It was a surreal moment at Mass the other day as I listened to the Gospel story from Matthew about Jesus healing the man possessed by a demon. He said: “Be quiet, get out of him!” And the demon left him.
It was surreal because I thought I could have been sitting right in front of that possessed man. The man in the pew behind me – obviously mentally disturbed in some way – was mumbling quite loudly, to the point that it probably made the whole congregation (including the priest) uncomfortable throughout the Mass.
I’ve written before about dealing with similar distractions (Working Overtime in Advent), but this time around, instead of getting frustrated, I started praying for this man – praying that he would be cured as the possessed man was cured in the Gospel. How amazing would that be, to witness such a miracle?
It didn’t happen. He continued to distract me with his loud mumblings until I left the chapel, but I ended up focusing on an important lesson that I often have to relearn: Sometimes God says “no.”
That’s pretty obvious, right? God’s own Son asked the night before His death that He figure out a new path to our salvation which wouldn’t involve a horribly painful death, and the Father – more or less – said no.
Jesus accepted that answer willingly, but for us non-God human beings, “no” is always a difficult answer to accept, even from the Lord Himself. It could be “no” to a desperate situation, like a friend of my family who took her son to Lourdes in hopes of curing his brain tumor. Or it could be “no” to something much more superficial, like when I prayed for snow days as a kid (oh wait, I still pray for those). Or “no” to something in-between, like a certain job I once hoped to land.
The disappointment stings – no matter if it’s a truly serious or a truly stupid request. If it happens enough, you might be tempted to stop petitioning God all together. Or, if you’re like me, you’re more likely to just start complaining about it.
The Catechism asks, why do we complain of not being heard?
In the first place, we ought to be astonished by this fact: when we praise God or give him thanks for his benefits in general, we are not particularly concerned whether or not our prayer is acceptable to him. On the other hand, we demand to see the results of our petitions. What is the image of God that motivates our prayer: an instrument to be used? Or the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? (CCC 2735)
The Catechism makes it clear that we are to have humility in prayer. And boy can we get a good dose of humility when we get no for an answer.
I couldn’t tell you why exactly God said no to my prayer for the mumbling man at Mass – or exactly why He says no to anything I request – and really there’s no sense in speculating. All I know is that God has a reason for everything, and I have to accept that my reasoning was not His.
“You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” If we ask with a divided heart, we are “adulterers”; God cannot answer us, for he desires our well-being, our life. “Or do you suppose that it is in vain that the scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit which he has made to dwell in us?” That our God is “jealous” for us is the sign of how true his love is. If we enter into the desire of his Spirit, we shall be heard.
Do not be troubled if you do not immediately receive from God what you ask him; for he desires to do something even greater for you, while you cling to him in prayer.
God wills that our desire should be exercised in prayer, that we may be able to receive what he is prepared to give. (CCC 2737)
Even though we don’t get what we want at a particular moment, we need to trust that God has even greater plans in mind. You know, “no” might not be such a bad answer after all.