In the Gospel Jesus told the Apostles, “If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.”
That statement confuses us, because our experiences of asking for things in prayer have not been very successful.
I often think of a Jewish boy who spent five years in a Nazi concentration camp. His whole family were shipped together to that camp, and although my friend prayed most earnestly to save each of them from the furnaces, his prayers never seemed to work. He saw father, mother, sister, brother hauled off for gassing and disposal. It brought him to the conclusion that prayer doesn’t work. For all that; after he survived and married, he was secretly pleased to see his daughter saying her night prayers.
But, what about it, does prayer work? One answer we are given is that God answers all prayers, but in answering them, he does not give us what we think we need; rather he gives us what he knows we need.
St. Luke in 11:13 tells us that the prayers that are always answered are our prayers to being given the Holy Spirit. “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?”
As a retired priest with nothing to do, I spend more time than ever at my prayers. Rightly or wrongly, I don’t pray for things. What I pray for is to better understand and for God to turn me away from useless behavior. I ask him to nudge me toward doing what is right, and it seems to work sometimes.