Prayer

1. When we pray to God should we ask Him to do something for us, or for others, or should we just pray the rosary or some "spiritual exercise"?

2. Is it possible that God might answer our prayers by punishing us with something we did not want? Do we have to be specific when we pray or should we be careful what we pray for?

3. When, according to Catholic doctrine, did Christians stop praying in tongues?

4. What is the purpose of the rosary? What are the proper uses of it?

5. How are prayers answered? If God does not speak to us directly, does he invade our thoughts? Does he control other circumstances to lead us to the right path? If God does what is best for us, do we have a predetermined future? I would assume that God listens to all our prayers, but is it best just to pray for important things?

6. Why do people pray to specific saints instead of directly to God or Jesus? Do the Saints really have specific areas that they are good at?

7. A Christian friend of mine asked why Catholics say the Our Father, since it is not really a prayer and diminishes the idea of prayer as a conversation with God. Also, according to this friend, Jesus only gave the Our Father as an example.

8. Why do we make the Sign of the Cross from left to right instead of from right to left as in the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches?

Q 1: When we pray to God should we ask Him to do something for us, or for others, or should we just pray the rosary or some "spiritual exercise"?

A 1: Traditionally, there are four types of prayer: 1) Praise and Adoration; 2) Penance; 3) Petition; 4) Thanksgiving. The first prayer you ask about is petition. It is appropriate for us to pray for ourselves as well as others--for our own needs or those of others. The rosary or other spiritual exercises are not in competition with prayers of petition. There is room in our lives for all types of prayer. At different times we might find one or another form of prayer more appropriate or meaningful. They all have their place in our relationship with God.

Q 2: Is it possible that God might answer our prayers by punishing us with something we did not want? Do we have to be specific when we pray or should we be careful what we pray for?

A 2: The very nature of prayer is that we trust God and trust that God will do what is best for us. Recall the wisdom of Jesus. Just before he gives his disciples the "Lord's Prayer" he tells them: "Your heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask." He then goes on to show them how to pray--a single prayer that incorporates three types of prayer.

Regarding the idea of God punishing us with something we did not want, that concept is irreconcilable with the God of Jesus. Once again, it might be a good idea to reflect on the basic question: What kind of God do you believe in?

Q 3: When, according to Catholic doctrine, did Christians stop praying in tongues?

A 3: There is no Catholic doctrine about not speaking in tongues. I think, however, that many people have an incorrect understanding of this experience. Frequently, “speaking in tongues” is mistaken for the experience of the Apostles after Pentecost. In fact, St. Luke records the experience differently. The Apostles were speaking in their own language, yet they were understood in the languages of the visiting peoples. What is commonly referred to as "speaking in tongues" is a different experience that St. Paul mentions in his First Letter to the Corinthians. In this experience, people speak in a language that sounds like gibberish to the ordinary ear. However, if it is truly the Spirit speaking through the person, someone else should be present to interpret. Some charismatic groups still claim to engage in the practice of speaking in tongues. One caution, however. Speaking in tongues is not some special charism that elevates the speaker to a new level of truth or unders> tanding or prestige. Paul suggested that speaking in tongues was the least of all the gifts. And in any event, he bluntly stated that if no one was present to interpret the language the speaker should keep quiet.

Q 4: What is the purpose of the rosary? What are the proper uses of it?

A 4: The rosary serves as a meditation on the life of Jesus, and subsequently, as reflections on Mary and her role in salvation history. Traditionally, there have been fifteen "mysteries" divided into three categories: the joyful mysteries, the sorrowful mysteries and the glorious mysteries. Pope John Paul II established another category, called the mysteries of light. Each of these categories, focuses one's attention on a different aspect of the Christ event.

A popular way to view the rosary is in comparison to eastern meditation. A common form of eastern meditation is the repetition of a word or phrase, allowing one to shut out the distractions of the world, and "get lost" in prayer and reflection. The structure of the rosary (each mystery consisting of 1 Our Father, 10 Hail Mary's and 1 Glory be to the Father), when said deliberately can provide a rhythm and repetition that is conducive to meditation. The rosary can be prayed whenever one wishes to engage a meditation on the events contained in the mysteries, or just to create a rhythm for meditation.

