“Ask and you shall receive.” “Knock and the door will be opened to you.”
“God always answers our prayers, just maybe not in the way we thought or wanted.”
All of these and more are what we are told about God’s generosity towards us and how to pray for our needs. There’s even a wikiHow that can take you step by step! But it still can be very discouraging to ask God to fill our needs. Or even worse, it can seem like we’re just not holy enough to merit an answer or reply.
What these feelings uncover is a lack of confidence in God. We don’t think he’ll really do what he’s promised to do, which is to take care of us, and we can cite many examples. This then becomes an obstacle in growing closer to him. But we should have confidence in God! We should know in the depths of our beings that he is a God who keeps his promises! So how can we get there? Fr. Benedict Rogacci in his book Holy Confidence: The Forgotten Path for Growing Closer to God outlines exactly why and how we should have confidence in God and how it will benefit us. Here are five major takeaways from his book.
Being humble before God allows us to be at ease with him
“Everyone who is free from mortal sin, who carefully tries to avoid venial faults, to purify his affections, to acquire the virtues that he needs, fully convinced that he is nothing before God, and can do nothing without his help, can be at ease with his good Master. And in truth I cannot see why the knowledge of our nothingness and the conviction of our miseries should prevent an intimacy that God desires, and the advantages of which we learn from experience…Here is my reasoning. In order that a soul should be at ease with God, she must either be worthy of it, or it is sufficient that God sees it to be good that she should act thus, because though unworthy she will derive great fruit from it,” writes Fr. Rogacci.
Humility is simply being exactly who we are, no more and no less, before God. We know we are nothing but so what? We also know that God has created us out of love for no other reason than that he desires us. We are at once nothing and everything. So go to God! Just be you right before him. This ease with him and comfort with who we are will allow us to see him for the good God he is and therefore, we will not be afraid to ask for him to fulfill our needs out of his bounty.
We shouldn’t fear our interior life
If you’ve gone to Confession, your sins are forgiven. Full stop. Though they might still have temporal consequences, our sins have been stricken from our souls and from eternity and from the mind of God. Many fall into scrupulosity, which is an obsession over whether or not our sins have been forgiven or if we even committed a sin. This supposes that God is either not all-powerful, powerful enough to erase sins, or that he is not all-loving, denying us his mercy. Neither of these is true and most will attest to this if asked. Of course, there’s the other extreme when we say, “Oh God will forgive me if I ask, so I can do whatever I wish.” This, too, is an error. We can be concerned with the state of our souls without falling into despair or complacency.
Fr. Rogacci tells us, “…those words of Sirach 5:5, ‘Be not without fear about sin forgiven,’ do not mean never be easy abut the sin that has been remitted, but do not be easy on account of this pardon as if you had no other sins to fear…Besides, the text explains itself by the words which follow it, ‘And add not sin upon sin; say not the mercy of the Lord is great, he will have mercy on the multitude of my sins’ (Sir. 5:5-6)…This shows plainly enough that the intention of the Holy Spirit in this passage was to warn the newly remitted sinner not to make the pardon he has received a pretext for committing fresh sins, as if he had an assurance of obtaining absolution again.”
How confidence benefits us
You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. God tells us he is good and trustworthy because he pours out his blessings on us. Isn’t this much more appealing than God getting us to follow him through use of coercion or force? Of course it is! So having confidence in God and his goodness truly benefits us in the greatest of ways.
“This reason is that confidence is of the greatest advantage to us,” Fr. Rogacci writes. “It is a certain truth that the less doubt we have in the efficacy of our prayers, the prompter God will be in hearing them. And if we have the courage to cast aside all distrust, it is impossible that anything can be refused us…the oil [is] abounded in proportion to the number and size of the vessels, and ceased to flow only when there were no more to fill, so is the generosity of God toward us in proportion to our confidence, and it will cease to flow only when we cease to hope…we ought to look on God as a Master who is more desirous to gain our hearts by his goodness than we can believe. We should go to him in all our needs with confidence that he will help us, like the tenderest other or mother we have ever known. We should never fear a refusal or think we are a trouble to him, but be certain that he is willing to grant with all his heart what we ask.”
Respectful fear is a mode of loving God
“We see, then, clearly that there are two kinds of fear of God. One is a fear that belongs to great sinners who are afraid of his judgments, a fear that is full of terror and anxiety, and quite unbefitting those who are filled with the thought of God’s majesty and detest all that can offend him. The other is a fear that is so strongly inculcated in Scripture, a fear that makes the holy holier still, the more deeply it enters into their hearts. It is this that befits the true servants of God, and it is no impediment to joyous familiarity with him…the fear of the Lord spoken of in the Scriptures does not always mean a fear of the divine judgement. Generally it signifies the deep respect that is due to God, or the dread we should have of anything displeasing to him,” Fr. Rogacci states.
Even though there are two types of fear, both are due to God and both are good. Each of these can help us grow closer to God and inspire holiness in us. It’s like when Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” three times and three times Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” The interesting part here is the progression of Jesus’s question and Peter’s answer. In the Greek, Jesus asks the first two times if Peter agape loves him, that is the all-encompassing, sacrificial love. Those first two times Peter answers that he phileo loves him, that is a brotherly love. Then Jesus asks if Peter even really phileo loves him and Peter is cut to the heart saying that of course he phileo loves him. The progression we see here is also one that takes place in our own lives. Imperfect love, which is represented in the first type of fear we’re talking about, is still love and can still spur us on to more holiness. We can then progress from there to that perfect love and fear which is that deep respect.
The many paths to perfection
Fr. Rogacci counsels us on the individual spiritual life: “First, there are various paths in the spiritual life. Second, those who follow these different roads by inspiration from God can equally attain perfection, as we see in the example of canonized saints. They were separated during their journey through life, but they all met together at its close, and the various means that they had used had led them all to eminent sanctity. Let us take care, then, never to find fault with those who follow a path different from ours. And still more, let us take care not to be discontented with our vocation because persons of great sanctity have been called to other states of life. Finally, let us be on our guard against running after various kinds of perfection, first one way, then another, now here, now there, imitating some saint or another according to our fancy. It is far better to consider which path is best for our spiritual advancement and to prefer it to all others.”
As we are each individuals, each of us will have a different spiritual life and path to perfection. While we can and should look to the saints and other holy mentors for direction and inspiration, we should never compare ourselves. We were each made uniquely and so why should our spiritual lives be any different? God is vast and wide and deep and infinite and so is his creation whom he made in his image and likeness (aka us!). Be confident in who you are because God has made you so and follow him in the way he has made you to follow him.
For more on growing closer to God and confidence in him, pick up a copy of Fr. Benedict Rogacci’s book Holy Confidence: The Forgotten Path for Growing Closer to God.