Q. Lately, I find myself asking quite a bit from God — perhaps too much. I ask for things for myself, since my own life has fallen a bit off course — as well as for friends and family members, some of whom have serious health problems.
I make sure to thank God for the blessings that I do have, but I am starting to think that I am demanding too much of the Lord and that I should curb my prayer a bit. Do you think it is possible to pray too much? (Albany, New York)
A. I do not think it is possible to pray too much. I take as my guide the story Jesus told in the 11th chapter of Luke’s Gospel — about someone who went to a friend at midnight to borrow food to feed an unexpected guest.
The friend at first didn’t want to be bothered, noting that the door was locked and that his family was already in bed; but because of the caller’s persistence he finally relented. And the moral of the story, says Jesus, is that we should pray with the same persistence. “Ask and you will receive,” is the translation we read at Catholic Masses, “seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
But some scriptural commentators have pointed out that the original Greek text is in the “present imperative” form and that a more precise rendering might be, “Keep on asking … keep on seeking … keep on knocking.”
At the same time, though, I would mention the need for patience when we pray. God is on his own timetable, not ours, and (knowing, as he does, considerably more than we know) he may even decline our request — or grant it in a way we didn’t expect (and don’t even like).
Albert Schweitzer, the great humanitarian, once said: “The most difficult thing I have ever had to do is to follow the guidance I prayed for.” Our wisest and safest prayer comes from the words of the Our Father, “Thy will be done.”
I like the fact that you take time, too, to thank the Lord for blessings in your life. Praise and gratitude are noble forms of prayer, and they sometimes disappear in a torrent of petitions — as though God were a vending machine and we needed only to pull the right handle for the proper favor to pop out.
Prayer, we learned as children, is “lifting our minds and hearts to the Lord,” and when Paul says in First Thessalonians that we should “pray without ceasing,” he is inviting us to an abiding awareness that the Lord is listening to us and that he cares.
Q. Our family consists of a mixture of Catholic and Protestant Christians. One family member, who is gay, is contemplating marriage to a same-sex partner. My husband and I do not plan to attend the ceremony, in deference to our Catholic faith. (I assume that the church would not want us there to witness and seem to approve such a union.)
Over the years, we have worked hard to promote cohesiveness in a family where everyone is loved and accepted. Several family members do not seem to have a problem in attending this “commitment service,” and I fear that our absence will create a major rift.
We do expect to continue to welcome both this family member and the partner into our home, as it is not our place to pass judgment, but we are concerned that after this “hurtful snub” they will not want to come and that other family members may disown us as well. We continue to pray for spiritual guidance and hope that you might address this issue in your column, both for our own benefit and for those in similar situations. Please advise us as to how to be true to our beliefs while also keeping our family intact. (Ohio)
A. In 2013, when the state of Rhode Island was debating whether to approve same-sex marriage, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence advised Catholics that they should “examine their consciences very carefully” before deciding to attend a same-sex ceremony, lest their presence be taken as a sign of approval. Two years later, Bishop C. Michael Jarrell of Lafayette, Louisiana, was even more direct, saying that “all Catholics are urged not to attend same-sex marriage ceremonies.”
So although there is no absolute canonical prohibition against attending, church leaders would likely advise you not to go. The consistent teaching of the Catholic Church over the centuries, based on biblical texts (and recently reaffirmed by Pope Francis in his 2016 apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia”), is that marriage is a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman — and Catholics in their daily decision-making are asked to give witness to that teaching.
At the same time, I recognize and admire your deep desire to maintain harmony in the family and to keep the bonds of love unbroken. Perhaps it would be good for you to sit down (over coffee or lunch) with the family member in question; in that setting you could describe your inner conflict about whether to attend as well as pledge your continuing love and support.