Expecting the Unexpected — How God Answers Our Prayers

Lately I have contemplated prayers, intentions, and how God answers our requests for help.  On the Catholic Answers forums, I see so many people angry or saddened because they feel so distant from God and they wonder if He isn’t hearing their prayers.  I understand how easy it is to feel discouraged when the news headlines are filled with stories of violent crimes, wars, and civil unrest not to mention the unreported hardships we all face about our jobs, family, finances, relationships, etc.  You look at all the problems in this world and it is easy to conclude that God just doesn’t care.  However, what I think happens more often is that we fixate on a specific solution and completely miss how God actually answers our prayers.

Here’s an example of God answering prayers in unexpected ways taken from my own experiences.  Like many people, I pray in a general sense that I may be stronger in the seven virtues of chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility.  But how do I know God hears me and answers my requests to be a better person?  After all, nothing really seems to change in my day-to-day life that indicates that I’m stronger in any of those areas.  I don’t wake up and say, “Thanks God!  I feel more diligent today!”  So how does God answer my prayers?

I remember all the days and nights I spend with my 1.5 year old son.  I play with him when I come home from work although I’m tired and just want to relax in front of the television.  I try to read his favorite books to him for the hundredth time with the same excitement as the first time.  It’s exhausting work at times.  But then it hits me.  All those times when I pulled out a little more energy to be there for my family, I was demonstrating acts of patience, kindness, and charity.  I asked God for strength and He answered by giving me an opportunity to exercise virtue.

I would say that one can only dream babies acted liked angels, but that assumes a parent could ever get some sleep.

Next, let’s look at a story that made the news rounds lately.  There is a picture circulating around the internet of a wife carrying her double-amputee husband on her back.  Jesse Cottle lost both his legs after stepping on an IED while serving in the Marines in Afghanistan.  In rehab, he met his wife, Kelly.  In an interview on Good Morning America, Jesse said that he wouldn’t change anything that happened to him because if he hadn’t lost his legs to that IED, he never would have met the love of his life.

God always answers our prayers but not always in ways we expect.

I’m not sure whether Jesse is an overtly praying man, but I’m sure he must have had some very low moments after his injury and asked God to somehow improve his situation.  But God just didn’t miraculously grow Jesse’s legs back or change the IED blast so he didn’t lose them in the first place.  I’m sure many of us in Jesse’s situation would look for those specific answers from God if we were in that situation.  And we would probably be saddened when God didn’t physical heal us.  But God often answers prayers in unexpected, but better ways.  Sure, God could have physically healed Jesse.  But then Jesse never would have met Kelly in rehab.  While what happened to Jesse was tragic, God brought about a greater good by touching the hearts of two people, instead of healing the legs of one.

What RosaryMeds Do I Need?

What rosary mystery doesn’t involve God working in some unexpected way?  The whole New Testament is the account of Jesus saying and doing unexpected things.  Sometimes He did the unexpected to great fanfare like performing miracles.  And other times Jesus’ unexpected nature upset people, especially the scribes and pharisees when He challenged their practices and authority.  When you pray the rosary, meditate that God’s ways aren’t always our ways.  When it comes to God, expect the unexpected.  For example:

  • The Annunciation (First Joyful Mystery): God chose an unwed teenager to be the Mother of God.  Mary may have been physically poor, but God raised her up to be rich in spirit.
  • The Nativity (Third Joyful Mystery): The King of Kings was born in a stable.  Like His ministry, Jesus’ birth was marked not by earthly power, but by humility.
  • The Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven (Third Luminous Mystery): When Jesus proclaimed that He was the Word made flesh, people chased him out of town.  How many times do we get upset when God shows Himself in unexpected ways in our lives?
  • The Crucifixion (Fifth Sorrowful Mystery): Jesus died and redeemed us all.  People challenged Him by saying that if He was really the Son of God, He could save himself.  But Jesus knew that it was far more important to save our souls than save His body.
The Annunciation, by Francesco Albani.
The Annunciation, by Francesco Albani. “How can this be, for I know not man?”, Luke 1:34 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Remember, God’s ways are not our ways.  But that should be a reason to rejoice, not for disappointment.  God sees the big picture.  So shouldn’t we rejoice that someone who sees and knows everything is looking out for us?   Do you have any stories to tell of how God answered your prayers in unexpected, but ultimately better ways?  Leave a comment.

