God always answers our prayers. He doesn’t always give us what we ask for. If we ask for something bad, God will of course not give it to us. However, even if we ask for something good, it is often the case that we don’t get what we are asking for. So then, how must we ask God if we want to receive what we are asking for? Let’s consider what St. John tells us: “And this is the boldness we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him” (1 Jn 5:14-15). We have to ask according to his will.
Of course, it’s not always easy to figure out the particulars of what God’s will is. Since we don’t generally know God’s exact will, it’s right to ask God for good things. We just shouldn’t be too surprised when he gives us something different. Even when two people ask for the same thing, they can receive different individualized responses. For example, take St. Thérèse of Lisieux (whose feast is today) and St. Dominic. Both of these saints desired to be foreign missionaries.
Saint Thérèse writes, “In spite of my littleness, I would like to enlighten souls as did the Prophets and the Doctors. I have the vocation of the Apostles. I would like to travel over the whole earth to preach your Name and to plant your glorious cross on infidel soil. But…one mission alone would not be sufficient for me, I would want to preach the Gospel on all the five continents simultaneously and even to the most remote isles. I would be a missionary, not for a few years only, but from the beginning of creation until the consummation of the ages” (Story of a Soul 192).
Saint Thérèse clearly desired to be a missionary, which is a good thing. She even had the opportunity when her monastery was going to send some sisters to Saigon, but unfortunately her health failed her and she was unable to go. Although St. Thérèse never managed to go out to the missions, dying at the age of 24, she always maintained that missionary spirit, offering prayers and sacrifices for those who were missionaries. Eventually, in 1927, she was named Patroness of the Missions by Pope Pius XI. This is hardly something she ever would have thought to ask of God, but it was God’s answer to her prayer.
Similarly, St. Dominic wanted to be a missionary. After a failed mission of escorting a Danish noblewoman for a political marriage to a young prince of Spain (she had died—possibly a euphemism for entering religious life—by the time they arrived to collect her), St. Dominic and his bishop Diego were ready to go out on mission to the northern pagans. The pope, however, told Diego he had to go back to his diocese. Saint Dominic returned with him and put aside thoughts of the foreign missions. For the next 15 years or so St. Dominic would labor close to home in the Midi region of France for the conversion of the Cathars. Toward the end of his life we again see signs of his missionary zeal when, about five years before his death, he made a promise with William of Montferrat that once the Order was established they would go out to evangelize the northern pagans. Saint Dominic even tried to step down as Master of the Order at the first General Chapter of 1220 in order to go out to the missions, but the brothers begged him to remain as Master. He would die soon after. At the second Chapter in 1221, however, Bl. Paul of Hungary was sent with four other friars to establish the Order in Hungary, from which the Dominican Order would go on to evangelize the northern pagans. Although St. Dominic hardly left Spain, France, and Italy, the Order of Preachers he founded would reach far and wide as Dominican missionaries traveled to every corner of the world over the centuries. God answered St. Dominic’s prayer not in his own lifetime, but in the lives of his sons.
These two examples together show how varied God’s response to the same prayer can be from person to person. On the one hand, we have a patroness of the missions, on the other, the founder of a missionary order. It is of first importance that we trust that God hears us and desires to give us good things according to his will. Keeping this in mind, we will not despair if we seem not to get what we want or if God does not answer our prayers the same as he does our friends’ and neighbors’.
Biographical information concerning St. Dominic has been drawn from M.-H. Vicaire’s Saint Dominic and His Times.
Image: Office de Lisieux, Thérèse exhalant le dernier soupir