs and that we can depend on God to respond. In fact, there are two prayers in the gospels that Jesus himself prays — and both contain requests of God. “The Lord’s Prayer” asks God to “give us the bread for this day,” to “lead us not into temptation,” and to “deliver us from the evil one.” And Jesus in the Garden at Gethsemane prays that God will “take this cup (his suffering and death) away from me.” In fact, neither of Jesus’ prayers was answered in the way he hoped. He was tempted, he was delivered into the hands of evil, and he did have to “drink the cup” of his death on a cross. Jesus’ belief that his father was trustworthy included the possibility of an outcome different than that for which he hoped: “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will but as you will.”

Asking God for what we need is very much a part of Catholic Christian practice. In addition to the Lord’s Prayer, each celebration of Mass includes the “general intercessions” which are specific petitions for the particular needs of the community. These prayers express our trust in a God who is the source of all that is good. We also offer our personal petitions, either out loud or silently.

And yet, our prayers may not always be followed by our desired result. We may pray for peace and see war come to pass. We may pray for a sick relative who then does not get better. This doesn’t mean that God answers our prayers with a “no.” But it does mean that there is always a large element of mystery in our encounter with God. We can’t control the results. Sometimes the outcome we most dread challenges us to grow or calls forth love from us in a way we would not have thought possible. Jesus invites us to pray boldly for the good results we seek, but with an awareness that our truest prayer need always be “your will be done.”


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