Thursday, October 15, 2015



Each Wednesday night, Chicago/Hammond TV station WJYS, which is primarily devoted to religious broadcasting, airs a Wednesday night bible study from Salem Baptist Church, the church founded by Reverend James Meeks. Sadly, the Reverend Meeks is known by most people more for his politics than for his spiritual endeavors, including his preaching and the miracle he has worked, or at least fostered, in founding and building up Salem Baptist Church.   A better preacher or a closer follower of the Lord than Reverend Meeks would be hard to find.   So I enjoy the Wednesday night bible study even though I am not normally a follower of religious media; indeed, the Salem Baptist Wednesday night show is the only show I watch on WJYS.   Two of the latest talks (We’d call them homilies, I suppose, in the Catholic Church.), though, have been, for me at least, almost as troubling as they were enlightening.

Last night, the theme of Reverend Meeks’ lesson was that prayer is capable of changing the mind of God.   He cited passages from the Book of Exodus
(I think the 33rd chapter.) in which Moses persuaded God not to exterminate the “stiff-necked” (a quote from Exodus) Israelites and from the First Book of Samuel, in which Hannah pleaded with God to allow her to have a child and promised to dedicate that male child to God.   As it turned out, God did not exterminate the Israelites and Hannah did indeed have a child, Samuel, who turned out to be one of the great judges of Israel.   On a side note, the Reverend was careful to point out that, as 1 Samuel tells us, after praying for a child and leaving the prayer session with a “happy countenance,” confident that God would answer her prayer, Hannah went home and her husband “knew” her, which, of course, is Old Testament speak for having sex.   Not only, Reverend Meeks pointed out, did Hannah leave her problem with God and not take it back;, she went on to do her part to help God fulfill the promise, i.e., she had sex with her husband.   The point was larger than sex, of course:  we should pray that God do His part but we must do our part to fulfill a request.  However, Hannah’s having sex with her husband, which Reverend Meeks used to make that point, was something we don’t hear much about in the Catholic Church.   Talk about sex in a positive light?   In the Catholic Church?  The horror!  But I digress.

A few weeks ago, the Wednesday night Salem Baptist bible study featured a guest preacher, the Reverend Terri Owens, who is pastor of the First Christian Church of Downers Grove, a Disciples of Christ church.   To say that the Reverend Owens is impressive is an understatement, and this particular homily was spellbinding; I, for one, couldn’t stop listening.   Her main point is that we must pray without ceasing and to be specific in our prayers.   One of the examples she used was especially pertinent and illustrative yet humorous at the same time.   She advised any woman in the audience who was looking for a man not to just ask God to send her a man but, rather, to be specific.  Ask for a man who is a good man, a responsible man, an honest man, and a man who can at least support himself.  If you just ask for a man, she advised the women, you don’t know what you’ll get.   Everyone laughed, but everyone got the point as well.

We Catholics take a similar, though in some ways radically different, approach to petitioning God.   We, too, think it’s okay, even good, to ask God for things for ourselves and for others.   But we seem to think it is also, perhaps particularly, efficacious for us to enlist the aid of the saints in this endeavor.   We petition the saints to petition God.  So we will ask (Some even say “pray to,” which, according to not all that strict a definition of prayer, is nearly heretical in yours truly’s opinion), say, St. Mark to ask God for something for us or for someone we love or for someone we might not even know or like.   A particular favorite in this practice is Mary, the Mother of Jesus.   The Church endorses many rituals and prayers, like the Memorare, in which we ask Mary to ask her Son to grant us favors of some kind.   After all, He can’t say “No, Ma,” can He?   Another favorite saint to enlist in our cause is St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes.  St. Jude has been a particular favorite of yours truly of late, but I digress.  In what looks like another digression but most decidedly is not, let me emphasize something that was only implied in the first sentence of this paragraph:  neither Reverend Meeks nor Reverend Owens, being Protestants, would endorse petitioning of the saints; that is an approach to God that is peculiar to the Catholic Church.

I have problems with all of these sometimes complementary approaches.

