Theology by the Slice: Does God ever change his plan because of prayer?
On November 5, the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology Newman Center hosted an event titled, “Theology by the Slice.” Students were able to ask a panel questions about the teachings and traditions of the Catholic faith. The following is one of the questions. The panel included Bishop Peter Muhich; Father Mark McCormick, Newman Center chaplain; Sister Christine Hernandez, SCTJM, chancellor; Sister Rachel Gosda, SCTJM, director of Faith Formation; Sr. Maria Belen Musgrove, SCTJM, religion teacher, RCCSS; Seminarian Robert Kinyon; and Michael Pauley, director of the South Dakota Catholic Conference.
Does God ever change his plans because of our prayers? How do each of you hear God? What do you experience through your five senses? How do you discern what he says and know it’s from the Lord?
Sister Christine Hernandez, SCTJM: One thing that comes to mind is a quote from Padre Pio. He says that prayer is the only thing that could change God’s mind, and I personally use that a lot in my own prayer life. There are times where it’s true. Things change.There are times where it’s not so true, that things don’t change. I believe that ultimately God has his will and I pray for the grace to accept whatever that is. I don’t really know the answer to that question. Maybe yes, maybe no. Padre Pio said yes.
For me personally, sometimes I’ll be praying in Scripture and a word will jump out to me and then I’ll do a little bit more digging. My Bible, in the back, has a concordance which I love. I’ll go into that, and it will tell me other places in Scripture where that word is listed and I can go back and forth with the scriptures and kind of piece it all together in my mind and discern what God is trying to tell me. There are times where I’ll get almost like an inspiration from the Holy Spirit, we’ll be praying about something and it’ll have a moment of illumination or a moment where God’s light fills me and I’m like, “oh, this is what God is telling me.”
But none of that comes without a spiritual life. None of that comes without time before the Lord and time with prayer. I will tell you as a religious, I’ve been doing holy hours now daily for about 15 years and there are a good number of times where nothing’s happening. We’re just sitting there in the chapel. It’s just me and him, and we’re just sitting there. He looks at me and I look at him.
There isn’t a word. There isn’t inspiration. There isn’t anything divine that’s super from on high that’s happening in those moments. Also, there are moments and times in those prayers, occasionally, where something like that does happen. When there is a moment of inspiration or moment of God’s light, a moment where the Lord’s clearly trying to communicate something where my heart’s so open that I can truly hear it and understand it.
Father Mark McCormick: I wanted to share this quote from Father Matthias Steven because he talks about how you hear God’s voice. What does it sound like? And this is what he says: if you were just to close your eyes and if you were just to say your name three or four times over and over again so you hear your own voice coming up from your mouth. He says that’s how God speaks to us. Sometimes he speaks to you and in that voice. How do you know? Because according to Thomas Aquinas, according to good theology, God speaks to us through us and he uses our faculties to communicate himself to us at times. This isn’t the only way that he speaks, of course. That means that if I’m praying with someone and I hear words that seem like my own voice, that could actually be the Holy Spirit. I had a person asking recently, ‘Father, I don’t believe God speaks to me. I don’t think God can.’
I did that little exercise with him. That’s how God actually sounds at times. So, in other words, if I don’t believe that it can be God I’m actually not going to take it seriously. I think in my own prayer, I think the way the Holy Spirit moved my heart, It’s just sometimes. It’s just like it’s my voice and I and I come deeply to trust in that voice even though it sounds like Father Mark. But when I act on that voice, a lot of times, it’s the Holy Spirit that usually bears truth in that.