What’s actually happening when we pray? In this episode, Bishop Barron answers the deepest questions about prayer—not necessarily how to pray but what is prayer? A listener asks about the Rosary prayer and how it operates.

NOTE: As we move into Lent, sign up for Bishop Barron’s free daily Lent reflections at LentReflections.com

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9 comments on “WOF 169: The Metaphysics of Prayer

  1. Jobin Jacob Kavalam Mar 5, 2019

    I would be really glad to have Bishop or Brandon or anyone else from WordOnFire answer:

    P.S. I realized that I could ask here only after I posted the question on the linked forum. I would be happy to receive an answer at either place.

  2. Doug Lawler Mar 6, 2019

    Bishop Barron,

    As it happens, you and I are the same age, so it is with profound humility that I gratefully acknowledge that I am spiritually so much less mature than you and so very much helped by your teaching and preaching. I expect that you sense that there must be a “but” coming and here it is: but I struggle greatly with the limits that you seem to place on petitionary prayer vis a vis the immutability of God.

    With the one hand you express fine sentiments about petitionary prayer prayer and, indeed, half of the very Lord’s Prayer is a litany of petitions and you, yourself, frequently ask that we pray for you and in return you pray for us (Thank you, by the way, for those prayers). Yet with the other hand, you deny it even the possibility of changing the mind of God. Does not that reduce petitionary prayer into a sort of shell game? We can ask all we want, but within the domain of possible outcomes, neither we nor even God, Himself, can change the shell that the pea is already under.

    When I commence my own petitionary prayer before beginning a shift in the ER, I ask that God not hear it as the whining and whingeing of a miserable, broken sinner but, rather, I ask that He hear praise for His power, gratitude for His mercy, and faith in His goodness and kindness and love. Without these elements, it would not make sense for anyone to ever ask for anything. On this much, I think probably that we comfortably agree, but there I fear we diverge.

    I wonder: is it possible in our imperfection compounded by the limits of our human minds that we have misconstrued what it must be to be perfect? I’m sure you are familiar with the canard that if God is all-powerful, then is He capable of creating a rock that he himself cannot lift? I assign that construct to a flawed understanding of what it is to be divinely omnipotent. Don’t we, perhaps, do something similar when we require that for God to be perfect, He must be rigidly and inflexibly immutable? It would seem that to be God, anything but a Deist’s sort of a god, He must have real-time agency and volition. It seems to me, that the core requisite for agency and volition is the power to make up one’s mind. Can one be said to have made up one’s mind freely if, from the start, one lacks the ability to change one’s mind? How rigorously we assert the doctrine of human free will and yet how quick we are to shackle divine free will in service of our conception of what divine perfection must look like to us.

    Cannot God chose “A,” and then out of an abundance of pity or mercy inspired by the sincerity of a heartfelt prayer chose “B,” and both choices be prefect simply because they are His? Or perhaps we can hope that while petitionary prayer does not change Him directly, in its need and sincerity, it might just change the ground upon which He acts?

    Sorry to take up so much time and space in a comment box.

    Thank you for all that you do, and thank you so much for what you have done for my faith and understanding.

    • Jobin Jacob Kavalam Mar 6, 2019

      Dear Doug / Bishop,

      I have a question in the same ball park as Doug’s; and that is regarding how much of a influence does prayers have on the physical events of the future ? (I understand that prayer often has the influence of positively orienting the person making the praying; but I am searching for an more direct influence of physical nature)

      To illustrate with an example: Imagine a person of faith suffering from a life threatening illness. The person also knows in faith that even this condition is good in the bigger will of God.

      However, he is faced with a dilemma (or so I would think) whether to petition God for healing or to just accept an imminent death as God’s will ?

      It is a dilemma because, by being persistent in his prayer to be healed he might actually uncover a channel of grace (e.g. a Saint who can intercede for his healing, a person who has received the gift of healing, etc.) that he would have otherwise missed,

      I would love to hear a response from you.

    • Annemarie Pearson Mar 15, 2019

      Hi Doug and Jobin,
      Bishop Barron has an answer that’s pretty close to your question on episode 163 the international Q&A: a young woman from Canada asks about petitionary prayer and the immutability of God and Bishop Barron gives a detailed response. It starts at around 9 minutes. I hope it helps clarify parts of your questions. And maybe the extra comment will prompt the WoF team to see the discussion here. Cheers!

      • Doug Lawler Mar 15, 2019

        Helpful…for me. Thanks.

        Not complete, but Bishop Barron says at the outset that at complete discussion is not possible at least in that moment–but definitely helpful.

        Perhaps the assignment he gave his students is one he might himself take on one day…book-length, I’d hope.

        Once grace and faith move us to acceptance of the Lordship of God…how we as individuals relate to Him, properly, earnestly, best, and most fully seems completely bedrock to the rest

        Prayer…simple, not to be confused with easy, would seem the beating heart of that relationship..

        Thank you.

  3. Joe Canzoneri Mar 6, 2019

    Bravo, Bishop Barron and Brandon!

    I am a member of the WOF institute, and I’ve been a devoted follower of Bishop Barron for quite some time. This is one of the best WOF show podcasts of all, and just what was needed as we begin our annual Lenten journey.

    May God Bless you both. Please keep me in your prayers, and be assured of mine for you.

    St. Helen Parish
    Howard Beach, NY

  4. I’m a long-time fan of Bishop Barron, and a weekly listener of your podcasts and homilies (purchased 2 DVD sets at retail, even!), so I am not picking a fight! But this podcast was unsatisfying. Twice recently you’ve repeated another theologian’s statement that “God can not change” to emphasize that prayer, primarily, as about God’s grace making US conform better to his will (and, thus, our prayer is “answered” in our conforming). I suppose that works if my prayer is about ME, but it is not a satisfying answer when our prayer is about others. When we pray for others, we may not be asking God to change, but we certainly are asking God to act. My prayer for peace in Sudan, for the souls in purgatory, or for a friend’s safe journey, it seems to me, can only be answered by God’s actions–not my conforming to His will. Likewise, when a priest says mass or performs a sacrament, is he inviting–expecting, even!–the Holy Spirit to DO things (“make holy these gifts,” “be sealed with the Holy Spirit”, etc.) Finally, why can’t my prayer invite–expect, even–the holy spirit to do things on MY behalf, also? In other words, I think, your podcasts did not fully explain the real question: what is the relationship between my acts of prayer and God’s acts in response to prayer? To be honest, I was hoping you explain the metaphysical agency each of us has to call upon the Spirit or grace of God–and that operates even when we only “think it” into existence–as in silent prayer. THAT question (how God hears me when I’m not moving my lips) is a more immediate one, I think–and more interesting to me! Thank you,
    John Clune

    • Doug Lawler Mar 13, 2019

      Bishop Barron,

      I cannot conceive how hectic and demanding your schedule is, and I confess that 5 is an infinitesimal number of comments, but 80% of us seem to overlap in some way in struggling with a concept that seems profoundly important within our direct relationship with God.

      Could you spare a few moments, even if only a link, a catechism referral or a book recommendation to help set us straight?


  5. Theresa Mar 15, 2019

    Dear Bishop Barron,
    Your podcasts have broadened my knowledge of the Catholic faith. Yet I have been struggling with the message from your podcast on The Metaphysics of Prayer. I am utterly confused as several others have posted so eloquently. It has left me so saddened that our petitionary prayers for the end of abortion, our priests, loved ones….are not heard. Why do we include them in the Mass? Please help me to understand.

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