Monday, 27 September 2010

Preparation for Death - Consideration XXXI

“He that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved.” – Matt. xxiv. 13.
Necessity of Perseverance. – Means of Defence against the Devil.
St. Jerome says that many begin well but few persevere.1 Saul, Judas, Tertullian, began well, but ended badly, because they did not persevere in grace. The Lord, says St. Jerome, requires not only the beginning of a good life, but also the end:2 it is the end that will be rewarded. St. Bonaventure says that the crown is given only to perseverance.3 Hence St. Laurence Justinian calls perseverance the “gate of heaven.”4 No one can enter paradise unless he finds the gate of heaven. My brother, at present you have renounced sin, and justly hope that you have been pardoned. You are then the friend of God: but remember that you are not yet saved. And when will you be saved? When you will have persevered to the end. He that shall persevere to the end, he shall he saved.5 Have you begun a good life? Thank the Lord for it: but St. Bernard warns you that to him who begins, a reward is only promised, and is given only to him who perseveres.6 It is not enough to run for the prize, you must run till you win it. So run, says St. Paul, that you may obtain.7
You have already put your hand to the plough, and you have begun to live well; but now you must tremble and fear more than ever. With fear and trembling work out your salvation.8 And why? Because if—which God forbid—you look back and return to a life of sin, God will declare you unfit for paradise. No man putting his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.9 At present, through the grace of God, you avoid evil occasions, you frequent the sacraments, and make meditation every day. Happy you if you continue to do so, and if, when he comes to judge you, Jesus Christ will find you doing these things. Blessed is that servant whom, when his lord shall come, he shall find so doing.10 But do not imagine that, now that you have begun to serve God, there is as it were an end, or a lack of temptations: listen to the advice of the Holy Ghost. Son, when thou comest to the service of God . . . prepare thy soul for temptation.11 Remember that now more than ever you must prepare yourself for conflicts, because your enemies, the world, the devil, and the flesh, will arm themselves now more than ever to fight against you in order to deprive you of all that you have acquired. Denis the Carthusian says, that the more a soul gives itself to God, the more strenuously hell labors to destroy it.12 And this is sufficiently expressed in the Gospel of St. Luke, where Jesus Christ says: When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through places without water, seeking rest, and not finding it, he saith: I will return into my house whence I came out. And when he is come, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then he goeth, and taketh with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and entering in, they dwell there. And the last state of that man is worse than the first.13 When banished from a soul, the devil finds no repose, and does everything in his power to return: he even calls companions to his aid; and if he succeeds in re-entering, the second fall of that soul will be far more ruinous than the first.
Consider, then, what arms you must use in order to defend yourselves against these enemies, and to preserve your soul in the grace of God. To escape defeat, and to conquer the devil, there is no other defence than prayer. St. Paul says that we have to contend, not with men of flesh and blood like ourselves, but with the princes of hell. Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers.14 By these words the Apostle wished to admonish us that we have not strength to resist such powerful enemies, and that we stand in need of aid from God. With his aid we shall be able to do all things. I can do all things in Him that strengtheneth me.15 Such is the language of St. Paul; such, too, should be our language. But this divine aid is given only to those who pray for it. Ask and you shall receive. Let us, then not trust in our purposes; if we trust in them, we shall be lost. Whenever the devil tempts us, let us place our entire confidence in the divine assistance, and let us recommend ourselves to Jesus Christ, and to the Most Holy Mary. We ought to do this particularly as often as we are tempted against chastity; for this is the most terrible of all temptations, and is the one by which the devil gains most victories. We have not strength to preserve chastity; this strength must come from God. And, said Solomon, as I knew that I could not otherwise be continent exalt God gave it, . . I went to the Lord, and besought him.16 In such temptations, then, we must instantly have recourse to Jesus Christ, and to his holy Mother, frequently invoking the most holy names of Jesus and Mary. He who does this, will conquer; he who neglects it, will be lost.
Affections and Prayers.
