Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Divine Providence and Prayer

Recently I resumed reading Providence by Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange. Last night as I 
made my way through a few pages, I was struck by the thought that it seems in general have lost any sense of trusting Divine Providence in their daily lives.

Society in general, I think, encourages us to take an attitude of control – motivated more by self-interest than anything else. “I want it, so I should take the steps to get it.” Perhaps it’s always been that way, but still…our whole way of life these days seems oriented to the fast food mentality, and having everything “my way”. With medical issues, we are all about finding cures and making people well – not that that’s bad, but even in Catholic circles it’s difficult to find people looking for the spiritual meaning and effects of suffering. In terms of artificial contraception, almost no one questions the “right” of parents to determine the number and spacing of their children; to do so invites derision and opprobrium, along with the suggestion that such an attitude of openness to life is tantamount to Quietism. 

And when it comes to “happiness”, we are urged to find out what makes us happy and pursue it with all our resources (and maybe a few of the resources that belong to others!)

Fr. G-L points out that true happiness, true freedom lies in trusting the Divine Will, rather than our own. He addresses the important question of the importance of prayer, because on the face of it, it would seem that if we are to trust Divine Providence in everything, prayer – if its intention is to change God’s mind – is useless. That, again, is Quietism.

Fr. G-L says (my emphases):

We sometimes speak as though prayer were a force having the primary cause of its efficacy in ourselves, seeking by way of persuasion to bend God's will to our own; and forthwith the mind is confronted with the difficulty just mentioned, that no one can enlighten God or prevail upon Him to alter His designs.

As clearly shown by St. Augustine and St. Thomas (IIa IIae, q. 83, a. 2), the truth is that prayer is not a force having its primary source in ourselves; it is not an effort of the human soul to bring violence to bear upon God and compel Him to alter the dispositions of His providence. If we do occasionally make use of these expressions, it is by way of metaphor, just a human way of expressing ourselves. In reality, the will of God is absolutely unchangeable, as unchangeable as it is merciful; yet in this very unchangeableness the efficacy of prayer, rightly said, has its source, even as the source of a stream is to be found on the topmost heights of the mountains.

In point of fact, before ever we ourselves decided to have recourse to prayer, it was willed by God. From all eternity God willed it to be one of the most fruitful factors in our spiritual life, a means of obtaining the graces necessary to reach the goal of our life's journey. To conceive of God as not foreseeing and intending from all eternity the prayers we address to Him in time is just as childish as the notion of a God subjecting His will to ours and so altering His designs.

Trusting in Divine Providence can be very comforting! It’s not easy, though…I guess our fallen human nature seeks to impose its will wherever it can, and we (or at least I) sometimes have a hard time believing that God’s will is being done when our own selfish desires are not being fulfilled.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!

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