Q 5: How are prayers answered? If God does not speak to us directly, does he invade our thoughts? Does he control other circumstances to lead us to the right path? If God does what is best for us, do we have a predetermined future? I would assume that God listens to all our prayers, but is it best just to pray for important things?

A 5: I am presuming that you are referring to prayers of petition in which we "ask" God for some kind of intervention in our lives. As we hear in the Gospel, "...your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things" Mt 6:32. On the other hand, in Mt 7:11 we read..."how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him."

At issue is God's continued care for all people, and the divine-human relationship. In the traditional definition "Prayer is the lifting up of our minds and hearts to God", we have a clue as to the "how" of prayer. It would not be consistent with the Christian tradition to simply view prayer as a cheap form of therapy, or something that is purely a mental adjustment on our part. One of the effects of prayer is to bring us into harmony with God. Prayer is, after all, at its core a response on our part to God's initiative. God addresses us and we respond. In this dialogue or interchange, all eternity is for God an instant. So our response is itself part of God's providence in our lives. That said, we might look at prayer by viewing our openness to praying, to speaking with God, as the way God answers our prayers.

Q 6: Why do people pray to specific saints instead of directly to God or Jesus? Do the Saints really have specific areas that they are good at?

A 6: Like the rest of the Christian faith, there is no magic at work here. Devotion to the saints has a long history in Christianity. From a very human perspective, it reflects our interaction with one another. We ask friends and relatives to pray for us when we are sick or in need of something. The saints are our relatives from ages past--those who believed in Jesus before us and through whom the faith has been handed down over the generations. Identifying a particular saint with a particular need is simply a way of making the human connection with our religious ancestors. They are not just some generic predecessors. They are real people just like us, who had the same needs and concerns as we do. Celebrating the saints, and asking them to pray for us grounds our faith in a history and tradition. And, perhaps, even makes our faith a little more personal. After all, one saint might appeal more to one person than to another. Hence, the popular term “patron saint”.

Q 7: A Christian friend of mine asked why Catholics say the Our Father, since it is not really a prayer and diminishes the idea of prayer as a conversation with God. Also, according to this friend, Jesus only gave the Our Father as an example.

A 7: First, Catholics are not alone in reciting the Our Father. This is a prayer that all authentic Christians hold in common and is, in fact, said daily by Christians from many different communions (denominations). Second, while prayer can be a conversation with God, there is a broader concept of prayer that is reflected in the classic definition: "Prayer is the lifting up of our minds and hearts to God." Surely from that definition, even sitting in silence while thinking about God would be prayer. Matthew and Luke present different versions of the Our Father, but in both cases Jesus is more than just offering an example. He is telling his disciples that this is a prayer to use in speaking to God. Far from diminishing the idea of prayer, the Our Father contains in very succinct form three types of good prayer. We find expressed praise, contrition and petition. The Our Father or, as some refer to it the Lord's Prayer, is not just an example of prayer for Jesus’ disciples, but also a daily prayer for all his followers.

Q 8: Why do we make the Sign of the Cross from left to right instead of from right to left as in the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches?

A 8: The origin of the difference is somewhat unclear. The practice of signing oneself with the Cross began in the East. In some ancient manuscripts it is connected with the idea of blessings and worship. When the practice moved to the West, it seems that at first the same method (from right to left) was preserved. In the middle ages, however, the practice was altered.

One manuscript has been handed down that directed the women in a convent to sign themselves from left to right. A devotional or mystical interpretation was given whereby the Sign of the Cross reflected the Christ event. "And in this blessing you begin with your hand at the head downward, and then to the left side and believe that our Lord Jesus Christ came down from the head, that is from the Father into the earth by his holy Incarnation, and from the earth into the left side, that is hell, by his bitter Passion, and from there into his Father's right side by his glorious Ascension."

In all actuality, the reason may be much simpler. It just may be a bias in a predominantly right-handed society where the right hand was considered of more value than the left. Recall, for example, that the creeds themselves speak of Jesus sitting at the "right hand of God." We speak of important assistants as being the "right hand" of another.

Ultimately, it matters little which direction is used. The cross is the most important and obvious symbol of the followers of Jesus. By signing with the cross we identify ourselves as his followers, belonging to his community, even willing to take up our own cross to follow him. And, of course, the traditional prayer accompanying the signing is a continual expression of our faith in the Trinity. Those elements--the sign and the expression of faith--are valid whichever way the sign is made.