Surprised by Joy

Surprised by Joy January 10, 2012

I don’t know when it began. I know that when I first began to pray my rosary daily it was work. It was frankly very difficult for me and uncomfortable, but I believed in the value of asking Mary every day for her intercession so I continued even if it was difficult. Lately, though, I have noticed that when I am praying, I feel a deep joy within me. It is a sense of freedom as I realize that I do not have to pray my rosary in the silence of my room, but that I can pray in my car and while at work when I have a moment. As I begin the monotony of prayers, I am liberated briefly from my worldly concerns. This is ironic because I bring my worldly concerns to prayer. They are still there but joy is added to them. Joy typically does not occur for me while I pray, so I must say that it has surprised me to experience it lately. The joy is difficult to articulate, but as I experience it in prayer I feel deep within me that it was for this moment I was created.

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  • I believed in the value of asking Mary every day for her intercession . . .

    Without denying or contradicting anything else in the post, I do have a problem with the idea of Mary’s “intercession.” We see it in the most extreme forms in the non-approved or even condemned “apparitions” of Mary talking about “staying the hand of Jesus,” as if Mary weren’t there to urge moderation, Jesus would do something drastic. But even in its milder forms, how can we claim that we can make an appeal to Mary to intercede on our behalf, and she in turn will influence Jesus (who is, of course, God) to do something he would not otherwise have done?

    Fr. Komonchak, in an interesting comment (11/19/2009 – 8:44 pm) to a post on dotCommonweal on prayer a few years ago said:

    Aquinas noted three ancient errors with regard to praying: (1) that human affairs are not governed by divine providence; (2) that everything, including human affairs, happens of necessity; (3) that divine providence is variable and can be changed by prayers.

    I am still grappling with the concepts, but although I don’t think it rules out the efficacy of prayer, it seems to me to rule out the idea of Mary interceding (in “real time”) to persuade God to do something he would not otherwise do.

    • Can’t that be said about anyone’s intercession? Really? Your entire posts begs the question why do we bother to pray for someone, because that is all I do when I ask Mary to pray for me and all other sinners. She is a human being, redeemed by Christ and loved by him in a particular way. I believe her intercession is very powerful.

      • Can’t that be said about anyone’s intercession?

        Perhaps. It might even be said about all prayers of petition.

        I believe her intercession is very powerful.

        I assume the idea is that Mary is the mother of Jesus/God, and if one can persuade her of something, she is uniquely situated to persuade her Son. But Aquinas said that divine providence can’t be changed by prayers (according to Father Komonchak’s explanation, or my interpretation of it).

        Part of the problem in making sense of all of this is that it is very difficult to imagine God being outside of time, and yet it is universally agreed that he is. So God can’t be persuaded to do something or change his mind. However, this is basically what intercession is all about. I remember reading once that Catholic heaven bears a great resemblance to the Roman Empire. If you new someone in the right place, and that person wanted to do you a favor or owed you a favor, he could use his position to get you something you wanted. It was very valuable to have friends in high places. But it is difficult for me to imagine things are similar with God, since one is perfectly free to pray to him directly, and since he also knows whatever one asks of Mary. So she can’t tell him anything he already doesn’t know—say, that my grandmother is ill—and if I pray to Mary to intercede on behalf for my grandmother, God already knows that I want him to make my grandmother better. So it seems the only thing left for Mary to do is be more receptive to my pleas than God is, and to use her special influence to urge him to do what I have asked her to ask him to do.

        I hope no one finds this offensive. It is something that genuinely baffles me. Perhaps my questions and comments will make more sense if read along with the dotCommonweal post I am referring to (What? Me Pray?) and especially the comments, for anyone who finds the topic interesting.

      • Thales

        But Aquinas said that divine providence can’t be changed by prayers (according to Father Komonchak’s explanation, or my interpretation of it).


        Based on your comments, it seems that you’re not wondering about the situation of someone asking Mary to ask God for something, nor are you wondering about the situation of someone asking a friend, family member, etc. to ask God for something. You’re wondering more fundamentally about the idea of asking God for something in first place (regardless of whether you are asking God directly, or whether the asking is being done by someone else on your behalf).

        The exhortations in the Bible, from Jesus Himself and others, assuring us that we can and should pray to God and ask Him things are too numerous to list (“Ask and it shall be given to you”, etc.). So the notion “divine providence can’t be changed by prayers” cannot mean “you shouldn’t ask God for things.”