First, why would we want to change God’s mind?   Do we know better than He does what He should do?   Do we have better ideas than He does?   One might cite the Reverend Meeks’ examples: of course destroying the Israelites and leaving Hannah “barren” were bad ideas.   So didn’t both Moses and Hannah have better ideas than God?   One could easily answer that question with another question:   Did God really intend to “exterminate” the Israelites or to deprive them, once spared that fate, of Samuel, or was something else at work here?   But, in any case, those are arcane and not altogether relevant examples.   In life, spiritual, material, or otherwise, what business do we have trying to change God’s mind?   Are we smarter than He is?   Of course not.

Second, why should we be asking God for anything specific?   Doesn’t He already know what we need and thereby stands ready to give it to us?   Does He have to be talked into giving us good things?   Of course not.  He is a loving Father who knows what we need and is ready, and eager, to give it to us.   What He wants to give us may not be what we want, but it is, indeed, what we need.   Often what we want is not what we need and in fact would be deleterious to our happiness or even our existence…or to the happiness or existence of others.   Should we be insisting on what we want when God wants to give us what we need?  Again, do we know better than He, Whom we profess to be omniscient, what is good for us?   To ask the question is nearly to answer it.   God knows what we need and is striving to give it to us.   We often don’t get it because we, in our efforts to get what we want, or think we need, get in God’s way.   He is indeed omniscient but He is not omnipotent; He has to work through stiff necked people, like us, who often say “No.”  

To put it succinctly, God is indeed a loving Father; He is not a short order cook.

Third, even if we believe that we should try to change God’s mind in order to get things we specifically ask for, why do we need the saints, even Mary, the Queen of All Saints, to intercede for us?   Can’t we just ask God directly?   Do we Catholics, who seem to want to petition saints most of the time for things we deem beneficial for ourselves or others, assume that God is some kind of cosmic grouch who doesn’t want to be bothered by those pesky humans and therefore has to be mollified by those He loves more?   Do we believe that Jesus can somehow say “No” to us but, as a nice Jewish boy, simply can’t say “No” to His mom?   I can see why non-Catholics might have this view of us.  I can also see why some accuse us of being idolaters, but that’s another issue.  

To hear some Catholics talk, God is just a mean old ogre who would just as soon blow us all off, but if we ask His Mother nicely enough, maybe she can talk Him out of it and actually get Him to give us a break here and there…but only because His mom, not we, asked.   I didn’t say ALL Catholics; I said SOME Catholics.   And if you think I’m exaggerating, just sit down and listen to some people who share my devotion to, but not my attitude toward, the Blessed Virgin.   She’s our loving Mother, not a way to get on God’s good side…because WE ALREADY ARE ON GOD’S GOOD SIDE.   And I strongly suspect nobody agrees with me on this more strongly than Mary does, but I nearly digress on this point.

I’m not saying that I know that the Reverends Meeks or Owens is wrong on changing God’s minds or asking for specific things.   They are much more learned in these matters than I am.  Further, I hedge my bets on having the saints, or anyone, pray for me; when the litany of the saints (“St. Anthony, pray for us….St. Patrick, pray for us…St. Stanislaus, pray for us….”), starts, I am never silent.  And I never hesitate to pray for others or ask them to pray for me. (See my 1/21/13 piece, DO YOU REALLY NEED ME TO PRAY FOR YOU?) In fact, I sort of hope Reverends Meeks and Owens are right on changing God’s minds and praying for specific things, and, partially, the Catholics who petition God through the saints, are right; there are many things, e.g.,

·         health for sick friends,
·         peace for friends and family struggling with the deteriorating health of a parent,
·         a financial break or two for myself and some friends,
·         one or both of my books to sell in meaningful numbers
·         for me to be able to make a living writing and/or speaking,
·         for some resolution to the problems in the Middle East,
·         that this once great country get off the path to hell in a hand basket,
·         etc.

for which I’d like to ask God.   But I don’t think I know better than God what is good for me or others.   And I don’t think I have to talk Him into giving us what we need; He is already trying to give it to us.   If I were to pray for anything specific, it is simply that I, and all of us, abandon our resistance to Him that is born of an idea that we know what we need.   I simply pray for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power, AND THE WILLINGNESS, to carry that out.   That is what is good for me, and for us, because God has decided that is good for me, and for us.   And He knows a lot better than I do what I, or anybody, needs.

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