Ah, my God! “cast me not away from Thy face.” I know that Thou wilt never abandon me, unless I first abandon Thee. Experience of my own weakness makes me tremble lest I should again forsake Thee. Lord! it is from Thee I must receive the strength necessary to conquer hell, which labors to make me again its slave. This strength I ask of Thee for the sake of Jesus Christ. O my Saviour! establish between Thee and me a perpetual peace, which will never be broken for all eternity. For this purpose I ask Thy love. “He who loves not is dead.” O God of my soul, it is by Thee I must be saved from this unhappy death. I was lost; Thou knowest it. It is Thy goodness alone that has brought me into the state in which I am at present, in which I hope I am Thy friend. Ah, my Jesus! through the painful death which Thou didst suffer for my salvation, do not permit me ever more to lose Thee voluntarily. I love Thee above all things, I hope to see myself always bound with this holy love, and to die in the bonds of love, and to live for eternity in the chains of Thy love. O Mary! thou art called the mother of perseverance; through thee this great gift is dispensed. Through thy intercession I ask and hope to obtain it.
We must Conquer the World.
Let us now see how we must conquer the world. The devil is a great enemy of our salvation, but the world is worse. If the devil did not make use of the world and of wicked men, by whom we mean the world, he would not obtain the victories which he gains. But says Jesus Christ, beware of men.17 Men are often worse than the devils; for these are put to flight when we pray and invoke the most holy names of Jesus and Mary. But when a person gives a becoming answer to wicked companions, who tempt him to sin, they redouble their efforts, they treat him with ridicule, upbraiding him with vulgarity and want of education; and when they can say nothing else, they call him a hypocrite, who only pretends to sanctity. To escape such derision and reproach, certain weak souls miserably associate with these ministers of Lucifer, and return to the vomit. My brother, be persuaded that, if you wish to lead a holy life, you must expect the ridicule and contempt of the wicked. The wicked, says the Holy Ghost, loathe them that are in the right way.18 He who lives in sin cannot bear the sight of those who live according to the Gospel. And why? Because their life is a continual reproach to him; and therefore to avoid the pain of remorse caused by the good example of others, he would wish that all should imitate his own wickedness. There is no remedy. The Apostle tells us that he who serves God must be persecuted by the world. All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.19 All the saints have been persecuted. Who was more holy than Jesus Christ? The world persecuted him so as to cause him to bleed to death on a cross.
There is no help for this; for the maxims of the world are diametrically opposed to the maxims of Jesus Christ. What the world esteems, Jesus Christ has called folly. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.20 And the world regards as folly what Jesus Christ has strongly recommended,—such as crosses, pains, and contempts. For the word of the cross, to them indeed that perish, is foolishness.21 But if the wicked revile and reproach us, let us console ourselves with the reflection that God blesses and praises us. They will curse, and Thou wilt bless.22 Is it not enough for us to be praised by God, by Mary, by the angels, the saints, and all good men? Let us, then, leave sinners to say what they please, and let us continue to please God, who is grateful and faithful to all who serve him. The greater the opposition and difficulty we meet in doing good, the more we shall please God and treasure up merits for ourselves. Let us imagine that we are alone with God in this world. When the wicked treat us with derision, let us recommend them to the Lord, let us thank him for giving us light, which he does not give to these miserable men, and let us continue our journey. Let us not be ashamed to appear like Christians; for, if we are ashamed of Jesus Christ, he protests that he will be ashamed of us on the day of judgment. For he that shall be ashamed of Me and of My words, of him the Son of man shall be ashamed, when He shall come in His majesty.23
If we wish to save our souls, we must resolve to suffer, and to do violence to ourselves. How narrow is the gate and strait is the way that leadeth to life. The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away.24 He who does not violence to himself, will not be saved. There is no remedy. If we wish to do good, we must act in opposition to our rebellious nature. In the beginning, it is particularly necessary to do violence to ourselves in order to root out bad habits, and to acquire habits of virtue. When good habits are once acquired, the observance of the divine law becomes easy, and even sweet. Our Lord said to St. Bridget, that when in the practice of virtue a person suffers the first punctures of the thorns with patience and courage, these thorns afterwards become roses. Be attentive, then, dearly beloved Christian. Jesus Christ now says to you, what he said to the paralytic: Behold, thou art made whole; sin no more, lest some worse thing happen to thee.25 Remember, says St. Bernard, that if you have the misfortune of relapsing into sin, your relapse will be more disastrous than all your falls.26 Woe, says the Lord, to them who begin to walk in the way of God, and afterward forsake it. Woe to you, apostate children.27 Such sinners are punished as rebels against God’s light. They have been rebellious to the light.28 The chastisement of these rebels, who have been favored by God with a great light, and have been afterward unfaithful to him, is, to remain in blindness, and thus die in their sins. But if the just man turn himself away from his justice . . . shall he live? All his justices which he hath done shall not be remembered; in the prevarication by which he hath prevaricated, and in his sin which he hath committed, in them he shall die.29
Affections and Prayers.
