So today a chapter in my occasional 'Catechism for the Confused' series, to assist those who might read the confused blog piece today on prayer on Cath Blog, by Christine Hogan, publisher of Cath News.
Query: Are we allowed to pray for our own needs?
Over at 'Cath' Blog, Ms Hogan argues for the erroneous view that praying for our own needs is somehow venal and superstitious. And the example she gives is of her own refusal to pray that she might overcome her own anger and desire for vengeance should some contingency happen!
In fact of course the Catechism clearly states that praying for our own needs - the prayer of petition - is a perfectly appropriate form of prayer. I would go further: praying for our own needs is an essential form of prayer for our spiritual growth, particularly in asking for things like help in overcoming the sin of anger!
The Catechism gives numerous examples of Old Testament and New Testament figures who ask God or Our Lord for something for themselves - most often in the New Testament healing - and are granted it.
And then of course there are all those passages that tell us specifically to ask for things for ourselves, such as Matthew 7:7-8: "Ask, and you will receive. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened to you. For the one who asks, receives. The one who seeks, finds. The one who knocks enters (Matt. 7:7-8)." Take a look also at John 15:7; John 16:23-24; 1 John 5:14-15 inter alia.
Praying for others is not always effective
Fr Jordan Aumann's Spiritual Theology includes the prayer of petition for ourselves in the means of spiritual growth immediately following the sacraments. And he notes:
"...what conditions are required that prayer infallibly obtain and fulfill the divine promises? St. Thomas assigns four of them, to which all the others that are listed by other authors can be reduced: that one should pray for oneself; that one should pray for that which is necessary for salvation; that one should pray piously; and that one should pray with perseverance.
The reason that one must pray for oneself is that the granting of a divine grace always demands a subject who is properly disposed, and it may be that one's neighbor is not disposed to receive that which is asked in prayer. On the other hand, those who pray for themselves, if they do it fittingly, are by that very fact disposed to, be heard. If it were otherwise, their prayers would not be true prayers at all."
Why we pray for our needs
It is not, of course, that God will suddenly help us win the lottery just because we ask for it! Bur rather that God knows our real needs and is only waiting for us to ask him to grant our prayers.
Praying to God or through the saints for our very specific needs is an acknowledgement of our total dependence on his providential care for us. It is an acknowledgement that he didn't just create us and then leave us to flounder, but watches over us at all times.
And persistence in those prayers of petition - provided we listen to God's response - helps us purify our intentions in prayer so that they align with God's will for us.
Those standard prayers...
That's why our models for prayer, particularly the Our Father, include prayers of petition for our own very specific needs - for our daily bread, for forgiveness of our sins, for deliverance from evil and so forth.
That's why the Hail Mary said as part of the rosary asks for prayers for ourselves now and at the hour of our death.
Of course both these prayers also include the needs of others and can be offered also for others - thy kingdom come! Of course we should pray for others.
But first and foremost we need to express what the Catechism calls the 'filial trust of children' for our own daily nourishment and needs. Above for all, we must pray petition God for our own salvation.
If you want to know more, read the CCC, paragrahs 2558-2865. And for a more in depth exposition of the theology of the prayer of petition, Fr Jordan Aumann's Spiritual Theology is a good starting point.
Praying for Ms Hogan
So yes, Ms Hogan do pray for 'a listening heart'! And in the meantime refrain from picking up and directing that gun you were talking about...
On the subject of prayer for others, I therefore invite all my readers to pray and perhaps offer their Friday Lenten penances this Friday for Ms Hogan, and for the conversion of all those involved in Cath News.
The publication is meant, after all, to be a work of the Church and provide a service to it, so we should desire that if it continues to exist it serve that end.
I can also think of a few more very specific intentions in relation to said publication, but prudence dictates that I leave you to construct those for yourself...