By Benedict Augustine
“At that very time,
the prayer of these two suppliants
was heard in the glorious presence of Almighty God.
So Raphael was sent to heal them both:
to remove the cataracts from Tobit’s eyes,
so that he might again see God’s sunlight;
and to marry Raguel’s daughter Sarah to Tobit’s son Tobiah,
and then drive the wicked demon Asmodeus from her.”
Never doubt the power of prayer! This sounds trite, but so many people, including Catholics, seem to forget this. God may not grant all things a person desires, but He will grant good things to His children. Many people might wish for fortune or fame, but these things will likely ruin them, body and soul. If a person desires a good marriage, virtuous habits, or a protection from a malevolent force, God will deliver.
However, even with good things, the motives behind the prayer must be sincere. St. Augustine asking for chastity but not right that moment represents the attitude of many people when they pray. They want to be good or have good things, but this would mean forfeiting the pleasure of lust, laziness, revenge, or self-pity. People struggling with addictions first have to recognize that they have an addiction, but this does not come easily.
A reader might think that Tobias and Sarah had little to lose in saying their prayers, but they actually had the biggest thing a person could lose: their pride. When Tobias prays, he must admit, “I have heard insulting calumnies, and I am overwhelmed with grief.” He must recognize that his wife and his neighbors have no respect for him and see him as a failure. How must easier it would have been to blame God, ignore the people, and wallow in self-pity as his wife chides him in vain.
In the same vein, Sarah must admit that she has a serious problem (albeit, a very strange one): she is cursed with a demon that kills her husbands before they can consummate their marriage with her. People naturally accuse her of murder, which fills her with so much grief and shame that she considers suicide. Like Tobias, she could blame God, blame her husbands, and write off marriage forever—as many women today might do—but she instead prays to God.
It would make sense for Tobias to pray for sight and Sarah to pray for an end to her curse, yet neither of them articulate this prayer. They simply pray for God’s mercy. They have no designs or agendas; they simply want to live out God’s will for them. Seeing their faith, God obviously wants them to be happy. He grants them what they need because they have suffered enough to recognize the value of life and the goodness of God. Because of their pure hearts, answering their prayers would bring them closer to Him.
Catholics—since Protestants have sadly removed this wonderful book from their Bibles—might learn from this. Instead of praying for specific things, we should pray for mercy. This immediately humbles the person making a request. It is okay to desire certain things, but we should not presume that these things would help us best. Rather, we should make ourselves deserving of the things we desire, whether that be authority, money, love, or ease, and simply ask for God’s mercy. God’s refusal to grant something good to one with faith is the exception, not the rule. People need to have their prayers answered, and He wants to answer them if that will bring them closer to Him and to one another.
Unfortunately, in our cynicism and despair, we do even attempt to pray. If we know how to acquire something, we do it ourselves. If we do not know, we assume it cannot be done. God accounts for every blessing we enjoy, so we should not cease in thanking Him. He also allows hope of more blessings, so we should not cease in asking Him. In His own mysterious way, a way we cannot understand but can still hope in, He will answer our prayers and make us better in the process.