        You touch on the answer to the dilemma, in my opinion: God is outside of time, and is, by His essence, unchangeable. His Providence, or His Will, is outside of time, and is thus unchangeable. But that doesn’t mean that we, who are inside of time, shouldn’t ask God for a “change” in something. Maybe God wills and has always willed (and knows and has always known) that we ask Him for something at a particular time and that He honor that request; it could mean that His Providence has always meant to unfold with us asking Him for something and He responding to the request. That it is God’s unchanging Will and intention for all eternity as he looks down on us from outside of time, that we pray for X and ask him for X and that he give X in answer to our prayers all in our time-line, which He is observing from outside of time. A little mind-bending, to be sure, but it works for me.

      • Thales

        I overlooked the fundamental prayer, given to Jesus to His disciples when asked how one should pray, which is mostly a prayer of petition asking God for something: the Our Father.

    • Andrew

      Good question, David. My own personal approach is to look at praying to Mary iconically, as suggested by Andrew Greeley in The Catholic Imagination, and to see her as a proxy for God’s maternal love for us. It is a means by which we access the God who will love us like a mother, who will love us when no one else will.

      That may be a lousy answer since it is non-intellectual and appears to sidestep the issue you are bringing up. It is probably FOR that reason that I adopt it for myself (i.e. I can’t answer your question on the terms in which you ask it, so I find a way not to deal with it as such).

      • Andrew,

        Thanks so much for your response and for taking the question seriously!

    • brettsalkeld

      Prayer changes us, not God. Many Christians report that prayer to (with?) Mary changes us in a powerful way because of her intimate relationship with her son. (And Sofia reported a change in herself!)

      I try to recall the first time I spent a weekend with my inlaws-to-be. My wife made much more sense to me after that. Learning to look at Jesus through his mother’s eyes works in much the same way. You really know someone when you know about their relationship with their Mom.

      • brett,

        If prayer changes us, not God, does that mean praying for a sick person to get well—a sick person who does not know he or she is being prayed for—cannot result in God causing the sick person to get well?

        Also, if prayer changes us, not God, aren’t there possible “naturalistic” explanations for the effects of prayer that don’t even require the existence of God? Would not devotion and prayer to a god other than the Christian God change a person as well, even thought that god does not exist?

      • brettsalkeld

        As to your second question, sure there can be “naturalistic” explanations for the effects of prayer. I would expect as much. That prayer can be effective has never been high on the list of proofs for God. (Though, of course, there is a strand in Christianity that will be happy to affirm that any sincere prayer was to the real God.) That would be a serious example of a God-of-the-gaps.

        The first question is a little more complicated. I think one way to think about it is that there are different layers of causality involved. In one sense prayer can result in the sick person getting well, but not in a way that requires God to change God’s mind. It seems to me that the prayer itself could be included in the providence of God so that God always willed for the prayer and the healing.

        Of course, now we’ve come up against the great issue of divine and human freedom. The archetypal instance is the Incarnation. God willed to join us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, but made that possibility dependent on the freedom of Mary of Nazareth. I think that is basically analogous to the link between prayer and healing (though in this second case God took extra care to ensure Mary’s freedom was uncompromised by original sin).

        I’m not sure that we can go into this in too much detail here, but the basic concern is to see that human freedom is dependent on God’s freedom and not in competition with it. (This conviction, it seems to me, explains why the Catholic Church has never had the equivalent of the Calvinist-Arminian debate.)

  • Andrew

    Great post, Sofia. It brought to mind Fr. Barron’s Word On Fire video in which he says that having joy is the clearest sign that we are following God’s plan for us.

    I have not experienced this particular joy in prayer as you describe (although I have experienced it elsewhere) but am overjoyed to hear that you have. Thank you for posting.

  • Mark Gordon

    Thanks for this post, Sofia. Keep praying to Our Lady and don’t let the Laodiceans here dissuade you from that.

  • Brian Martin

    It is amazing that you post a simple post about the beauty and joy you find in prayer…
    and the first comment you get is critical.
    I get that this is a blog…and that by putting yourself out here…you are doing just that, and welcoming comments…but somewhere along the way it is nice to just be able to reflect some joy without someone finding fault with something…Sorry David, I’m not assuming you mean to be just came across that way to

  • Beautiful post, Sofia. Your faith is truly an inspiration to me.

  • Bruce in Kansas

    Inspiring. I’m re-starting my New Year’s resolution to pray a rosary every day.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    Thank you Sofia. I regularly have dry spells in my prayers and it is encouraging to know that others can find it tedious but also that God will (in His own time and way) reward it. Bask in the love of the living God, which is the source of all true joy.

  • I sometimes look at the rosary as a sacrifice of time. I set aside 20 minutes to pray it, and however monotonous it may seem, when I resign myself to having already given away the time, I feel very peaceful and relaxed, and it becomes sort of a mini-retreat.

  • Brian Martin

    Brett and David, from a scientific point of view, there have been studies that show that the act of prayer changes us…or changes our brain, without regard to whether or not there is someting “supernatural” involved.