Sunday, 7 February 2010

A Christian’s Rule of Life - Chapter 4

Addressed to Persons of all States who Desire to be Saved.1
God wishes us all to be saved: Who will have all Men saved.2 “And he is ready to give to all the help necessary for salvation; but he grants it only to those that ask him, as St. Augustine says: “He gives only to those who ask.”3 Hence, it is a common opinion of theologians and of the holy Fathers, that prayer is necessary for adults as a means of salvation; that is to say, that a person who does not pray, and neglects to ask of God the help requisite for overcoming temptations, and for preserving grace already received, cannot be saved.
On the other hand, our Lord cannot refuse to give graces to those who ask for them, because he has promised to do so: Cry to Me, and I will hear thee.4 Have recourse to me, and I will not fail to hear you. Ask of me all you desire, and you shall attain it: Ask, and it shall be given to you.5 These promises, however, are not to be understood with reference to temporal goods, because God only gives these when they are for the good of the soul; but he has promised absolutely to give spiritual graces to any one who asks him; and having promised it, he is obliged to give them to us: “By his promise, he has made himself our debtor,” says St. Augustine.
It should also be observed, that on God’s part prayer is a promise, and on our part a binding precept: Ask, and it shall he given you.6 We ought always to pray.7 These words, “ask, we ought,” convey, as St. Thomas teaches, a grave precept, which is binding for our whole life; but especially when a man is in danger of death, of falling into sin; because if he does not then have recourse to God, he will certainly be overcome. And he who has already fallen under God’s displeasure commits a fresh sin when he does not turn to God for help to rise out of his miserable state. But will God then hear him while he is yet his enemy? Yes, he does hear, if the sinner humbles himself, and prays for pardon from his heart; since it is written in the Gospel: For every one that asketh, receiveth.8 It says that God has promised to hear all that pray to him, whether they are just or sinners. In another place God says, Call upon Me . . . and I will deliver Thee.9 Call upon Me, and I will deliver thee from hell, to which thou dost stand condemned.
No, there will be no excuse in the day of judgment for any one who dies in mortal sin. It will be of no use for him to say that he had not the strength to resist the temptation which troubled him; because Jesus Christ will answer: If you had not the strength, why did you not ask it of me, and I should certainly have given it you? If you fell into sin, why did you not have recourse to me, that I might have delivered you from it?
You see, then, that if you desire to be saved, and would keep yourself in the grace of God, you must often pray to him, that he would keep his hand over you. The Council of Trent declares that for a man to persevere in the grace of God, it is not enough that he should have only that general aid which he gives to all; but he must also have that special assistance which can only be obtained by prayer. For this reason all the Doctors of the Church say, that each one is bound, under grievous sin, to recommend himself often to God, and to ask for the grace of holy perseverance at least once a month. And any one who finds himself in the midst of many dangerous occasions is under the obligation of asking more frequently for the grace of perseverance.
It is besides most useful to keep up some particular devotion to the Mother of God, who is called the Mother of perseverance, in order to obtain this grace; and a person who has not this special devotion to the Blessed Virgin will find it very difficult to persevere; for as St. Bernard says, all divine graces, and especially this one of perseverance, which is the greatest of all, come to us by means of Mary.
Would to God that preachers were more mindful in putting before their hearers this great means of prayer! Some even in the whole course of their Lenten sermons scarcely mention it more than once or twice in passing: while they ought often to make it their chief subject, besides speaking of it in every discourse; if they omit to do so, they will have to render a severe account for it to God. Thus also many confessors are particular merely about the resolution their penitents make not to offend God again, and few take the trouble to inculcate that they must pray when they are tempted again to fall; but we must be well persuaded, that when a temptation is violent, if the penitent does not beg for God’s assistance; all his resolutions will avail him little; prayer alone can save him. It is certain that he who prays is saved; he who prays not is damned.
Therefore, I repeat, if you wish to be saved, pray continually to the Lord that he would give you light and strength not to fall into sin. Thus we must be importunate with God, in asking him for his grace. “This importunity with God is our opportunity,” says St. Jerome. Every morning we must beseech him to keep us from sin during that day. And when any bad thought or occasion of sin presents itself to your mind or you are tempted by some dangerous occasion, immediately have recourse to Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin, and say, “My Jesus, help me! Most Blessed Virgin, come to my aid.” It is enough at such a time to pronounce the names of Jesus and Mary, and the temptation will vanish; but should the temptation continue, persevere in invoking the assistance of Jesus and Mary, and you will be victorious.
My God, prostrate in Thy presence, I adore Thee; and I intend to make the following protestations, as if I were on the point of passing from, this life to eternity:
My Lord, because Thou art infallible truth, and hast revealed it to the holy Church, I believe in the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; three Persons, but only one God, who eternally rewards the just with heaven, and punishes sinners with hell. I believe that the second Person—that is, the Son of God —became man and died for the salvation of men; and I believe all that the holy Church believes. I thank Thee for having made me a Christian; and I protest that in this holy faith I wish to live and die.
