What To Pray For

Let us consider a question – an important one (perhaps indeed the most important of all questions): How should we pray? For what should we petition God? What is it right to ask Him for? Perhaps just as importantly, what is it reasonable to ask Him for? It occurs to me that many problems in our spiritual lives spring from not sufficiently considering this. We all hope that God will answer our prayers, but do we ever stop to wonder whether we’re asking the right questions in them? After all, if you ask a bad question, you’ll get a bad answer. That much is obvious. And it should be equally obvious that if you petition God for the wrong thing – if you ask for something unjust or unreasonable – then He will not be under any obligation to help you achieve it.

So then, what should we petition God for? Above all, we should pray for our will to be in accordance with God’s will, and for our actions to be in accordance with God’s commandments. That is what it is right and just to pray for.

Simple enough? Not so much, of course. If we were back in the Garden of Eden with the first man and the first woman, it would be far easier. But we aren’t, and we face the great complications of the imperfect, fallen world inhabited by our imperfect, fallen kind: temptation and sin. For our will and our actions to be in accordance with God’s intentions, we must avoid sin. And so we may – and we often do – pray for help in avoiding it. This, too, is a right and just thing to pray for. But the older I have gotten, the more I have become convinced that there is a right way and a wrong way to do this; a way that is reasonable and a way that is unreasonable; a way that will find the favor of God, and a way that will not find the favor of God.

What my own experience tells me is this: Every time I have prayed to not be tempted – to not face temptations that I would have to resist – God has not answered my prayers. But when I have instead prayed for the strength to resist the temptations that I have faced, God has been far more inclined to grant it to me. This has convinced me that the former is the wrong thing to pray for, and the latter is the right thing to pray for.

For example: is it really possible to “pray the gay away” as some people contend? I would say it depends on precisely what one means by that. If by that we mean “pray to no longer have any same-sex attractions”, then no it isn’t. If by that we mean “pray for the strength required to not actually engage in sexual activity with someone of the same sex”, then yes it is.

Every time I hear of some televangelist preacher or Republican Congressman who has been caught in a public restroom stall with a rent boy, (and if I assume they were ever sincere about their stated principles in the first place), I cannot help but believe that this was someone who prayed for the wrong thing. They prayed to not be tempted instead of praying for the strength to not give in to their temptations. By failing to do the latter, they never learned how to properly deal with the temptations around them. They prayed not for the strength to fight, but instead petitioned God to not have to fight at all. Thus, when they inevitably did have to fight, as we all must, they did not have the strength to do it, and lost.

John Milton once wrote: “I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and seeks her adversary, but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat. Assuredly we bring not innocence into the world; we bring impurity much rather. That which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary. That virtue, therefore, which is but a youngling in the contemplation of evil, and knows not the utmost that vice promises to her followers, and rejects it, is but a blank virtue, not a pure.” By this he meant that those who simply try to hide from temptation, to close themselves off from it so that they never have to face it, are, like a cowardly knight who can claim that he’s never been defeated in battle only because he’s never actually been in one, neither truly strong nor truly admirable. God does not mean us to hide from the battles with temptation that are a central, inescapable part of the experience of being human – He means us to fight them and win them.

Sons of Adam, the Lord thy God never once promised you an earthly life free of temptation. Even Christ, who committed no sin, still experienced temptation while in human form. Yet in His mercy, God has said that merely experiencing temptation is not a sin against Him. It is only acting on it that is.

But what of the Lord’s Prayer? Does it not include a petition unto God to “Lead us not into temptation”? Yes, but let us read that carefully. It is not a plea for God to remake the world such that temptation does not exist at all, or to remake our own fundamental human nature such that we will never be drawn towards it. That is an unreasonable request; the first man and the first woman made their choice, and we must live with this imperfect world as a consequence. No, it is a plea that we not be led into temptation. Temptation will always exist in this world, and humans will always feel its pull upon us; the question is whether we shall give in to it and walk into the embrace of the things that tempt us, or whether we shall reject it and flee from them. It is the strength to do the latter that the Lord’s Prayer, rightly, petitions God for.

