Dear Father | Why do we pray for victory? (Does God favor the St. Louis Cardinals?)
First of all, God can do whatever He wants. If He wants to favor one baseball team over another (as in the case of the 1969 Mets), then who's going to stop Him? I believe, however, that Lucifer is more pro-active in baseball games than the Lord. I offer as proof the blown call in the 1985 World Series. (Yes, we Cardinal fans never forget!)
Seriously, though, the Apostle Paul said it best, "We do not know how to pray as we ought." We humans certainly do send God mixed messages in our prayers, with one side in a conflict praying one way and the other side praying the opposite. It's bad enough when the issue at stake is something as insignificant, in cosmic reckonings, as a ball game, but it really gets interesting when it comes to a matter as consequential as war. In every war there is, of necessity, at least one unjust aggressor, and possibly several, yet all sides petition the Lord for victory. How does He handle that? I think that President Abraham Lincoln came up with the best explanation.
Lincoln was a man readily disposed to melancholy, and in the early days of the War Between the States he had a lot to be depressed about. Once, one of his cabinet secretaries tried to console him by pointing out that Providence, surely, favored the cause of the Union. Lincoln retorted, "We can take it as an axiom that God is on the side of the righteous. The question is not whether God is on our side, but whether we are on His."
So is it wrong to pray for victory in sports? Of course not, but we must understand how God answers prayers. In the Gospels, Jesus makes some very bold promises: "Ask and you will receive ...", "Whatever you ask the Father in my Name, I will do it ...", "Ask whatever you will and it will be done for you ..." and many others like them. Despite having Jesus on the record as saying these things, I think we have all had the experience of asking God for something and not getting the specific thing we requested. I've heard several priests over the years try to explain that thus: "God answers every prayer, but sometimes the answer is 'no'." Very clever, but also very wrong. God never slams the door in our faces or turns us away when we petition Him.
If we don't get the specific thing we prayed for, it's because God gave us something better, something more beneficial to our salvation. If, for example, a child prays for a new bicycle and doesn't get it, should he look in the driveway for a Corvette? No, he should realize that God is probably giving him the grace to realize he didn't need a new bike in to be happy and to appreciate the two fine legs He gave him for walking.
If we ask God to help our team win, we ought not lose faith if they lose. I remember a wise, old priest at the seminary once saying that God has done plenty for us if the teams play well and fair and no one gets hurt.
Msgr. Mitas is pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Union and dean of the Washington Deanery. Send questions for a priest to: St. Louis Review, 20 Archbishop May Drive, St. Louis, MO 63119 or to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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