When God Says "No"

Msgr. Charles Pope is a Priest in the Archdiocese of Washington.  In addition to his duties as pastor at a parish in southeastern DC, he regularly celebrates High Mass in the Extraordinary Form at St. Mary’s in Chinatown once a month.  He is perhaps the finest homilist I have ever had the privilege of hearing on a regular basis, and he demonstrates why in this blog post from the Archdiocese’s website.  He tackles what may be one of the most difficult subjects that Catholics and indeed people of all faith struggle with: why does God seemingly say no to some of our prayer requests?  He provides a fantastic answer, and in the process gives some guidance on he proper disposition we should have when praying.

1. Sometimes, “No”  is the Best Answer – We often think we know what is best for us. We want to have this job, or we want that person to fall in love and marry us. We want to be delivered from a certain illness or receive a financial blessing. We see these as good outcomes and are sure that God must also see them this way. But God may not, in fact agree with our assessment as to what is best for us. And thus his “No” is really the best answer to our prayers.

For example we may always prefer that God answer our prayer that none of our children be born with any disabilities. But God may see that the experience of disability may be just the thing that we or the child may need in order to be  saved ultimately. St. Paul prayed for deliverance from some sort of physical affliction: Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me,My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor 12:7-10).

The fact is, we really don’t know what is best for us or for someone else. We may think we know, but we do not. God’s “No” to Paul helped to save him for it helped him better understand the power of the cross in his life and how we must learn to depend on God. So too for us. We may prefer certain outcomes, but God alone really knows if our preference is truly good for us or just apparently good.

2. God is love – Many confuse love with kindness. Kindness is a common attribute of love but it is not the same as love. Any parent knows that they must often times discipline their children, and that it is the loving thing to do. A parent who is always kind and never punishes, spoils that child and does not exhibit true love. Parents will sometimes inflict pain on a child by limiting their freedom and insisting that they do what is right. They will bring an unwilling child to the doctor for shots, they will insist that they finish their homework before play. They may give a firm “no” to certain requests that they know are harmful or interfere with greater duties. Kindness always wants to say yes, but love sometimes says no and even inflicts hardships where necessary.

God is a Father. Kindness has its place but love is more essential for us than mere kindness which is but an attribute of love. Scripture says, My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son….God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Heb 12:5-6, 11).  And Again: Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus….Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this (2 Tim 2:3,7)

Much more at the link.

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