Q: Dear Dan, I have recently become aware that I have no desire to make petitionary prayers for myself. I noticed this most as Hurricane Sandy raged around me, causing lots of high wind destruction in our area. The power was out and there was nothing to hear but the howling wind. I talked to God. I told Him that I probably ought to be asking Him to keep me safe – but that I knew He keeps me safe always and that I know my home is not in this world anyway. So to ask Him to keep me safe seemed like asking Him not to let me suffer. And I know suffering is part of the human condition; it is just a matter of how and when. So instead I told Him how much I love Him and how grateful I am that He is with me no matter what. I told Him that if He wanted to spare my house, my health, and my life in that storm, that was fine with me, and that if He wanted to take any or all of them that night, that was fine with me too. I felt profoundly at peace and slept like a baby even with all the noise around me.
A few days later I met with faithful Catholics. I told them this story and they both reacted like I had two heads. They stressed that we are supposed to ask for what we need and one pointed out that even Jesus asked for the cup to be taken from him. I left feeling horrible like I had done something very wrong and wondered if it was actually a form of pride not to feel the desire to make petitions for oneself? I still feel no desire to do so (although I happily offer petitions for others) and I have apologized over and over to Jesus if my lack of desire in this offends Him.
My question is twofold: first, is it wrong not to want to make petitions for oneself, and second, if it IS wrong, should I be making those petitions even if I don’t ‘feel’ them?
A: Dear Friend, first I must say that I really appreciated your questions and your beautiful recounting of that very difficult time. It strikes me that your questions are not only applicable to those in dire circumstances, but also to the general day to day need to intercede on behalf of others. This is also a good time to ask our readers to remember those who are still suffering from the effects of Hurricane Sandy. I have attempted to briefly answer all of your questions:
Question: Is it wrong not to want to make petitions for oneself?
Answer: Absolutely not. In fact, the more we increase in holiness, the less we are inclined to worry about ourselves and the more we are inclined to desire suffering and sacrifice on behalf of others. That said, it is never a problem to pray for yourself. If my memory serves me, St. Catherine of Sienna admonishes us to pray for ourselves first and then for others. Why? Because we need the prayers in order to be holy enough to love and serve others!
Question: Is it wrong to make petitions if I don’t “feel” them?
Answer: The way we pray should generally not be dictated by how we feel. So, we should make petitions as the Church directs in Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, or other expressions regardless of how we feel. The more mature one is in the faith, the less we need feelings or external stimulus to aid us in our devotion and service. Still, it is true that the Holy Spirit can and will move us to prayer through inclinations we receive that might be rooted in compassion, concern, or other expressions of love for those in need.
Question: Is it a form of pride not to want to make petitions for oneself?
Answer: I am having trouble understanding how this could be so. It could be that they are seeing pride in you for some reason and are conflating that issue with this issue of prayer and thus causing the confusion. They may have mistaken your recounting as a form of pride. However, it is possible to recount holy acts or inclinations without pride and just as a matter of interest as we work to communicate how the Lord may have moved in and through us in particular circumstances. This would be a good thing to bring up with your spiritual director.
Sorry to be so brief. I hope this is helpful. I will open this up for Fr. Scott or other experienced spiritual directors or readers to see if they have any further insights.