Posted February 10, 2012:
Do You Want God?

by Fr. Bob Wild.

I am about to make the most extravagant claim for one of the gospel stories. It is Luke 18: 35-43, the story of the healing of the blind man, the one in which that man cries out, Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me. I suggest you pause and read this gospel story now before continuing this article.

What is the extravagant claim I am making for this story? That it contains the most important teaching needed for our growth in union with the Lord.

Isn’t this a bit much, you might ask. There’s nothing in this story about loving God with your whole heart, your whole soul, your whole mind, and your whole strength and your neighbor as yourself. Didn’t Jesus say these were the greatest commandments?

And there’s nothing about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and so on, all those things on which Jesus said we will be judged.

So how can I say that this story contains the most important thing needed for our growth in union with God?

I will put my claim into a few words, and then offer an explanation: this man prayed with perseverance and passion for his own healing.

It’s true that the essence of the gospel message is to love God with our whole hearts and our neighbor as ourselves, but the question is: where do we get the grace to do this?

By doing what this man did.

When I am giving spiritual direction and someone is struggling with some problem or pain, I often ask the person, "Have you asked God for the grace to help you with this?"

Very often the answer is "not really," or "not very much."

I am convinced that people do not pray very much for themselves.

Perhaps you think it is selfish to pray for yourself. I don’t know where this idea came from, but it is certainly heretical. Most of the prayers we use in asking for graces come from the saints. They were always praying for themselves.

(And when Catherine Doherty’s diaries are published, you will see on every page that she was praying for herself.)

Often we think we can change ourselves by using will power. The saints knew that doesn’t work. They knew that we are not able to change our own hearts or heal ourselves. They knew that only God can do these things.

Sometimes we pray for material things: for healing, for a job or for a better job, for someone to marry. The man in the gospel asked for the healing of his blindness. These are good prayers. But isn’t there often a lingering doubt: does God want me to have these things?

But—and this is one of my main points—when it comes to matters of the heart that are essential for growth in union with God, can there be any doubt that God wants them for us?

If I pray to love the poor more, can there be any doubt that God wants this for me, too? Or if I ask for a greater desire for prayer, is it possible that God does not want me to have this? And how can God not want me to have the grace to forgive someone?

So what is the problem? I think the real question is: how much do I want this grace?

Speaking for myself, I think the answer is sometimes "not very much." Sometimes I am even afraid that I may get these graces! Yes, I mean it.

If you pray for love for somebody you don’t like, well, you may get such a grace, and then you will have to do certain things for that person. And if you ask for a greater love for prayer, you may get it, and then you will have to pray more. And so on.

The saints really wanted these graces and prayed for them until they got them.

(If I remember correctly, the gentle Francis de Sales prayed for five years for the grace to overcome his anger toward someone.)

Would I pray that long?

Here’s a wonderful Desert Father story.

A young man comes to the Desert Father and asks him to teach him how to pray. The Desert Father takes him by the arm and leads him down to the river. They enter the river and then the Desert Father pushes the head of the young man under the water and holds it there.

The man struggles to get up, but the Father keeps tight hold of him. Finally, he lets him go, and the young man springs up desperately gasping for air.

"What are you trying to do?" he shouts. "Drown me?"

The Father calmly answers him: "When you want to pray as much as you wanted that breath of air just then, then you will know how to pray."

And here’s another quote from another Desert Father, St. Anthony of the Desert. Someone asked him to pray for him. St. Anthony answered: "Pray for yourself."

How badly do you want God?


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