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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Tale of Two Atheists Part 2

Previously I talked about Richard Dawkins calling for the open mockery of Catholic beliefs.  And while his type of atheism has grown more militant over the years, it still fails to move people the same way God can through the power of the Holy Spirit.  To show you the power of faith, here’s a story of another atheist, actually a former atheist — Father Carlos Martins.  Like many Catholics, he was “Catholic in name only” and later fell under the influence of intellectual atheism — the type promoted by Dawkins.  But it was through Eucharistic Adoration that he came to know the very real presence of Christ and not only found his faith, but took up a priestly vocation.  He now leads people in the veneration of sacred relics.

Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the Euchar...

Father Carlos Martins proves the power and joy that comes from a life of faith.  Faith can’t be quantified, measured, or adequately explained.  It certainly can’t be summarized in a few sentences if confronted by an “intellectual” atheist.  But faith’s power cannot be denied.  After all, it has turned many non-believers, like Father Carlos Martins, into staunch defenders of God’s presence in our world.  It has provided strength to millions of saints, martyrs, and believers throughout the centuries.  Those are real changes to real people and not just some intellectual exercise on how the world might be better by throwing off the shackles of religion as atheists would have us believe.

Let’s compare faith vs. intellectual atheism.  New atheists like Dawkins believe that an atheistic world will be happier because people aren’t restricted by the silly bonds of religion.  But can we truly have a happier world without faith?  Were the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea happy places when they tried to build a society without religion?  I think that’s a pretty obvious “no.”  But why are these faithless societies generally unhappy?  Without acknowledging the consequences of sin or the comforting power of grace that comes through faith, society just wonders aimlessly without any purpose.  It doesn’t matter whether your life revolves around helping people or hurting them.  The motivation for doing anything good or productive comes from the coercive nature of government and the laws and penalties they enforce.  In this void, people tend to create false faiths out of political causes like environmentalism, global warming, contraception, identity politics, etc.  But these false faiths don’t truly satisfy our spiritual needs similar to how eating only candy will not sustain physical health.  A world without God will never sustain society because deep down, people need faith to be a complete person.  This is what Father Carlos Martins realized — atheism is ultimately a dead-end because it denies someone a crucial factor for living a fulfilling and happy life.

Now look at the faithful, religious people.  People who live the faith (and not just give it lip service) have a deep sense of happiness and peace through God’s grace.  They realize that life won’t always be easy and there might be some suffering, but they find the confidence and energy to live according to a higher will.  They help the less fortunate, set up shelters, charities, and hospitals, and do any number of good deeds, not because they are coerced by the government, but because they want to share God’s love.  Because they don’t deny faith as a crucial part of their humanity, that faith develops, strengthens, and motivates them to lead a more fulfilling life and help others to do the same.  You can’t deny that religious institutions, either through parishes, charities, or hospitals, make a real difference in people’s lives.

So here we have the reality of happiness through faith vs. the faith of hopelessness through atheism.  I don’t know about you, but I’m sticking with the side that already has the proven track record of generating real change for the better — the life of faith.  When I pray the rosary, I pray for the conversion of heart, mind, and soul to be truly aligned with God’s will as Jesus asks of us in the Third Luminous Mystery.  God is present in this world and He calls you to a life of conversion.  Will you be like Father Carlos Martins, the saints, and the millions of faithful Catholics and accept this calling?

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Medjugorje Message — March 2, 2010

Dear children, In this special time of your effort to be all the closer to my Son, to His suffering, but also to the love with which He bore it, I desire to tell you that I am with you. I will help you to triumph over errors and temptations with my grace. I will teach you love, love which wipes away all sins and makes you perfect, love which gives you the peace of my Son now and forever. Peace with you and in you, because I am the Queen of Peace. Thank you.

The large golden statue of the Virgin Mary on ...
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Dear children, In this special time of your effort to be all the closer to my Son, to His suffering, but also to the love with which He bore it, I desire to tell you that I am with you. I will help you to triumph over errors and temptations with my grace. I will teach you love, love which wipes away all sins and makes you perfect, love which gives you the peace of my Son now and forever.  Peace with you and in you, because I am the Queen of Peace. Thank you.

Mary offers us Her help to become closer to Her son, Jesus Christ.  This message reminds me of the Fourth Glorious Mystery where Mary was assumed into Heaven to guide us through the trials of life.  Our faith tells us that with the help of Mary and the saints we can triumph over sin and temptation to find ourselves in God‘s grace.

In our prayers, let us remember those who are in despair or far from God’s grace.  We should pray for those who cannot believe that God loves them and desperately desires our love in return.  As Mary’s message points out, God will forgive all our sins, no matter how serious, and reunite us in His grace.