Neoreactionaries say: “It doesn’t matter what you wanted, it only matters what you chose.” Just so; but this can have more than one meaning. In the Puritan* and leftist worldview (leftism is, as I have discussed elsewhere, thoroughly Puritan in its attitudes and worldview**), what a person is thinking is of paramount importance, because sinful thoughts lead to sinful acts. In the Catholic and rightist worldview, the emphasis is placed not on thoughts but on actions. This is why leftist governments tend towards thought control, while rightist governments tend to focus on controlling actions. An example can be found in the concept of “hate crimes” – to the leftist, it is important to know what a criminal was thinking when he assaulted someone; to a rightist, all that matters is that he did assault someone. To the Puritan/leftist, it is people’s motivations that are important; to the Catholic/rightist, it is only the choices that people make, regardless of internal thoughts or desires, that are important.

Choices are a function of the will. Therefore, let us pray for our will to be strengthened, so that we may make the right choices, and undertake the right actions. This, rather than praying to be released from the obligation to ever face temptation or to have to build up the strength of will to choose not to fall to it, is what it is right to pray for. A prayer to be released from this obligation is wrongheaded, unreasonable – it is to pray for the coward’s way out, and God does not mean for His people to be cowards; indeed, in this world filled with temptations of every kind, Christians cannot afford to be.

It took me many years, and many mistakes made, at the cost of many lasting regrets, to learn what to pray for. Brothers and sisters in Christ, I beg you, consider what I have said, and pray wisely.

(*Yes, I know that Milton was a Puritan and held a post in the Cromwell government. He was the only one of them who was worth anything or had any thoughts worth listening to. What can I say? Sometimes good people fall in with a bad crowd.)

(**This is especially true in America. There are very nearly no non-Puritans in America. There are merely right-Puritans and left-Puritans; Christian-Puritans and atheist-Puritans.)

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Pope Francis Fails

The news from Rome is not good. An interview with Pope Francis has just been published in a Catholic magazine, which reads, in part:

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

Pardon me, Your Holiness, but you’re plain wrong, especially when it comes to abortion. A Church that doesn’t speak out all the time against the great moral horror of its age is useless to the world.

Beyond this, there is the utter tone-deafness of Francis’s public statements since becoming Pope. Can he really not understand how this will be interpreted by the mainstream press and received by the masses? No matter what he may have been trying to say, it will be interpreted and received thus: “Pope says abortion is no big deal”. And worse, the people who take it that way are not wrong to do so. How else can one take his statement, other than something like: “Yeah, yeah – I know what the Church’s teaching on abortion is, but it’s really no big deal and not very important, so everybody just cool it with that stuff”? Is that not, in fact, the essence of what he said? How else can this reasonably be read, other than that the Pope himself is distancing himself from the causes of the sanctity of life and traditional marriage as much as he practically can?

What the hell can he be thinking? Can he not see how it knocks the legs out from under the global pro-life movement to tell them that they should all chill out about and not talk about abortion so much? Does he not know that these words will be used by enemies of everything the Church stands for, as rhetorical weapons brought to bear against those who fight for those things? That indeed, they already have been? And not only do his words encourage his enemies and undermine his allies, they make those allies look like fools for devoting their time and treasure to their – to his church’s – causes. It tells them, in so many words, that in doing so, they’re wasting time, thought, and energy that would better be expended on other pursuits (What, I wonder?). It tells them that their cause is lost, and that not only is there  no point putting any great effort into it any longer, but that he, the Pope, the heir to St. Peter, has very little intention of supporting therm in any meaningful way.