Ah, my God! such a chastisement I have often deserved, because I have, through the light which Thou gavest me, renounced sin, and have miserably returned to it. I infinitely thank Thy mercy for not having abandoned me in my blindness by leaving me entirely destitute of light, as I deserved. Great then, O my Jesus! are my obligations to Thee, and great should be my ingratitude, were I again to turn my back upon Thee. No, my Redeemer, the mercies of the Lord I will sing forever. I hope that during the remainder of my life, and for all eternity, I will always sing and praise Thy mercies by loving Thee always, and never more seeing myself bereft of Thy graces. The great ingratitude with which I have hitherto treated Thee, and which I now hate and curse above every evil, will serve to make me weep bitterly over the injuries I have done Thee, and to inflame me still more with the love of Thee, who, after I had given Thee so many grievous offences, have bestowed upon me so many great graces. Yes, I love Thee, O my God! worthy of infinite love. Henceforth Thou shalt be my only love, my only good. O eternal Father! through the merits of Jesus Christ I ask of Thee final perseverance in Thy grace and in Thy love. I know that Thou wilt grant it to me whenever I ask it. But who assures me that I shall be careful to ask this perseverance from Thee? Hence, O my God, I ask perseverance, and the grace always to ask it of Thee. O Mary, my advocate, my refuge, and my hope! obtain for me by thy intercession the gift of constancy in always asking of God the grace of final perseverance. Through the love which thou bearest Jesus Christ, I ask thee to obtain for me this gift.
We must Struggle against the Flesh.—Recapitulation.
Let us come to the third enemy—that is, the flesh, which is the worst of all: and let us see how we must defend ourselves against its attacks. The first means is prayer: but this we have already considered. The second is, to avoid the occasion of sin; and let us now ponder well upon this means of overcoming the flesh. St. Bernardine says that the greatest of all counsels, and the one which is, as it were, the foundation of religion, is to fly from sinful occasions.30 Being compelled by exorcisms, the devil once confessed that of all sermons, that which displeased him most was the sermon on avoiding the occasions of sin: and justly; for the devil laughs at all the resolutions and promises of penitent sinners who remain in the occasion of sin. The occasion of sins of the flesh, in particular, is like a veil placed before the eyes, which prevents the soul from seeing either its resolutions, or the lights received from God, or the truths of eternity: in a word, it makes it forget everything, and almost blinds it. The neglect of avoiding the occasions of sin was the cause of the fall of our first parents. God had forbidden them even to touch the forbidden fruit. God commanded us, said Eve, that we should not eat, and that we should not touch it.31 But through want of caution she saw, took, and ate it. She first began to look at the apple, she afterward took it in her hand, and then ate it. He who voluntarily exposes himself to danger, will perish in it.32 St. Peter tells us that the devil goeth about seeking whom he may devour.33 And what, says St. Cyprian, does he do in order to enter again into the soul from which he has been expelled?34 He seeks an occasion of sin. If the soul permit him to bring it again into the occasion of sin, he will enter again, and shall devour it. The Abbot Guerric says that Lazarus came forth from the grave bound hand and foot,35 and after rising in this state, he died again. Miserable, this author means to say, is the man who rises from sin bound by the occasion of sin; though he should rise, he surely will die again. He, then, who wishes to be saved must forsake not only all sin, but the occasions of sin—that is, the companions, the house, the connections which lead to sin.
But you will say: I have changed my life, and now I have no bad motive, nor even a temptation, in the society of such a person. I answer: it is related that in Mauritania there are bears that go in search of the apes. As soon as they see a bear, the apes save themselves by climbing up the trees: but what does the bear do? He stretches himself, as if dead, under the tree; and when the apes descend, he springs up, seizes, and devours them. It is thus the devil acts: he makes the temptations appear dead; and when the soul exposes itself to the occasions of sin, he excites the temptation, which devours it. Oh! how many miserable souls, that practised mental prayer, frequented Communion, and might be called saints, have, by putting themselves into dangerous occasions, become the prey of hell? It is related in ecclesiastical history, that a holy matron, who devoted herself to the pious work of burying the martyrs, found one of them not dead. She brought him to her house: he recovered. What happened? By the proximate occasion, these two saints, as they might be called, first lost the grace of God, and afterward lost the faith.
