"And I tell you, ask and you will receive;
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.
What father among you would hand his son a snake
when he asks for a fish?
Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?
If you then, who are wicked,
know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will the Father in heaven
give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?"
--Luke 11:9-13 (from the Gospel for the Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time)

I once saw a refrigerator magnet that said, “God answers all prayers. Sometimes, He says, ‘yes.’ Sometimes, He says, ‘no.’ And sometimes, He says, ‘Are you kidding?’”

If we look at our prayers in a superficial, literalistic way, the message of that refrigerator magnet makes a lot of sense. It seems that sometimes God grants our prayers, sometimes He denies them, and sometimes He’s left scratching His head wondering what we were thinking to ask such a thing in the first place.

Yet, when we look more deeply into what prayer really is, we see that there is really only one answer to each of our individual prayers. Prayer is an act of communication with God. Prayer puts us into relationship with Him, or it deepens our relationship with Him. Prayer is an act of faith. In prayer, I say that I know there is a God, and that I am not Him.

Prayer is an act of communication with God. Prayer puts us into relationship with Him, or it deepens our relationship with Him. Prayer is an act of faith. In prayer, I say that I know there is a God, and that I am not Him.

To pray is to submit to God’s will, His plan. Yes, we ask for certain things to happen, because we don’t understand God’s plan fully, and so we act according to our human nature and pray that things will turn out according to our own sense of what would be good. We love our family members, so we pray for their good health and happiness. We want peace, prosperity, job security, the chance to accomplish certain goals we have set for ourselves, and so many other things that are basically good, in and of themselves. And so we pray, knowing that God has the power to provide for us what we often find elusive or unattainable when we rely on our own power.

But to pray is to admit we don’t know for sure what would be good for ourselves or for others. To pray is to say that we are ready to receive the gift God chooses for us, because only He truly knows what is best for us. And what is best for us is whatever will bring us to heaven, to salvation, whatever will make us holy as He is holy. Our Father knows best how to help us become like Him!

Because holiness and heaven are our ultimate goals, we find that the one ultimate answer to all of our prayers is the One we call the Sanctifier, the Holy Spirit. In the Profession of Faith (Nicene Creed), we call the Holy Spirit, “the Lord and Giver of Life.” A desire for life, true life, is at the heart of every legitimate prayer, and so the Holy Spirit is the great answer to all of our prayers, no matter what specific needs we name.

Can it be frustrating not to receive the exact thing we’ve asked for in our prayers? Of course, it can be terribly frustrating! We think we know what will be good for us, and we resist suffering. This, even though the clearest call of Jesus to His disciples is to take up our crosses and follow Him.

It is not easy to pray! Prayer requires a great deal of trust in the Lord and surrender to His will. Prayer requires that we think about what we should ask for, that we go ahead and ask with the love and confidence of God’s children, and that we gratefully accept God’s answer and whatever gift He chooses to give, which always includes above all the Gift of the Holy Spirit poured out upon those who will receive Him.

Life is incredibly difficult at times. But we should find great consolation in knowing how much our Father in heaven loves us and desires to give us the good things we need to become like Him and come live with Him forever in our heavenly home. To receive the good gifts of God — above all God Himself — we need only to begin with a prayer.

Fr. Charles Fox is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit currently assigned to the theology faculty of Sacred Heart Major Seminary. He is also a weekend associate pastor at St. Therese of Lisieux Parish in Shelby Township and chaplain and a board member of St. Paul Evangelization Institute, headquartered in Warren.