Matthew’s gospel recounts the words of Jesus:
“Ask and it will be given to you;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
We Catholics learn to pray at a tender age. And as early as one can utter a prayer – in kindergarten perhaps – one discovers that the door isn’t always opened when one knocks. When we ask for something, we do not always receive it.
At least, at first.
As a missionary leaving a comfortable life and teaching post in Spain for a dangerous journey to uncharted territory in the New World, Saint Junipero Serra’s life was full of adventure.
But as the founder and “Father Presidente” of a string of missions in what is now California, his life was perhaps equally full of bureaucracy and paperwork.
In a very long letter to the authorities at the San Fernando Colegio written on July 18, 1774, Saint Junipero uses many pages to report months of delayed supplies, senseless regulations, misbehaving soldiers, and requests for necessary aid denied. As a leader and administrator, he writes to secure the well-being and future of the missions and the people who live in them and support the mission community – from blacksmiths to farmers to his fellow Franciscans. To do this, he must maintain relationships with merchants, military men, lawyers, and politicians – not all of whom share the same goals or motivations.
Despite what seems like endless frustration at the impediments presented to Serra in the care of his missions, he concludes:
“In spite of everything, I hope that God, in one way or another, will continue the work He began. For with each day there appears new evidence that demonstrates that from the beginning, His Divine Majesty has control of this enterprise.”
Rather than seeing God’s answer of “No” to any fervent prayer as punishment, we can choose to see it as an opportunity to be patient while the bigger picture develops. In the meantime, we can focus on the gifts He has given us, and the blessings we share.
And if the answer remains “No,” we may reflect that while we are skilled at perceiving what we want, the merciful Lord holds the wisdom of what we need – and what we need is what He will provide.
What is your attitude when God’s answer to your prayer is “No”?
Can you think of times in your life where you immediate prayer seemed to go unanswered, only to have a better outcome than you could have imagined later on?
Do you think perhaps some prayers seem to go unanswered because some humans, who could be the “hands and feet” of God, are not aware enough of their role to complete God’s work?
Can you think of ways in which you have been obstructive to works of a higher purpose, due to laziness or refusal to heed God’s call?