Friday, January 21, 2011


Devotions are notoriously misunderstood, especially those that come with promises. “Do this and your prayers will be answered.” Or “Do this and you will get into heaven.” Particularly to Protestants and devotional shy Catholics this can sound heretical.

That is because they can be.

They cross the line when we think that they have some sort of magical power over God and if we do certain things we can control God. “All I have to do is say this prayer and leave copies of it in the Church for five consecutive days and then God will make sure I get my rent money.” We cannot cause God to jump through hoops no matter what we do.

On the other hand he does say, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you,” and, “Ask and you shall receive.” So a few questions must be asked. To begin is what is being petitioned to God an actual prayer or is it a wish? Is what is being asked something that pertains to the kingdom of God or more something that you would really like? If I find a “devotion” that says, “pray this prayer and God will give you whatever you ask as long as you are sincere,” and pray for a full head of thick, luxurious hair, I bet it doesn’t happen no matter how sincere I am.

Another question to ponder concerns God’s power. Does the petition concern things God does not interfere with such as free will. Just because I want someone I love to become a good, practicing Catholic does not mean that if they are determined not to become so God will take away their free will to choose the devil over him.

Also, promises of devotions come with LOTS O’ strings attached to them. Does your devotion promise heaven? Even a scapular will not get you into heaven should you be so lucky enough to die with one on. It is not a lucky charm. It is a charge to live a certain life. It is a reminder and assumes that you do your best to stay in a state of grace, practice the sacraments, grow in love, say your prayers, and fulfill the requirements of the devotion etc. etc. etc. If I die in a gun shoot out as a robber in a bank I can’t rest easy because I got my scapular on.

And it must be kept in mind that simply because a prayer was not answered in the way that you wanted it to be does not mean that it was not answered. “What father gives his son a snake when he asks for a fish?” God can only give us what is actually good for us. We may think we know what is best but we might not know the inside scoop.

When I was in grade school our teacher taught the young girls in the class to pray to Saint Ann in order to find a husband. “Ann, Ann, find me a man!” “But,” she warned, “If you ask, you have to take whoever she sends you!” Unlike a friend who may give you want you want in order to remain your friend, God will give you what you need. And what you or someone else needs may be painful.

Hence the line, “Be careful what you pray for – you just might get it.”


Anonymous said...

that ain't the way that I heard it, father. the way I heard it . . . . . if you died with the scapular on, you passed right thru purgatory and said hello to st peter.

r m kraus sr

ck said...

I pray for my family all the time, but I admit there are some members where I think I'm wasting my time and that I should concentrate on the ones where there is actually a gram of hope. Then last week the black sheep of the family asked me, out of the blue, if I would teach him how to go to confession. He's been away 30 years! It really shook me up. Someone had reported back to me some snide comment he had made about me being too religious, so I had sort of written him off. It really brought it home to me that God's got his own schedule and that I need to pray for His will, not mine.

Patty said...

Thank you Father. I've encountered many well intentioned Catholics that believe they will bypass purgatory just by wearing the brown scapular. That essentially makes wearing a scapular into a superstitious practice.

lgreen515 said...

Is a devotion just saying certain prayers, or is it something more? If you have a devotion to Mary, do you just say the Rosary, or what else? Does it mean you feel a certain way about her? Please write more about devotions.

-Former Protestant-

Anonymous said...

former protestant asks for more about devotions. . . . . . . .. . a very plausible question . . . . how about it, father?