How God Answers Prayers — or Not

Aug. 2 is the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time; Aug. 9 is the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

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St. Alphonsus Church has found success with Lighthouse Catholic Media audio lending in Chicago, where Cardinal Francis George recommends the program.

“The speakers are articulate and enjoyable to listen to,” says the parish’s associate pastor, Father Thomas Aschenbrener.

Parishes choose one of three distribution plans (priced by parish size). Lighthouse sends CD selections, pamphlets, a display stand, full instructions, and a Faith Raiser Success Plan. Parishioners come and take whatever CDs they would like to listen to. Every three months, Catholic Lighthouse Media sends new CDs. Donations support the program.

Aug. 2 Readings

Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15; Psalm 78:3-4, 23-25, 54; Ephesians 4:17, 20-24; John 6:24-35

Our Take

Today’s readings answer the question: Does God answer nasty, spoiled, ungrateful prayers?

The first reading explains how, after God raised up plagues against Israel’s captors, gifted the Israelites with the Passover, led them out of Egypt, parted the Red Sea, and put them on the road to the Promised Land — their response was less than pious.

“Would that we had died at the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread!” they said. “But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!”

The Israelites’ prayer is bad for what is said and how they say it. They combine near contempt of God with a strange longing for slavery. It would be easy for an almighty God to answer such a question with the back of his hand. Instead, God answers it with an open palm.

“I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them: In the evening twilight you shall eat flesh, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread.”

Ours is not a petty, exacting, thin-skinned God. He is magnanimous, generous — slow to anger and rich in kindness. And we don’t know the half of it.

As astonishing is his answer to the Israelites in the Old Testament, today’s Gospel is even more surprising. In it, the people ask more questions of God. He reveals once again who he is when he answers them.“What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do?” they ask, and he gives them the Eucharist.

“Sir, give us this bread always,” they say, and today’s Mass is itself an answer to this question.

Aug. 9 Readings

1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34:2-9; Ephesians 4:30-5:2; John 6:41-51

Our Take

Last Sunday’s readings were about God’s totally gratuitous, over-the-top way of answering prayer. Today’s are, in part, about what turns out to be an even greater kindness in God: His refusal to answer some prayers.

In the first reading, Elijah has been experiencing God not answering prayers during a long journey. He kept faithful to God, until he’s at his wit’s end. Then, “He prayed for death,” says the text.

But he did it in a surrendered, humble and faithful way, leaving the matter in the Lord’s hands.

Then he learned why God had not given him what he needed for so long: He wanted him to learn that God is even more faithful to us than we are to ourselves.

An angel not only gave him food and drink — which he didn’t ask for — he gave it in such a way that it would sustain Elijah for 40 days. In the Gospel, God also has to give the people what they need against their own protestations.

They were getting more than they bargained for in the Eucharist, and they “murmured against him.” To those who murmured against him, he shows patience and generosity again.

He gives them the Eucharist — himself — in their hands.