The Lord commanded Isaias to proclaim that all flesh is grass.36 Is it possible, says St. John Chrysostom, for hay not to burn when it is thrown into the fire?37 And St. Cyprian says that it is impossible to stand in the midst of flames, and not be burned.38 According to the prophet Isaias, our strength is like that of tow cast into the fire. And your strength shall be as the ashes of tow.39 And Solomon says that it would be folly to expect to walk on red-hot coals, without being burned. Can a man walk upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned?40 Thus it is likewise folly to expose ourselves to the occasion of sin, and to expect not to fall. It is necessary then to fly from sin as from the face of a serpent. Flee from sins as from the face of a serpent.41 We ought, says Gualfrido, not only to avoid the bite or contact of a serpent, but should also abstain from approaching it.42 But you will say: My interest requires that I should frequent such a house, or that I should keep up a certain friendship. But if you see that such a house is for you a way to hell, there is no remedy; you must forsake it if you wish to save your soul. Her house is the way to hell.43 The Lord tells you that if your right eye is a cause of damnation to you, you must pluck it out and cast it from you.44 Mark the words; you must cast it, not beside you, but to a distance from you—that is, you must take away every occasion of sin. St. Francis of Assisi says, that the devil tempts spiritual souls, who have given themselves to God, in a way different from that in which he tempts the wicked. In the beginning he does not seek to bind them with a chain; he is content to hold them by a single hair: he then binds them with a slender thread; afterward with a cord; then with a chain; and thus drags them to sin. And therefore he who wishes to be free from the danger of perdition must, in the beginning, break all these hairs, he must avoid all occasions of sins, he must give up these salutations, presents, notes, and the like. And for those who have contracted a habit of committing sins against purity, it will not be enough to avoid proximate occasions: unless they fly even from remote occasions, they will relapse.
He who sincerely wishes to be saved, must, by often repeating with the saints, Let all be lost, provided God is not lost, labor continually to strengthen and renew his resolution of never again renouncing the friendship of God. But it is not enough to resolve never more to lose God; it is moreover necessary to adopt the means by which you may be preserved from the danger of losing him. The first means is, to avoid the occasions of sin; of this we have already spoken. The second is, to frequent the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist. In the house which is often swept there is no uncleanness. By the sacrament of penance the soul is purified; by it it obtains not only the remission of sins, but also help to resist temptations. The Communion is called the bread of heaven; because as the body cannot live without earthly food so the soul cannot live without this celestial bread. Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you.45 But on the other hand, to those who frequently eat this bread, is promised eternal life. If any man eat of this bread he shall live forever.46 Hence the Council of Trent calls the Communion a medicine which delivers us from venial, and preserves us from mortal sins.47 The third means is meditation, or mental prayer. Remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin.48 He who keeps before his eyes the eternal truths—death, judgment, eternity—will not fall into sin. God enlightens us in meditation. Come ye to Him, and be enlightened.49 In meditation God speaks to us, and makes known to us what we are to avoid, and what we are to do. I will lead her into the wilderness, and I will speak to her heart.50 Meditation is the blessed furnace in which divine love is lighted up. In my meditation a fire shall flame out.51 To preserve the soul in the grace of God, it is, as has been already said, absolutely necessary always to pray, and to ask for the graces we stand in need of. They who do not make mental prayer, will scarcely pray for God’s graces; and by neglecting to pray for them, they will certainly be lost.
It is necessary then to adopt the means of salvation, and to lead a life of order and regularity. It is necessary, after rising in the morning, to make the Christian acts of thanksgiving, love, oblation, and a purpose of avoiding sin, along with a prayer to Jesus and Mary that they may preserve you from sin during the day: you should afterward make your meditation, and hear Mass. During the day you ought to make a spiritual reading, visit the Blessed Sacrament and an image of the divine Mother. In the evening, say the rosary, and make an examination of conscience. Go to Communion several times in the week, according as your director may advise: you should ordinarily go to confession to the same confessor. It would also be very profitable to make the spiritual exercises in some religious house. It is likewise necessary to honor the Most Holy Mary by some special devotion—such as by fasting on Saturdays. She is called the Mother of perseverance, and she promises to obtain it for all who serve her. They that work by me shall not sin.52 Above all, it is necessary to ask of God holy perseverance, and especially in the time of temptation, invoking then more frequently the names of Jesus and Mary as long as the temptation continues. If you act in this manner, you will certainly be saved; if not, you will certainly be lost.53
Affections and Prayers.
