Father John Catoir

Last month, I received a strange call from a woman who was angry with God for not answering her prayers. Apparently she had come across an old column I had written on prayer and wanted some information.

The conversation went something like this: “Since you know so much about prayer, tell me how you can get God to help me win the lottery.”

I thought, “Are you kidding me?”

I felt as if this person would have snored through the Sermon on the Mount. But I felt sympathy for her. She obviously was emotionally upset and needed to talk.

I learned that her family debt was due to unjust legal fees she incurred while trying to defend her son in court. She didn’t tell me anything about the nature of the case, only about her exasperation with the legal system.

She and her husband tried to borrow money, but their credit line was depleted. So they began playing the lottery and praying that God would bring them good luck. That was a year ago. They had become increasingly aggravated by God’s failure to cooperate.

I took a deep breath and tried to explain that religion is not about getting God to do what we want. It is about surrendering ourselves to God’s will. Then I recited the Our Father, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

She blurted out, “What about his words, ‘Ask and you shall receive?'”

I had to smile, realizing that most people have had that feeling at one time or another in their lives, myself included.

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you,” I persisted. “You have to remember that Jesus also instructed us to say, not my will, but thine be done.”

Unimpressed, she went on to explain how unfair others had been to her. I listened for a while but had to interrupt. I had little hope of getting through to her, but I tried one more time.

“Religion is not me-ligion,” I said.

Religion means to bind oneself back to God. “Me-ligion” is more about pushing God away if he doesn’t give us what we want. To connect with God, we all have to surrender to his will, freely, sincerely and lovingly. I could feel that my words were going over like a lead balloon.

“Life is a test,” I continued. “We are preparing our souls for the next life. The only people who are truly ready to enter the kingdom of God are those who accept his will and obey his teachings.”Christians spend a lifetime practicing the discipline of loving surrender. To love is to give oneself to God and to others. The emphasis is on the word: free. We give ourselves freely.

“I know this has nothing to do with the lottery,” I said. “But it is part of the overall scheme of things.”

She was silent. Not knowing exactly what that silence meant, I added my final point.

“One thing is certain, if you ask for God’s forgiveness, and are willing to make amends, he will forgive you. That’s where ‘ask and you surely will receive’ comes in,” I said.

She thanked me and hung up. I’m not sure if I helped or made the situation worse.