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Medjugorje Message — Feburary 2, 2010

Dear children; With motherly love, today I call you to be a lighthouse to all souls who wander in the darkness of ignorance of God’s love. That you may shine all the brighter and draw all the more souls, do not permit the untruths which come out of your mouth to silence your consience. Be perfect. I am leading you with my motherly hand – a hand of love. Thank you.

Our Lady’s message to Mirjana on February 2, 2010

Dear children; With motherly love, today I call you to be a lighthouse to all souls who wander in the darkness of ignorance of God‘s love. That you may shine all the brighter and draw all the more souls, do not permit the untruths which come out of your mouth to silence your consience. Be perfect. I am leading you with my motherly hand – a hand of love. Thank you.

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Pop Quiz

Pop quiz!  Can you honestly answer these questions without looking them up?

  • Can you name all 10 Commandments (bonus if you get them in order)?
  • How many sacraments are there?  What are they?
  • What are the three parts of the Holy Trinity?
  • Who are the four Gospel writers?
  • Who was the first pope?
  • What are the four dogmas about Mary?

How many did you get right?

  • All of them: Someone’s been reading their catechism!
  • Some of them: There’s always room for improvement.
  • None of them: Boy howdy!  We have some work to do.

I’m guessing that most of you fell in that middle category (myself included).  As I was driving today it hit me just how little I know about my Catholic faith.  While far from being a great theologian I should at least know the basics of something that is supposed to be of great importance to my life.  When you think about it, countries and societies are drawn along very few lines.  We group each other mainly along gender, ethnicity, and religion.  So if being a Catholic makes up a large part of who I am why do I know so little about it? And not just me, but it seems like everywhere you turn you see and hear people who do not know the basic foundations of Catholicism. We see it from the “casual Catholic” to even very educated priests.

The basis for our faith is very simple — a love for God.  But how can we love Him and His church if we do not make the effort to really know Him? We go about saying that we are Catholic without knowing what defines the Catholic faith.  Think about it like this.  Would you marry someone after your first date?  Of course not.  In order to love someone you need to know him or her.  A relationship requires a commitment of time and attention.  Of course there is that spark; that little indescribable feeling you get when you are around someone you love.  But that does not completely replace the knowledge of one another that is required for a strong relationship.  The same goes with our relationship with God.  Prayer is that “spark” which moves us closer to God.  But prayer alone cannot replace learning, knowing, and practicing our faith.  We have a much fuller relationship with God when our prayer is matched with understanding the basis for those prayers.

It is of growing importance and urgency that Catholics really embrace their faith and learn it.  No doubt you probably know that many people are leaving the Catholic Church.  While many do not leave the faith for another religion, many stay in name only and do not actively participate. We have all heard descriptions like “Christmas and Easter Catholics”, “Buffet-style Catholics”, “Casual Catholics”, etc. I believe that a lack of knowledge about Catholicism has created this mass exodus. People are losing that strong foundation in their faith, rooted in knowledge and understanding, to the point where the Catholic Church really becomes meaningless in their lives.

If this sounds like doom and gloom, there is light at the end of the tunnel.  Remember that our simple prayers can transform even the most hardened hearts amongst us. I truly believe that a single prayer, said earnestly, has the ability to reach millions.  Remember, the Catholic Church started with one man and a dozen apostles.  And with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, there is no limit to what a few people can achieve.  If we make an earnest effort to learn our faith we will see greater returns on that investment than we can possibly imagine.   Because that knowledge, combined with prayer, and strengthened by the Holy Spirit has the power to save souls.  And in the end, that’s what truly matters.

If that was the pep-talk, it is now time to discuss strategy. What can we do to grow in faith and love for God?  After all, we do not transform from couch potato to St. Thomas Aquinas overnight (if you do not know who he is, consider learning about him as your homework).  Here’s a very simple start — read the Bible.  I know, it’s a huge book that will take forever to read right?  Well, you may not have all eternity to read it, but a lifetime should be plenty of time for most of us.  I’m on year three of reading the New Testament and I’m almost done (just three more chapters to go). It’s amazing how much more you get from the Bible when you read chapters in full as opposed to hearing snippets in daily or weekly readings. The foundation of the faith is all right there at your fingertips waiting for you to discover it.

Not ready to give up your couch potato ways? That’s all right, me neither. I really enjoy watching television and browsing the web. But I know I can carve out a few minutes to enjoy some Catholic programming or read some Catholic news. In the long run, I am much better served keeping up to date about the Church than watching reruns of “Friends” and “Seinfeld”.  There are many great Catholic video and radio channels on the web that you can access almost anywhere.

Two feeds I like to watch are the Catholic News Agency:






And the Eternal World Television Network:



Happy learning! Remember, millions of souls depend on it (no pressure or anything).

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