My dear Redeemer! I thank Thee for the lights which Thou now givest me, and for the means of salvation which Thou makest known to me. I promise to endeavor to persevere in the practice of them. I see that Thou wishest for my salvation; and I wish to be saved principally to please Thy heart, which so ardently desires my salvation. O my God I will no longer resist the love which Thou entertainest for me. This love has made Thee bear me with so much patience when I offended Thee. Thou callest me to Thy love, and I desire only to love Thee. I love Thee, O infinite Goodness! I love Thee, O infinite Good! Ah! I entreat Thee, through the merits of Jesus Christ, not to permit me to be ever again ungrateful to Thee; either make me cease to be ungrateful to Thee, or make me cease to live. Lord! Thou hast already begun the work; bring it to perfection. Confirm, O God! that which Thou hast wrought in me.54 Give me light, give me strength, give me love. O Mary! who art the treasurer of graces, assist me, accept me for thy servant, and pray to Jesus for me. Through the merits of Jesus Christ first, and then through thy prayers. I hope for salvation.

1“Incipere multorum est, perseverare paucorum.” – Cont. Jovin. l. 1.
2“Non quæruntur in Christianis initia. scd finis.” – Ep. ad Fur.
3“Sola perseverantia coronatur.” – Diæl. Sal. l. 8, c. 2.
4“Paradisi janua.” – De obed. c. 26.
5“Qui perseveraverit usque in finem, hic salvus erit.” – Matt. xxiv. 13.
6“Inchoantibus præmium promittitur, sed perseverantibus datur.” – De modo bene viv. s. 6.
7‘Sic currite ut comprehendatis.” – 1 Cor. ix. 24.
8“Cum metu et tremore vestram salutem operamini.” – Phil. ii. 12.
9“Nemo mittens manum suam ad aratrum, et respiciens retro, aptus est regno Dei.” – Luke, ix. 62.
10“Beatus ille servus, quem, cum venerit Dominus ejus, invenerit sic facientem.” – Matt. xxiv. 46.
11“Fili, accedens ad servitutem Dei, sta in justitia et timore, et præpara animam tuam ad tentationem.” – Ecclus. ii. 1.
12Quanto quis fortius nititur Deo servire, tanto acrius contra eum sævit adversarius.
13“Cum immundus spiritus exierit de homine, ambulat per loca inaquosa, quærens requiem; et non inveniens, dicit: Revertar in domum meam, unde exivi. . . . Tunc vadit et assumit septem alios spiritus secum, nequiores se; et ingressi, habitant ibi. Et fiunt novissima hominis illius pejora prioribus.” – Luke, xi. 24.
14“Non est nobis colluctatio adversus carnem et sanguinem, sed adversus principes et potestates.” – Eph. vi. 12.
15“Omnia possum in eo qui me confortat.” – Phil. iv. 13.
16“Et ut scivi quoniam aliter non possem esse continens, nisi Deus det, . . . adii Dominum, et deprecatus sum illum.” – Wis. viii. 21.
17“Cavete autem ab hominibus.” – Matt. x. 17.
18“Abominantur impii eos qui in recta sunt via,” – Prov. xxix. 27.
19“Omnes qui pie volunt vivere in Christo Jesu, persecutionem patientur.” – 2 Tim. iii. 12.
20“Sapientia enim hujus mundi stultitia est apud Deum.” – 1 Cor. iii. 19.
21“Verbum enim crucis pereuntibus quidem stultitia est.” – 1 Cor. i. 18.
22“Maledicent illi, et tu benedices.” – Ps. cviii. 28.
23“Nam, qui me erubuerit et meos sermones, hunc Filius hominis erubescet, cum venerit in majestate sua.” – Luke, ix. 26.
24“Arcta via est, quæ ducit ad vitam.” – Matt. vii. 14. “Regnum cœlorum vim patitur, et violenti rapiunt illud.” – Matt. xi. 12.
25“Ecce sanus factus es; jam noli peccare, ne deterius tibi contingat.” – John, v. 14.
