“Ask a Priest: Is It OK to Pray for Personal Preferences?”

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Q: Is it wrong to pray for something you’d like to happen? I’ve been praying for my daughter to get accepted to a couple of universities for which she is well-qualified. But my husband said that it’s wrong to pray, that God has more important things to worry about. My husband thinks we are blessed and can’t get greedy. I do understand that I should pray for God’s will to be done and am very grateful for our blessings. But is my husband right that praying for something is wrong? Is that why the answer is always no when I pray for something? – L.J.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: There are various levels to consider in your question. The short advice is to approach prayer with great humility — and yes, with a desire that God’s will be done.

In principle it’s OK to pray to God for favors. The psalms, for instance, include numerous petitions to Our Lord.

A separate matter is what we pray for and why. This can be a complicated area.

If we pray for merely material benefits or for things that feed our vanity, that isn’t good.

For instance, it might not be good to pray for someone to get into a certain school so that he can make a lot of money someday. More than a few parents have proudly sent off their children to a coveted college, only to see them lose their faith.

There is also the attitude with which we pray. Are we approaching God in prayer in a demanding sort of way? Are we expecting him to answer us how and when we want? That could be presumptuous.

I mention this because you say that you always get a “no” when you pray for something. Is that really the case?

You say that you and your husband already realize that God has blessed the family. So how is it that God, who has blessed your family, says “no” to your prayers? Moreover, I’m guessing that your husband isn’t opposed to all prayers of petition.

For more perspective on prayer, it’s worth considering St. Augustine and his Letter to Proba. He wrote:

“It is neither wrong nor unprofitable to spend much time in praying, if there be leisure for this without hindering other good and necessary works to which duty calls us, although even in the doing of these, as I have said, we ought by cherishing holy desire to pray without ceasing.”

The saint observed, “For even of the Lord Himself it is written, that He continued all night in prayer, [Luke 6:12] and that His prayer was more prolonged when He was in an agony [Luke 22:43]; and in this is not an example given to us by Him who is in time an Intercessor such as we need, and who is with the Father eternally the Hearer of prayer?”

So, pray often … and with humility.


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