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Q & A with Father Anthony



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If I'm not receiving any signs in prayer, is it because I'm on the right path?

Rich asks:

Dear Fr Anthony,

First off, thank you for your time and for this web page because it has become a great guidance in my life. My question is (and I don't know if I am in the correct forum to ask, but here it goes) about my purpose in life. I am majoring in computer science with the prerequisites to attempt to get into medical school. I hope to be a doctor or nurse. I don't care to do anything else in biology if I am not accepted, so I am in computer science as a backup plan. I pray every night to find my purpose in life and I have not received a response yet. Could it be because I am actually, by some chance, choosing the correct path? If not, is it wrong for me to work towards these degrees with the idea of helping people out instead of being successful? Also, do God's callings always come early in life? Sorry for such a long question, but frequently I am stressed by this dilemma. Thank you ever so much for taking the time to answer my questions. And also, on a side note, I think that this page is doing a wonderful job for the young adults and teens of today, so keep up the good work and God bless you all.

Dear Rich,

Thank you, Rich, for your encouraging words, it is good to know that I can be of help. I have read your question a few times, trying to see where your uncertainty may be coming from. The whole point seems to be that you are in good dispositions, you even pray every night to find your purpose in life, but the answer doesn't seem to come. This makes you wonder why: is it because it is too late to be asking the question? Is it because the path you already are on is the correct one? Is it a question of your motivation?

I don't know the exact answer you would give to this, but let me ask it and do some imagining: what kind of an answer are you expecting to your prayers? How do you think the answer is going to come to you?

At times we think that the answer to our prayers will come in the form of some unmistakable visible sign (like someone who does a novena to discover his vocation, and in it asks God to send him someone to give him an answer. Then, as soon as he finishes the novena a perfect stranger walks up and asks him if he is going to be a priest. Behold the sign!) It is not good to look for this type of sign, because by doing so we are implicitly placing conditions on God.

Instead of us trying to tune into his wavelength, we are asking him to broadcast on ours. As if he hadn't already done so. If he wants, God can of course send us any sign he wants, even one like this, and there are cases in which he does. But we shouldn't be counting on it, and much less say to him, "unless you…". Or perhaps we expect our prayers to be answered by an overwhelming interior illumination, we expect to be flooded with an absolute conviction in answer to our prayers, and no longer to have any doubt whatsoever about the path to follow. This is not good either. It is too subjective. It begs the question: couldn't this be just my imagination, some sudden euphoria; how can I be sure it's true?

So how do we know what God is saying in answer to our prayers? Several things can help us: one, remember what Jesus tells us, in essence: "Your Father knows what you need even before you ask him for it. If he loves you, will he hold back anything that you need? You wouldn't do that to someone you love, and he loves you much more." Then he also tells us how to pray: "Seek first the Kingdom of God, and then you will receive all else as well."

The important thing in prayer is not so much to ask as to change. Often we pray to find our way in life by saying: "Lord, tell me if it's A or B." Then we don't seem to get a clear answer and we ask ourselves, could it be that it really is C, or maybe even D? So to get our answer we have to change: not to limit him to the choices we see, but to tell him we are willing to do anything he wants us to do. When we start praying we are usually looking for what is good for us (yes, for all the right motives, but it is still ourselves we are looking out for). The outcome of real prayer is to make the change to start seeking to find what is best for his Kingdom.

Once you start going in this direction, you are going to need something else: a spiritual director, someone who will help you sort out the signs that often seem conflicting to us. As you pray better you will be more sensitive to the needs of the Church, the unique gift God gave us by giving us life, the sense of how little this life can compare to the next, and how short life really is, your qualities and opportunities, the many particular graces God has given you as an individual. All of this will affect your attitude towards the way you are going to live your life and the choices you make. You will see God's hand and providence in your life more easily. You will have more of a 'sense' of what he wants you to do. But it will never be absolutely clear. You will need some prudent advice and direction.

As regards your other question, if God's call comes early in life or not: God's call for you is from very early on - even before you began to live he knew you and had something in mind for you! But we are not God, obviously, so we don't know his will or his plan from that far back. We discover it later on, when the time is right according to God's plan. So there are some lucky souls who discover at an early age the path they must follow, while others find their way only as the years go by. Don't try to be someone else, take life as God gives it to you, take his grace and inspiration as he wishes to give them to you, and act on the graces you are receiving now. The past is gone, the future is not yet here, you have the present to work with.

God bless,

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