See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. - James 5:7

Friday, July 09, 2010

Never Known to Fail Prayers

Prepare yourself.

For the first day of the novena to Our Lady of Mt Carmel I posted a prayer that carried the claim, "never known to fail".  The phrase was contained in the title of a prayer which I copied and pasted from another site.  I left it in because I have always seen that particular claim accompanying that prayer.  I can think of several other devotional prayers with similar claims attached.  Since my youth, I never really questioned such things, convinced they must be true - little children, like the virtue of charity, believe all things (1 Cor 13).  Perhaps whoever propagated the prayer originally, experienced these prayers in that way.  In other words - people who sought graces through such prayers must have received an answer they were happy with.  Does that mean if we use the prayer and do not receive an answer or one that accords with our desires that the claim is false?  Does it mean it didn't work for me?  Or for you?
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God's free gift.
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I don't know.  I'm not a theologian.  Nevertheless I will share some ideas I have about it.  First of all, prayer disposes us to receive God's grace and ultimately unites us to God.  However, God's grace is not dependent upon our virtue or good works, or being good enough to deserve his grace or mercy.  It is his free gift - which explains why irreligious people are often granted signal graces seemingly out of the blue.  So the answer to our prayer doesn't depend upon just the right formula used, the right words, the duration of the prayer, personal ceremony, private ritual, pious accoutrement's, etc..  Such means - in keeping with Catholic tradition - may be efficacious for some, others not so much.  (To be sure, I'm not saying official prayer(s) and devotions of the Church are not efficacious, or that a person does not need to be in the state of grace to please God and thereby gain his blessing - not at all.  We know these things to be true.  I'm speaking of private prayer and devotions with claims of "never known to fail".)
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"The Father is at work..."
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I think it is unfortunate when people say prayer "works" - but I know what they mean.  In truth it is God who works - "My Father is at work now and so am I" - Christ made that clear.  In fact Jesus taught us all we need to know about prayer.  The perfect prayer of course is embodied in the Lord's prayer, the Our Father... it is Christ's prayer and therefore the prayer of the Church.  Hence all true prayer is at once the prayer of the Church.  As such we have a guarantee, as it were, that it is "never known to fail" - more precisely, "the Gates of Hell shall not prevail".  And of course, Jesus promised, "whatever you ask in my name you will receive."  (Therefore we pray to Our Lady to "make us worthy of the promises of Christ."  Indicating there is a process involved... )
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Perseverance
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Thus when we pray according to God's will, and especially when asking the intercession of Our Lady, the Mother of God, our prayer cannot fail to reach the heart of God, the Father who cannot give his son a serpent when he asks for an egg.  Novenas are like the one who knocks - thus, like the widow in the Gospel, perseverance and persistence gains all.  If the answer to one's prayer is not immediately forthcoming, perhaps one must be persistent and persevere in praying the prayer "never known to fail".  I know this from experience.  I prayed for 30 years to be delivered from something - I went on numerous pilgrimages, prayed countless prayers, sought spiritual direction, prayed many rosaries, and then one day at Adoration I heard the words, "You are free."  My prayer had been granted.  Sheer, undeserved grace.  The prayer was heard the first time - but I needed to be prepared to receive the answer.  You see, sometimes our prayers are granted immediately and we in turn squander the grace and lose it through sin.  To recover it can sometimes take much effort and penance and suffering, accompanied by humble prayer - and even after all of that, it is only a preparation to receive God's free gift.  We have no right to it.
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"You don't know what you are asking."
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The Scriptures teach us all about prayer, it is God speaking to us.  The Word Himself instructs us, while the Holy Spirit intercedes for us since we do not know how to pray as we ought - in this we can understand how it is that God himself guarantees our prayer, as it were.  Our Lord demonstrated we do not know how to pray as we ought when he responded to the disciples request to sit at his right hand in glory, Jesus told them, "You don't know what you are asking."  One must think about that when one imagines his prayer has not been granted.  In many cases we do not know how a literal answer to this or that prayer would turn out for us.  For example, what if you prayed to win the lottery in order to pay the bills, save the house from foreclosure, or to do this or that?  And if you won, what if you did all of those necessary things, gave to charity besides, but indulged yourself in luxury as well, only to abandon your dependence upon God and the service you owe to Him.  Oftentimes success spoils the most virtuous man. 
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Another thing to consider regarding unanswered prayer is that what we ask for may not always be necessary for heaven, or more specifically, for our salvation.  It doesn't mean God did not hear it.
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It seems to me it is not the prayers that fail, it is often we who fail, especially in our understanding of what prayer is.  I have always found that humbly acknowledging that in sincere contrition and repentance sometimes gains for us far greater graces than we can ask or imagine.  Yet we often even need to ask for the fundamental grace of humility, contrition and repentance - to realize our utter and complete dependence upon God's mercy:  His love moved by our misery...
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That said, always, always trust in the mercy of God.  Confidence and love is what never fails - nor does Our Lady:  Never was it known that anyone whoever sought Our Lady's help or implored her intercession was ever left unaided.
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And - pray the rosary - it has never been known to fail.  For sure.

5 comments:

  1. michael r.4:32 PM

    Makes me think of St. Teresa of Avila: "answered prayers cause more tears than those that remain unanswered" -- and of course Truman Capote, who titled a book based on this quote.

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  2. Beautiful thoughts on prayer, Terry!

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  3. Austringer10:06 PM

    Thanks for your thoughts on this, Terry.

    I agree that so often our prayers appear to fail because we fail. "The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects" -- and I am not as righteous and nowhere near as humble as I need to be.

    This subject has been on my mind recently: I had a conversation with a friend wherein I mentioned that I was praying for the conversion of my stepson, an unbaptized agnostic, who has been diagnosed with an agressive form of bladder cancer. She responded that I could know that my prayers would be answered; that it was "promised". I told her that I knew that God would listen to my requests, but that He did not take away free will: He might shower extra graces down upon my stepson, but my stepson is free to reject those graces -- possibly right into Hell. She was appalled, and said I lacked trust (which is certainly true).

    That's why I question the concept of no-fail prayers -- yes, even the Rosary -- and even the intercession of Mary and the saints. God does not take away our free will. It appears to me (please correct me if I'm wrong, folks!)that if prayer and the intercession of the saints were always effective, then no one would be in Hell at all, for haven't we all prayed that all would come to know and love God and to do His will? Yet we're told "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many" -- so presumably there are souls in Hell.

    However, I do trust, as hard as it might seem, that all of these things -- including some people going to Hell -- will all be revealed as part of God's greater plan.

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  4. One of your best entries ever, Terry! Thank you for your witness to sheer, undeserved grace. Fr. Mark

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  5. We would like to confirm much of what is said here, having said the Prayer to Our Lady of Mount Carmel on three occasions (We sit and say it together based on- "when two people come together in my name I am there") and on each occasion our request has been granted.

    Oh, most beautiful flower of Mt. Carmel, fruitful vine, splendor of Heaven.

    Blessed Mother of the Son of God, Immaculate Virgin, assist me in my necessity, Oh Star of the Sea, help me and show me here you are my Mother.

    Oh Holy Mary, Mother of God Queen of Heaven and Earth, I humbly beseech thee from the bottom of my heart to succor me in my necessity (make request).

    There are none that can withstand your power.

    Oh Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee (say three times).

    Holy Mary, I place this prayer in your hands (say three times).

    Amen.

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