Providence and Prayer

Providence and Prayer

7th Sunday after Pentecost 

Today’s oration tells us two vital things about our faith. The first is that God’s providence governs all things and is never mistaken in its provisions. The second is that God’s providence, even though it does not need our cooperation, nevertheless wants it. That is precisely why God made us free creatures, endowed with memory, intellect and will. If we fill our memory with the holy thoughts that are given to us in the Sacred Scriptures and the writings of the saints, if we use our intellect to understand better what God has revealed to us about Himself, if, above all, we employ our will to love God above all things and our neighbour as ourselves, finally, if we make use of all those faculties to ask God frequently in prayer to look after us and provide for our needs, then we are taking part in Divine Providence.

In this way we can see that falsehood involved in sitting back and expecting God to do everything for us. This attitude is not that uncommon. Many people cease to believe because they say that if there were a God then there would not be so much evil, but they are unwilling to do their share in eradicating evil, beginning with their own personal lives. God did not make us robots; we are not computer programs (even though some would like to make us such, people in their image and not God’s…). No, we are made in God’s image and likeness, a likeness that is meant to develop by means of a life of virtue and holiness.

This is why we can say that this Sunday’s liturgy is really about prayer. If we pray, if we pray more, then we are truly working towards allowing God’s loving providence to be fully operative in our world. If we were to ask why God wants to associate us with His providential designs, giving us to merit in some way by prayer the gifts He offers, the response is that God wants to give to each the dignity of cooperating in obtaining our ultimate destiny, for ourselves and for others. We truly are co-workers with Divine Providence. We can, however, number two other decisive reasons for this.

The first concerns the harmony and solidarity that exists, or should exist, between men. By praying for another person, one cannot but feel involved in their destiny. What happens to my brother or my sister concerns me, for we are one and the same body. In this way, prayer leads the unity of the Church to its perfection. “We ought to desire good things not only for ourselves, but also for others: for this is essential to the love which we owe to our neighbour…. Therefore charity requires us to pray for others” (St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, IIa-IIae, q. 83, a. 7).

The second is for us personally. When we pray, it is not God that we change, but ourselves. By formulating our requests, even if only in our mind, we are already committing ourselves in some way to wanting what we are asking for, and we thus obtain the capacity to receive it from God. “Prayer, then, for obtaining something from God is necessary for man on account of the very one who prays, that he may reflect on his shortcomings and may turn his mind to desiring fervently and piously what he hopes to gain by his petition. In this way he is rendered fit to receive the favour” (St Thomas Aquinas, Compendium Theologiae, l. 2, c. 2.).

It is in this sense that St Thomas affirms that prayer is a certain unfolding of our desires to God. Prayer unfolds our desires, it unrolls before God what we would like to see happen, it is the expression of what we want. By prayer, we make ourselves, as it were, to develop, to explain, all our desires, vividly conscious of our needs and our powerlessness to pull ourselves through on our own. In this way, the desire increases, goaded on, as it were, stoked up by the thought that God gives us what we ask for.

In this way, it becomes clear that the one who prays does not remain passive, but takes the initiative. Under the influence of prevenient grace, he goes out to meet God and becomes thus an actor in his own sanctification. Since this prayer bursts forth, as it were, from the grace of God, it increases in us the desire to receive precisely what God wants to give us, and it thus takes on an infallible effectiveness. This goes for everything that regards the obtaining of eternal salvation. St Augustine had eloquently spoken of this desire which increases by attentiveness and persevering prayer:

“Their desire is delayed, in order that it may increase; it increases, in order that it may receive. For it is not any little thing that God will give to him who desires, nor does he need to be little exercised to be made fit to receive so great a good: not anything which He hath made will God give, but Himself who made all things. Exercise thyself to receive God: that which their shalt have for ever, desire thou for a long time…”.