There are more tears shed over answered prayers than over unanswered prayers. — St. Teresa of Avila
There are so many ways to interpret Teresa’s phrase, which in modern times has been turned into “be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.”
A simple and direct meaning of this saying is that when we ask God for a grace or favor or gift, we must allow Him full freedom to answer it as He wills. Which often, if not mostly, greatly surprises us. And not in a good way, if we are not open to surprises.
But there is another meaning that I find most profound, and it is that we must realize that God wishes to answer our prayer principally by making us into His primary response. I say, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner!” He says, “Be merciful to sinners.” I say, “Lord, show me the way!” He says, “Lead the lost.” I say, “Lord, do not leave me alone!” He says, “Visit the lonely.”
St. John Paul II after 9/11 said that prayers for peace are good, as long as we are prepared for God to tear up all injustice to achieve it. And Pope Benedict, when he spoke as a German Pope at Auschwitz, made this stunning point:
…our cry to God must also be a cry that pierces our very heart, a cry that awakens within us God’s hidden presence – so that his power, the power he has planted in our hearts, will not be buried or choked within us by the mire of selfishness, pusillanimity, indifference or opportunism.
When we cry out to God to wake up and defend the vulnerable, we discover at once the tremors of an earthquake awakening within, urging us to act; a quake that splits open our hardened hearts.
Back in 1990, I was moaning and groaning to my spiritual director about all of the catastrophes in my life, as everything seemed to be unraveling outside and inside. After enduring my lament, he said, “Do you recall last month what you told me you felt so powerfully God was calling you to?” I said sheepishly, “Yes, trust.” “Right!,” he replied, “and now He gives you real opportunities to trust and you complain! What do you want?” I said, “Infused trust?” We laughed.
Then he shared with me a story about St. Philip Neri that I was reminded of the other day as I was reading a book on prayer by Anthony Bloom. He says,
Neri was an irascible man who quarreled easily and had violent outbursts of anger and of course endured violent outbursts from his brothers. One day he felt that it could not go on. Whether it was virtue or whether he could no longer endure his brothers, his Vita does not tell us. The fact is that he ran to the chapel, fell down before a statue of Christ and begged Him to free him of his anger. He then walked out full of hope.
The first person he met was one of the brothers who had never aroused the slightest anger in him, but for the first time in his life this brother was offensive and unpleasant to him. So Philip burst out with anger and went on, full of rage, to meet another of his brothers, who had always been a source of consolation and happiness to him. Yet even this man answered him gruffly.
So Philip ran back to the chapel, cast himself before the statue of Christ and said “O Lord have I not asked you to free me from this anger?” And the Lord answered “Yes, Philip, and for this reason I am multiplying the occasions for you to learn.”