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A World on Fire

There has been so much happening at the intersection of politics and religion lately (it’s a block down the road from the intersection of crazy and truth).  We have the Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage, abortion standoffs, international issues in the Middle East, Obamacare’s HHS mandate, scandal after scandal, and immigration reform debates.  Political developments seem to come in so fast that if I took the time to write in depth about any one issue, a dozen more would come to the forefront before I could publish it.  So I will leave it to the political news sites to report on the details of these stories.  They have the resources and the audience to go into much more detail than I ever can.  I will stick with what I know — rosary prayer and meditation.

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Overwhelmed by all the bad news lately?

I think it is so easy to read the current headlines and get discouraged.  One would think that the world is on the brink of falling apart completely.  What is wrong or evil are considered virtues.  What was once thought of as good and decent are now seen as hateful and intolerant.  Common sense seems to be in rare supply.  Humanity appears to be in a tailspin from which there is no recovery.  But that type of thinking assumes that the current state of the world is somehow drastically different from the past.  It assumes that there was a time when all was good and peaceful in the world and that recent conflicts are the exception to history.  But can you think of a time in human history when everything was fine?  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the world has always been a violent, hostile, and illogical place, especially towards truth, values, and faith.

If you want to see how cruel this world can be to those of faith, you don’t need to look any further than the mysteries of the rosary.  First start with the easy ones — the Sorrowful Mysteries.  Each mystery shows how humanity treats the source of truth and love, Jesus Christ.  He’s betrayed in the First Sorrowful Mystery, scourged in the Second, crowned with thorns in the Third, carries a cross in the Fourth, and is crucified in the Fifth.  Not exactly a pleasant view of how humanity treats people of faith is it?  You can look at other mysteries too if you want to see how hard it has been to live morally.  When you pray the First Joyful Mystery, imagine how difficult it must have been for Mary, an unwed teenager, to learn that God called her to bear His Son.  Meditate on the Third Glorious Mystery and picture the apostles locked in a room out of fear of being found and killed by those who crucified Jesus.  History shows that following God’s plan often presents more challenges and defeats than victories.

End the end, we win!
How does it end? We win!

So what are we, as people of faith, to do?  Do we cast off our religious values and embrace the trends society embraces?  Do we hide our faith so that we don’t offend anyone?  Do we go on the offensive and use every dirty trick in the book to force a better world?  Again, we only need to look as far as the rosary.  When confronted with the difficult challenge of God choosing Mary to bear His son, she humbly puts her faith in His plan.  The apostles, when confronted by a hostile world, found strength in the Holy Spirit to proclaim God’s Word.  And Jesus, in the Sorrowful Mysteries, endured the torture and insults the world flung at Him.  Even at His lowest moment in His Passion, Jesus never stopped loving and forgiving.  Jesus practiced what He preached even in His most difficult moments.  And so God calls us to act like Mary and say yes to His plan even when in conflicts with the social norms of our society.  We must remember, like the apostles, the Holy Spirit empowers us to proclaim God’s Word.  And Jesus calls us to imitate Him and live according to His truth despite the suffering the world will heap upon us for doing so.

It isn’t all suffering and defeat.  To end on a positive note, remember that this world and our lives are only temporary.  The entirety of human history is but a blink of an eye compared to the enormity of the afterlife.  The problems and turmoil of today, while they may seem large to us now, are nothing compared to the joy and happiness of Heaven.  That isn’t to say that we can turn a blind eye to this world and its problems.  But we must keep everything in perspective.  We fight the good fight but our goal is Heaven, not this world.  Remember, the crucifixion isn’t the last rosary mystery.  We have the entire Glorious Mysteries after that where Jesus conquered death and prepared a place for us in His kingdom.  Our end is not tied to a Supreme Court ruling or the HHS mandate.  Our end is not summed up by bills, laws, and elections.  Our final end is praising God forever in Heaven.  Keep that in mind the next time you read the Drudge Report and feel like throwing your chair out the window in despair.

