The Waiting is the Answer
One of the more common questions I’m asked as a priest is…why isn’t God answering my prayers? People tell me…I pray in the morning and at night…I pray for my children…for my parents…for my marriage…for my job…and I don’t feel God answering my prayers. This is one of the biggest challenges in spirituality in general…trying to keep up a regimen of prayer while waiting and waiting and waiting for an answer. In fact…one of the major ingredients of this challenge is our society’s obsession with sentimentality. We live in a time where sentimentality drives our spirits…particularly during this wonderfully sentimental time around Christmas. What I mean by – sentimentality – is a life guided only by how you feel. Our time in history is marked by decisions of major consequence made solely by feeling…rather than objective reason and truth. Even belief in God seems only a product of feelings rather than what actually is. This emotional quandary has everything to do with the challenge of not feeling God answering your prayers…and it has everything to do with this 4th Sunday of Advent…this year at least…the last moment before the celebration of God answering our prayers. And maybe that’s the real lesson of this 4th Sunday of Advent. Maybe the lesson for you and me today is that our prayers can’t always be measured against whether or not we feel God’s answer…as much as he loves us and as much as he cares for us. Maybe the waiting for the answer is the answer.
A few years back I shared with you a wonderful story about Cardinal Dolan of New York. He tells on his blog about a time where he was at the USCCB annual conference in Baltimore with all of the American Bishops. Each morning at their annual meetings they come together in one of the hotel conference rooms for Morning Prayer. Often they have Eucharistic Adoration as part of that liturgy. One particular morning the bishops were sitting in silence in front of the Monstrance for about an hour…all of them…bishop Vasquez included…in total silence just sitting there. Dolan had to step out for a moment and one of the employees ran up to him and asked if everything was OK. He had noticed that there was nothing happening in the conference room and was wondering if they were waiting for something…some hand-outs…or a microphone…or a new projector bulb. He was wondering if we were waiting for something for their meetings. Dolan looked at the young man…presumably not Catholic because he didn’t understand Eucharistic Adoration…and as only Dolan can…answered…well yes actually…we are waiting…we’re all in there waiting for God to answer our prayers.
Of all the things we do as Catholics…Mass…Confession…Holy Communion…Rosaries…Divine Mercy Chaplets…Morning Prayer…Evening Prayer…Bible Studies…of all these profound devotions…waiting has got to be the most common devotion of all. We pray and we wait…way more often than we go to Mass or Confession or Bible Studies…and that waiting might very well be the most important part of the prayer itself. I don’t think we ever think of waiting as part of the prayer. We think of the words of the Our Father or the Hail Mary or the Memorare. Maybe the real prayer is the waiting for the answer from God. If we ever saw prayer in this light then the challenge of feeling God’s response to our prayers would never be an issue. We would know by our waiting that God is, in fact, being praised in the wait.
Thomas Merton once said that it’s not the answer that the spiritual person seeks…the spiritual person asks the questions. Who is God? Who am I? What is all of this? This is spirituality. This is what all of this is all about…asking the question and then waiting. Notice that God comes to us at Christmas not by pulling us up into Heaven and answering all of the questions or solving all of the problems or changing all of the dysfunctions. Christmas is just the opposite…it’s about God coming down into the questions that confront us and fill us with uncertainty. He doesn’t come to wipe away these questions and lay it all out for us perfectly. How could he…he comes as a baby. The baby’s not going to answer the questions or solve the dilemmas…it can’t…it’s a baby. The baby comes to be part of the family. This is very wise of God.
So for today…this fourth Sunday of Advent where we are so close to Christmas and so close to the Answer Incarnate…for just a few moments today…take the time to sit in the truth that God IS and that the waiting for the answers to life’s questions is one of the most profound prayers you could ever pray.