Jimmy Akin has a post on this topic. Among other things, he quotes Pope Benedict:
When asked whether the Holy Spirit is responsible for the election of a pope, he said:
I would not say so, in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the Pope. . . . I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit’s role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined.
There are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit obviously would not have picked!
A while back, I commented on conversations with atheists about the purpose of prayer, comparing such conversations to a game in which one side is playing to the rules of cricket, and the other to the rules of tennis. I suggest atheists (and in retrospect, many theists) have an ‘Our Santa Claus which art in Heaven’ view of prayer.
This isn’t the Catholic view of prayer (it may be the view of some Catholics, but it isn’t the teaching of the Church). What we believe is far more scary. We believe that God works through us – not just through our actions, but also through our prayer. Could He work without us? For God, all things are possible. But He doesn’t. He waits to be asked.
This is an awesome privilege, and also a terrifying responsibility. If we don’t ask – sincerely, adamently, and insistently – we won’t get.
In my post on intercessory prayer, I said:
We pray in order to participate in the work of God. God has so ordered the world that his intercession needs to be asked for. Some suggest praying triggers the action of a natural law built into the structure of the universe, others that God himself ‘stands at the door and knocks, and behold, if any should open it I will enter’.
To take a parenting analogy, we are like the six year old that helps make dinner. Mum could have done it herself – perhaps faster and more efficiently. But she didn’t. It was Junior that peeled the carrots, stirred the gravy, and put a date and a spoon of brown sugar in the space left after coring the apples. Yes, Mum chose to make the delivery of important parts of the meal dependent on Junior’s help –but nonetheless, Junior helped to make dinner.
And, like the six-year old, there is a point to this. We are learning how to intercede. According to the Bible, according to Catholic teachings, intercession is an important part of the work of the Church in Heaven. This fact, by the way, lends weight to the idea that prayer and natural law are closely linked. We sometimes talk about the saints praying for us as if they were members of the court of a distant oriental potentate. But, of course, they are the beloved children of the Father, and we are their younger siblings. So if the saints intercede on our behalf, as we are taught they do, it isn’t to bend God’s ear until he gives in to the nagging and changes his mind. Rather, surely, it is because the prayer of a saint has an effective impact on the universe.
Dan Burke, in a post called ‘Are you insane?’ sums it up. ‘If we don’t pray, God’s grace will not be granted.’ He quotes Carmelite Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen:
“God wishes our collaboration. He wants it so much that he has made the granting of certain graces, necessary for our salvation, and that of others, dependent upon our prayers. In other words, by the merits of Jesus, grace – God’s infinite mercy – is ready to be poured out for us abundantly… but it will not be poured out unless there is someone who raises supplicating hands to heaven asking for it. If prayer does not ascend to the throne of the Most High, grace will not be granted.” (Divine Intimacy – Apostolic Prayer)