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Transforming the Rosary from Chore to Joy

“But I don’t want to clean my room!”
“Do I have to clean the dishes now?”
“But this show is almost over! I’ll take out the trash once it’s done.”
“But I’m not tired!”

I think nearly all parents hear excuses like these on a near daily basis. They engage in a constant struggle to instill a solid work ethic in their children and have them focus on others’ needs and not just what they want. But it is just as easy for adults to fall into periods of laziness when we don’t always choose what is best for us or for others. We cheat on our diets, we skip exercise, and we procrastinate on tasks like paying bills or conducting household maintenance in favour of watching television or browsing the internet. And I think we all have a tendency to skip or race through our prayers, especially the rosary. Although we may love the rosary generally, we are often no better than children when we find excuses to avoid praying it.

English: A sterling silver Catholic rosary. Fr...

This past Lent I felt like I received a lot more value from my rosary meditations all thanks to a few simple tweaks to my prayer routine. The biggest change came from thinking of a specific intention for each “Hail Mary” I recite. Praying for a specific intention combated that tendency to go into mental “auto-pilot” and start reciting the words more as worthless incantations than focused prayer. This habit of offering specific intentions started in earnest when I adopted a Catholic cardinal for the papal conclave. While I was praying for Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez of Mexico, I also offered intentions for family members, friends, and priests as well as presented my thanks for all that is good in my life and remorse for my sins.

Are you scared about the seemingly daunting prospect of coming up with an intention for each bead in a rosary? You would be surprised how easily one intention acts as a seed for many others. For example, when I pray the Second Joyful Mystery, The Visitation, I start by praying that all expectant mothers raise their children to know God’s love. That intention leads me to pray for the change of heart of all expectant mothers who are considering abortion. I then find myself praying for sidewalk counselors and those who pray in front of abortion clinics. That leads me to think about the change of heart of those working in the abortion industry. I follow with prayers that politicians (particularly Catholic ones) who publicly support the abortion industry let the Holy Spirit into their hardened hearts. Once I started attaching a few intentions to those “Hail Marys,” the rest came pouring in.

This Lent I also rekindled my love of rosary guides that contain scripture passages and commentary on each mystery. When I’m tired and feel like racing through the rosary, I often want to hide my rosary books in a drawer and forget they exist. I rationalize that I have already read them repeatedly and cannot derive much more use from them. Why do I need to reread the Bible verses of the Transfiguration or the Miracle at Cana? Why do I need to read commentary and meditations I’ve read a dozen times already?

Prayer

I am so glad when I do convince myself to read and integrate a guide into my rosary prayers because I discover something new every time. While the text stays the same, it speaks to me differently because I live through new experiences and the world at large changes every day. For example, I never would have thought back in January that I would now be praying for Pope Francis. Or maybe the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery of Jesus carrying His cross will have a more personal significance to me after a difficult day at work. The same scriptural passages, commentaries, and meditations take on different meanings each time I read them. And these new ideas then manifest themselves as new intentions that I pray on each rosary bead which in turn makes me think of even more intentions, thanksgivings, and remorses. The rosary is no longer a static set of prayers, but is a dynamic dialog with Jesus, Mary, and the saints.

Looking for a good rosary prayer guide?  Try mine!

I believe that when people criticize rosary meditation, they envision someone mindlessly chanting the same phrases repeatedly. They invoke Matthew 6:7 — “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” What the critics do not understand is that the rosary is not “babble” when you put forth specific intentions, sorrows, and thanksgivings before our Mother Mary who then strengthens your prayers before her Son, Jesus Christ. When Mary gave humanity the rosary, she did not intend it to act as a medium for mindless incantations but instead she wants us to really make it our own. And when we pray the rosary as Mary intended, we no longer see it as a chore to avoid, but as a moment of peace and joy in our busy lives.

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