Why Did Jesus Pray?

03-10-2024Weekly ReflectionFr. Leonard F. Villa

The omnipotent God does not need to ask for anything because He has the power to effect whatever He wills. Jesus was fully God, so why does He pray? If well understood, the answer to this question will shed light on many of the highest mysteries of the Faith. Understanding the principle that will be discussed in this short article is the key to understanding some of the most obscure doctrines, such as divine providence, predestination, and free will. Here is the principle that must be understood before answering why Christ prayed. (St.)Thomas says: Divine providence disposes not only what effects shall take place, but also from what causes and in what order these effects shall proceed. To put it another way, God determines not only what happens but also how it happens.

My favorite example of this comes from Exodus 32. In this chapter, Moses has gone up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments from God. While he is gone, the people approach Aaron and ask him to make them gods to worship, and he foolishly complies. When Moses returns, he finds the people have defiled themselves and worshiped the golden calf. God then says this to Moses, I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people; now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; but of you I will make a great nation (Ex 32:9-10). At this point, it appears that God intends to entirely eradicate the Hebrews for their sin of idolatry and make a new nation out of Moses. However, Moses prays to God and says:

O Lord, why does thy wrath burn hot against thy people, whom thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them forth, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil ainst thy people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou didst swear by thine own self, and didst say to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever’ (Ex 32:11- 13).

After Moses’ prayer, the Scriptures say, “The Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do to his people” (Ex 32:14). Did the prayer of Moses change the mind of God? If you have read my previous article (linked below), you know God cannot change His mind because He is entirely immutable. For a more in-depth analysis of this topic, take a look at that article. For now, we can say that we know that God cannot change because if God were to change, He would either change for the better, in which case He was not already perfect and therefore not God, or He would change for the worse, in which case He would be corruptible and therefore not God.
If Moses’ prayer did not change God’s mind, then what did it do?

Here, we must invoke the principle that began this article: Divine providence disposes not only what effects shall take place, but also from what causes and in what order these effects shall proceed. God always willed to save the Israelite people after their sin; however, He intended to save them only through Moses’ prayer. God determined from all of eternity not only that He would save His chosen people after the Golden Calf incident but also that He would save them through, and only through, the prayer of Moses. God determined that the prayer of Moses would be the cause of the salvation of the entire Hebrew Nation.

In a similar way, God ordained that the salvation of men should come from the man Christ. Since death came into the world through a man, God chose to bring life into the world through a man. God determined not only that men would be saved from damnation but also that they would be saved through, and only through, the life, death, and resurrection of the Sacred Humanity of Christ. Since Jesus was fully God and fully man, Thomas says: If, therefore, there had been but one will in Christ, viz. the Divine, it would nowise belong to Him to pray, since the Divine will of itself is effective of whatever He wishes by it, according to Ps. 134:6: Whatsoever the Lord pleased, He hath done. But because the Divine and the human wills are distinct in Christ, and the human will of itself is not efficacious enough to do what it wishes, except by Divine power, hence to pray belongs to Christ as man and as having a human will. Since God chose to restore the human race through the humanity of Christ, it is fitting for Christ (according to His human nature) to pray. In His divinity, Jesus is the omnipotent creator; in His Humanity, Jesus is a creature entirely dependent on God. It is unfitting for Christ to pray according to His Divinity, but fitting according to His Humanity.

But, why does Christ pray if He already knows what is going to happen? Christ, in His Humanity, knows everything that will happen. Even so, He does not see His prayer as pointless or ineffective. This is because Jesus understands that God determines not only what happens, but also how it happens. Thomas puts it this way: Amongst the other things which [Christ] knew would happen, He knew that some would be brought about by His prayer; and for these He not unbecomingly besought God. For example, in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says to Peter: Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren (Lk 22:31- 32). Jesus knows that God has determined to give Peter unfailing faith and the grace to strengthen his brethren, but He also knows that His prayer will cause the grace Peter will receive thus He prays for Peter.

To recap, God has determined not only what effects will take place but also by what means they will occur. God chose to save the Hebrews through Moses’ prayer, and God chose to save the world through the Humanity of Christ. How does this impact my life? I have been praying for the conversion of several family members for years now, and recently, one went to confession for the first time in over twenty years! Praise God! Perhaps it is true that God, from before the foundation of the world, chose to save this person. If I simply stopped there, I would be tempted to believe that since God chose to save this person, he would infallibly be saved, and nothing I did could help or hinder him. However, if I understand that God determines not only what happens but also how it happens, I will be able to see that God chose to save this person and that He chose to save him only through my many prayers. The same is true in your life. If you feel God calling you to pray for a wayward family member, it very well may be that God has chosen to save that person through, and only through, your prayers for their conversion.

In Saint Maria Faustina’s Diary, Our Lord says: The prayer that pleases me most is for the conversion of sinners. This prayer is always answered (Diary, 1397). Pray fervently for the conversion of sinners and win souls for Christ! Thanks for reading, Cameron Riecker The Daily Thomist Newsletter (END)

55. What is divine providence? Divine Providence consists in the dispositions with which God leads his creatures toward their ultimate end. God is the sovereign Master of his own plan. To carry it out, however, he also makes use of the cooperation of his creatures. For God grants his creatures the dignity of acting on their own and of being causes for each other. Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church

600. What is predestination? To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of "predestination", he includes in it each person's free response to his grace: (emphasis added) "In this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place." For the sake of accomplishing his plan of salvation, God permitted the acts that flowed from their blindness. Catechism of the Catholic Church