Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
What do you do/say when God answers your prayers? Notice I didn't ask: what do you do/say when God answers your prayers in the way you want them answered? That would be too easy. If you've spent much time in prayer, you know that God often answers prayers in unexpected and sometimes undesirable ways. We're given the gift of prayer so that we have a way of receiving into our lives all the blessings God has to give us. Like any divine gift, prayer is easily used and abused by a heart and mind twisted in folly. Praying fools, relying on their own sense of what's best for themselves, usually get exactly what they pray for. . .and they usually regret it. Their reaction is always the same: blame God and pitch a fit. However, when the divine gift of prayer is used wisely, that is, relying on God's knowledge of what's best, and receiving all that He has to give, we get what we need. There's only one proper reaction to getting and receiving all that we need from God: copious gratitude and praise. What happens when we fail to respond properly to answered prayers? Look no further than Zechariah and his muted tongue.
To punish Zechariah for his ingratitude, Gabriel sticks the priest's tongue to the roof of his mouth. The idea here is that if you're not going to use the divine gift of speech to give God thanks and praise for giving you a much-prayed-for son, then you're not going to use it at all. Frankly, Zechariah got off easy. He's a priest. And not just any priest, but the priest selected by lots to offer incense on the altar in the Holy of Holies. And not only that but Gabriel visits him in the Holy of Holies while he's offering the sacrifice of incense! Yet, Zechariah still doubts and questions his Lord's answer to his prayers for a son. So, not only is he ungrateful and slightly petulant upon hearing Gabriel's good news, he's also abusing the divine gift of prayer while praying. Zechariah would have done well to follow Mary's example in responding to Gabriel's news of her son's conception, and submit himself to God's will, saying, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done according to your word.” Instead, he says—more or less—“Behold, I am an ungrateful brat. How do I know you're telling me the truth?”
Speechless. All he can do is gesture at the folks waiting for him outside the temple. What use is a priest who can't offer prayer and sacrifice for his people?