My God, my hope, trusting in Thy promises, I hope from Thy mercy, not through my merits, but through the merits of Jesus Christ, for the pardon of my sins, perseverance in Thy grace, and, after this miserable life, for the glory of heaven. And should the devil, at death, tempt me to despair at the sight of my sins, I protest that I wish always to hope in Thee, my Lord, and that I wish to die in the loving arms of Thy goodness.
O God, worthy of infinite love! I love Thee with my whole heart, and more than I love myself; and I protest that I wish to die making an act of love, that thus I may continue to love Thee for eternity in heaven; which, for this purpose, I ask and desire from Thee. And if, O Lord! instead of loving Thee, I have hitherto despised Thy infinite Goodness. I am sorry for it with my whole heart, and I protest that I wish to die bewailing and detesting forever the offences I have offered to Thee. I purpose, for the future, to die rather than commit another sin. And, for the love of Thee, I pardon all who have offended me.
O my God! I accept death, and all the pains that will accompany my death. I unite them to the sorrows and to the death of Jesus Christ, and offer them in honor of Thy supreme dominion, and in satisfaction for my sins. O Lord! for the sake of the great sacrifice of himself which Thy divine Son offered on the altar of the cross, accept this sacrifice of my life, which I offer to Thee. I now, for the moment of my death, resign myself entirely to Thy divine will, protesting that I wish to die, saying: O Lord! Thy will be always done.
Most holy Virgin Mary, my advocate and my mother, thou, after God, art and shalt be my hope and consolation at the hour of death. I now invoke thee, and pray thee to assist me in that great passage. My dear queen, do not abandon me at that last moment. Come, then, and take my soul, and present it to thy Son. From this moment I expect thee, and hope to die under thy protection and prostrate at thy feet. My protector, St. Joseph, St. Michael the archangel, my angel-guardian, my holy advocates, come all, and assist me in that last battle with hell.
And Thou, my crucified Love—Thou, my Jesus, who, to obtain for me a good death, hast voluntarily chosen so painful a death, remember at that hour that I am one of the sheep which Thou hast purchased with Thy blood. O my Saviour, who alone can console me and save me at that hour when every one on this earth will have abandoned me, and when no friend will be able to assist me! make me then worthy to receive Thee for my Viaticum. Do not permit me to lose Thee forever, and to go forever to remain at a distance from Thee. No, my beloved Saviour, since I now embrace Thee, receive me then into Thy holy wounds. At my last breath I intend to breathe forth my soul into the loving wound in Thy side, saying now, for that moment: Jesus and Mary, I give Thee my heart and my soul: Jesus and Mary, I give Thee my heart and my soul.
Happy suffering, to suffer for God! Happy death, to die in the Lord!
I embrace Thee, my good Redeemer, that I may die in Thy embraces. If, O my soul! at your departure from this world, Mary assists you, and Jesus receives you, death will be for you not death, but sweet repose.
 ‘Tis blessed to suffer, Creator most kind;
   ‘Tis blessed to die, and to suffer for Thee.
 I embrace Thee, O Crucified! hoping to find
   Thine arms everlasting in death circling me.
 So it will not be death, but ineffable rest.
   That shall close at the last on these earth-wearied eyes,
 When my forehead by Mary is soothingly prest,
   And Jesus receives my last penitent sighs.
A Short Prayer to be said every day to Jesus crucified, and to our Lady of Sorrows, to obtain the grace of a happy death.
My Lord Jesus Christ, by that bitterness which Thou didst endure on the cross, when Thy blessed soul was separated from Thy most sacred body, have pity on my sinful soul, when it leaves my miserable body to enter into eternity.
O Mary! by that grief which thou didst experience on Calvary in seeing Jesus expire on the cross before thine eyes, obtain for me a good death, that loving Jesus and thee, my Mother, in this life, I may attain heaven, where I shall love thee for all eternity.
Latin Prayer for the Same Object.
Domine Jesu Christe, per illam amaritudinem quam sustinuit nobilissima anima tua, quando egressa est de benedicto corpore tuo, miserere animæ mæ peccatricis, quando egredietur de corpore meo. Amen.
Mary our Hope.
Mary, thou art hope the brightest,
  Love most pure and sweet;
Life and peace I find reposing
  At thy blessed feet!
When I call on thee, O Mary!
  When I think on thee,
Joy and pleasure all entrancing
  Fill my heart with glee.
If anon the clouds of sadness
  Rise within my heart,
When they hear thy name, O Mary!
  Straightway they depart.
Like a star on life’s dark ocean,
  Shining o’er the wave,
Thou canst guide my bark to harbor
  Thou my soul canst save.
Under thy protecting mantle,
  Queen belov’d, I fly;
There I wish to live securely,
  There I hope to die.
If I chance my life to finish
  Mary, loving thee,
Then I also know, dear Lady,
  Heaven is for me.
Cast thy gentle bonds around me,
  And my heart enchain;
Prisoner of love forever,
  Safe will I remain.
Thus my heart, O sweetest Mary!
  Is not mine, but thine:
Take it; give it all to Jesus;
  Ne’er shall it be mine.

1These admonitions on the necessity of prayer and on the devotion to the Blessed Virgin were written or dictated by Saint Alphonsus when he was nearly eighty years of age. See Tannoia, Book 4, ch. 18. – ED.
2“Omnes homines vult salvos fieri.” – 1 Tim. ii. 4.
3Non dat, nisi petenti. – In Ps. cii.
4“Clama ad me, et exaudiam te.” – Jer. xxxiii. 3.
5“Quodcumque volueritism petetis, et fiet vobis.” – John, xv. 7.
6“Petite, et dabitur vobis.” – Matt. vii. 7.
7“Oportet semper orare.” – Luke, xviii. 1.
8“Omnis enim qui petit, accipit.” – Luke, xi. 10.
9“Invoca me; . . . eruam te.” – Ps. xlix. 15.

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