26“Audis recidere, quam incidere. esse deterius.” – In Cant. s. 54.
27“Vae filii desertores.” – Isa. xxx. 1.
28“Ipsi fuerunt rebelles lumini.” – Job, xxiv. 13.
29“Si autem averterit se justus a justitia sua, . . . numquid vivet? Omnes justitiæ ejus, quas fecerat, non recordabuntur; . . . in pectato suo morietur.” – Ezek. xviii. 24.
30“Inter consilia Christi, unum celeberrimum quasi religionis fundamentum est, fugere peccatorum occasiones.” – T. i. s. 21, a. 3.
31“Præcepit nobis Deus, ne comederemus, et ne tangeremus illud.” – Gen. iii. 3.
32“Qui amat periculum in illo peribit.” – Ecelus. iii. 27.
33“Circuit quærens quem devoret.” – T Peter, v. 8.
34“Explorat an sit pars, cujus aditu penetretur.” – De zelo et liv.
35Prodiit ligatus manibus et pedibus.
36“Clama: Omnis caro fenum.” – Isa. xl. 6.
37“Lucernam in fenum pone, ac tum aude negare quod fenum exuratur.” – In Ps. l. hom. 1.
38“Impossibile est flammis circumdari, et non ardere.” – De Singul. cler.
39“Et erit fortitudo vestra ut favilla stupæ.” – Isa. i. 31.
40“Numquid potest homo . . . ambulate super prunas, ut non comburantur plantæ ejus?” – Prov. vi. 27.
41“Quasi a facie colubri, fuge peccata.” – Ecclus. xxi. 2.
42Fuge etiam tactus, etiam accessum.
43“Viæ inferi, domus ejus.” – Prov. vii. 27.
44“Si oculus tuus dexter scandalizat te, erue eum, et projice abs te.” – Matt. v. 29.
45“Nisi manducaveritis carnem Filii hominis, et biberitis ejus sanguinem, non habebitis vitam in vobis.” – John. vi. 54.
46“Si quis manducaverit ex hoc pane, vivet in æternum.” – John. vi. 52.
47“Antidotum quo liberemur a culpis quotidianis, et a peccatis mortalibus præservemur.” – Sess. 13; cap. 2.
48“Memorare novissima tua, et in æternum non peccabis.” – Ecclus. vii. 40.
49“Accedite ad eam, et illuminamini.” – Ps. xxxiii. 6.
50“Ducam earn in solitudinem, et loquar ad cor ejus.” – Osee, ii. 14.
51“In meditatione mea exardescet ignis.” – Ps. xxxviii. 4.
52“Qui operantur in me non peccabunt.” – Ecclus. xxiv. 30.
53We must here remark that the means of perseverance so much recommended by St. Alphonsus are nothing else than a good Rule of Life, which is given in the last part of this volume. – ED.
54“Confirma hoc, Deus, quod operatus es in nobis.” – Ps. lxvii. 29.


Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Preparation for Death - Consideration XXX

“Ask, and it shall be given you; for every one that asketh, receiveth.” – Luke, xi. 9, 10.
Efficacy of Prayer.
Not only in this, but in a thousand places in the Old and the New Testament, God promises to hear all who pray to him. Cry to me, and I will hear thee.1 “Call upon me, and I will deliver you from all dangers.”2 If you ask anything in My name, that I will do.3 Whatsoever you shall ask through my merits, I will grant. You shall ask whatever you will, and it shall he done unto you.4 Ask as much as you wish: all that you ask will be given you. There are many other similar passages. Hence Theodoret has said that prayer is one, but can obtain all things. St. Bernard says that when we pray, the Lord will give either the grace we ask, or one that is more useful to us.5 The prophet animates us to pray by assuring us that God is all mercy to those who invoke his aid. Thou, O Lord, art sweet and mild, and plenteous in mercy to all that call upon Thee.6 The words of St. James are still more encouraging. If any of you want wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth abundantly to all men, and upbraideth not.7 This apostle tells us that when we pray to the Lord, he opens his hands, and gives us more than we ask. He giveth to all men abundantly, and upbraideth not. He does not reproach us with the offences that we have offered to him; but, when we pray to him, he appears to forget all the injuries that we have done him.