And it’s not just this, but his statements on homosexuality, on atheism… they all become harder and harder to excuse or defend. I understand that any sinner can repent, seek God, and be forgiven. But this Pope’s statements come dangerously close to saying that unrepented sin is fine and disbelief will still get you into the Kingdom of Heaven as long as you’re a “good person” (Whatever that may mean, and by whatever standard that may be measured). If this is so, then what kind of fool am I – is any observant Christian – for believing, for praying, for repenting, and for avoiding sin, when I can have the same reward without bothering myself with all that effort and self-denial?

As a confirmed Catholic, these statements by the Pope cause a deep sense of anger and betrayal within me; a sense that the Church I’m getting today isn’t the same one I signed on to just a few short years ago. It makes me wonder if the Church is going the way of all the other institutions of the West – sliding bit by bit, by steady incrementalism, into the Cultural Marxist morass of late-stage modernity. All of which makes it increasingly hard to stick with Pope Francis, and, by extension, the Church he heads. I joined the Church; is the Church leaving me? Perhaps – the story of the Catholic Church over the last few decades has been that of one massive failure of leadership after another, and they seem to be getting worse instead of better. Having driven all the liberals and “cafeteria Catholics” away with their horrendous mishandling of the pedophilia scandals, will the Church’s leadership now drive away all the loyalists and conservatives by minimizing their core principles? And of so, what then? Irrelevance, in the mold of the Anglican church? Nothing else lies down that road.

One way or another, I’ll make no more excuses for statements like these. One or two of these kinds of statements could have been let slide as gaffes, but this is getting to be a pattern. If the Pope doesn’t mean these things he appears to say, then he needs – desperately needs – a minder with him whenever he’s within fifty feet of a microphone. If he did mean them, it’s a disaster for the faith, for the Church, and for its causes.

Tywin Lannister For Pope

As the era of Benedict the Hapless comes to an end and the time to elect a new Pope approaches, the Holy Church finds itself in some dire circumstances. Some of these are the result of the vast, impersonal Spenglerian forces that are currently sweeping over the descendant West, and others are of its own making. An article at the Washington Post sums up some of the problems pretty well. Yes, the WashPo is an establishment liberal newspaper that hates Catholicism (along with all things religious and traditional), but that doesn’t mean that everything they’ve got to say is wrong, and much of the article has the ring of truth to it. Specifically: that the Vatican is run by an out-of-touch gerontocracy that has no idea how bad a shape the church is in vis-à-vis the world, how far discipline has lapsed inside it, how strong and strident the forces that oppose it are, how those forces operate, or what might be done about all of this. They continue with a bizarre obsession with Italian politics at the expense of their global reach, they can’t come to grips with the mistakes they’ve made, and they are either unwilling, or, more likely, unable to restore order.

In short, the Vatican desperately needs new leadership – one that’s unafraid to clamp down on sex scandals, corruption, and serious ideological deviation equally. This bunch of leaders seems to be one dogged by weakness and unseriousness. It’s not just one thing, it’s everything – they just seem unwilling and unable to crack down on anybody over anything. When that’s the case, and people know it, things get out of hand. Which they have.

Thus, as much as I hate to make a somewhat banal comparison in all of this, the next Pope must be something of a Tywin Lannister. Those who have read the books know that Tywin’s father was so weak that his holdings went to chaos. Scandals and corruption broke out, order broke down, and nothing got done. Lord Tywin cleaned house and put things in order, though it took him twenty years in order to do it, and he came away hated and feared in his own lands as well as across Westeros.

We need a man like that in the Vatican. We need a man who knows that the church cannot make its enemies love it with appeasement nor even civility. We need a man willing to excommunicate those who believe that they can call themselves Catholic while standing against everything the Church stands for. The next Pope is going to have to be fearless, cagey, realistic, and a man with an iron backbone who is utterly unafraid of being reviled by the prevailing culture and power structure – both inside and outside the Church – and hated by many more. It will take a man willing to make powerful enemies, and to accept, at least temporarily, a smaller, better church.

So I say: Tywin Lannister for Pope – or, absent him, whoever we can find who’s most like him. The next Holy Father must be such a man, for it will take nothing less to put the Church back in order.