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Unheeded, unheard: Is this prayer?


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Fr. Peter John Cameron, OP - published on 04/23/23

And yet, even after a relatively short time in the daily practice of prayer, the change in us may be so great that we seem like a different person.

We pray and pray, but an answer to prayer seems so long in coming … if it arrives at all. Why does our prayer seem to go unheard, unheeded?

In one respect, we should not be surprised, given what our Lord teaches about prayer in his parables, stressing the perseverance of the friend who comes asking late at night for what he needs (Lk 11:5-13), and the persistence of the pleading widow before the resistant judge (Lk 18:1-8). And, of course, there is the celebrated example of St. Monica who prayed some 17 years for the conversion of her son Augustine.

The point of prayer is not “to get things” but to grow in intimacy and union with God. Prayer is a process of purification. The more we pray, the more we change. And God may permit our petitioning of him to carry on for some time because he wants us to become like him through that practice.

A spiritual master of the 4th century, Evagrius of Pontus counsels: 

Do not be distressed if you do not at once receive from God what you ask. He wishes to give you something better — to make you persevere in your prayer. For what is better than to enjoy the love of God and to be in communion with him?

Persistence in prayer gives us a clearer, truer sense of what we really long for, and it increases our capacity to receive everything that God wants to bestow. After his mother’s prayers were answered, St. Augustine wrote:

Our Lord and God wants us to exercise our desire through our prayers, so that we may be able to receive what he is preparing to give us. His gift is very great indeed, but our capacity is too small and limited to receive it. That is why we are told in Scripture, “Enlarge your desires.”

Our willingness to stick with prayer transforms even the stickiest parts of our personality. As Venerable Louis of Granada observed, “It is often remarkable to see the dramatic change that occurs when a person begins to practice prayer seriously and faithfully. A person may be distraught, vivacious, depressed, or indifferent, but even after a relatively short time in the daily practice of prayer, the change may be so great that they seem like a different person.”

Let’s pray — and keep on praying — with Doctor of the Church St. Gregory of Narek:

Help, so I will not be unfruitful in this task
like the planter vainly sowing seeds into barren ground.
Spare me that I may not 
labor without birth,
sigh without tears,
meditate without voice,
cloud without rain,
struggle without reaching,
call without being heard,
implore without being heeded,
groan without being comforted,
beg without being helped,
smolder without aroma,
see you without being fulfilled.


Follow Fr. Cameron’s series on prayer here.

See some of the earlier pieces below:

Prayer Is:SaintsSpiritual Life
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