St. John Climacus used to say that prayer in a certain manner forces God to grant us whatsoever we ask of him. “Prayer piously offers violence to God.”8 But it is, as St. Tertullian says, a violence which is dear to him, and which he desires from us.9 Yes; for, as St. Augustine says, God has a greater desire to give us his graces, than we have to receive them.10 The reason is, because God is of his own nature infinite goodness. Hence he feels an infinite desire to impart his goods to us. Hence St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi used to say, that God feels as it were under an obligation to the soul that prays to him; because by prayer it opens to him the way by which he can satisfy his desire of dispensing his graces to us. David says that the goodness of God, in instantly hearing all who pray to him, showed him that he was his true God. In what day soever I shall call upon Thee, behold, know Thou art my God.11 Some, observes St. Bernard, complain that God is wanting to them; but the Lord far more justly complains that many are wanting to him by neglecting to ask his graces. Of this precisely the Redeemer appears to have complained one day to his disciples. Hitherto you have not asked anything in My name: ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full.12 As if he said: Do not complain of me if you do not enjoy complete happiness; complain of yourselves for not having asked my graces: ask me for them henceforth, and you shall be satisfied.
Hence, in their conferences, the ancient monks came to the conclusion, that there is no exercise more conducive to salvation than to pray always, and say: “Lord, assist me; incline unto my aid, O God.”13 The Venerable Paul Segneri used to say of himself, that in his meditations he was at first accustomed to spend his time in pious affections; but, having afterward learned the great efficacy of prayer, he endeavored generally to employ himself in petitions to God. Let us always do the same. We have a God who loves us to excess, and who is solicitous for our salvation, and therefore he is always ready to hear all who ask his graces. The princes of the earth, says St. Chrysostom, give audience only to a few; but God gives audience to all who wish for it.14
Affections and Prayers.
Eternal God! I adore Thee, and I thank Thee for all the benefits Thou hast bestowed upon me,—for having created me, for having redeemed Me through Jesus Christ, for having made me a Christian, for having waited for me when I was in sin, and for having so often pardoned me. Ah, my God! I should never have offended Thee, if in my temptations I had recourse to Thee. I thank Thee for the light by which Thou now makest me understand that my salvation consists in praying to Thee, and in asking graces of Thee. Behold, I entreat Thee, in the name of Jesus Christ, to give me a great sorrow for my sins, holy perseverance in Thy grace, a good death, heaven, but above all, the great gift of Thy love, and perfect resignation to Thy most holy will. I well know that I do not deserve these graces, but Thou hast promised them to all who ask them of Thee through the merits of Jesus Christ; through these merits I hope and ask for them. O Mary! thy prayers are always heard; pray for me.
Necessity of Prayer.
Let us also reflect on the necessity of prayer. St. Chrysostom says that, as the body without the soul is dead, so the soul is dead without prayer. He also teaches that, as water is necessary to prevent the decay of plants, so prayer is necessary to preserve us from perdition.15 God wills that all men be saved,16—and is unwilling that any be lost. The Lord . . . dealeth patiently for your sake, not willing that any one should perish, but that all should return to penance.17 But he also wishes that we ask him for the graces necessary for salvation. For, on the one hand, it is impossible for us to observe the divine commands, and save our souls, without the actual assistance of God; and on the other, ordinarily speaking, God will not give us his graces unless we ask them from him. Hence, the holy Council of Trent has declared that God has not commanded impossibilities; because he either gives us the proximate and actual grace to fulfil his precepts, or he gives us the grace to ask him for this actual aid.18 St. Augustine teaches, that God gives without prayer the first graces, such as vocation to the faith and to repentance; but all other graces, and particularly the gift of perseverance, he gives only to those who ask them.19
Hence, theologians, after St. Basil, St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom, Clement of Alexandria, and others, teach, that for adults prayer is necessary as a means of salvation; so that, without it, it is impossible to be saved. And the most learned Lessius says that this doctrine must be held as of faith.20
The Scriptures are clear on this point. We ought always to pray.21 Pray, lest ye enter into temptation.22 Ask, and you shall receive.23 Pray without ceasing.24 The words, we ought, pray, ask, according to St. Thomas (3 part, qu. 39, art. 5) and the generality of theologians, imply a strict precept, which binds under grievous sin particularly in three cases. First, when a person is in the state of sin; secondly, when he is in danger of death; and thirdly, when he is in great danger of falling into sin. Theologians teach that, ordinarily, he who neglects prayer for a month, or at most, for two months, is guilty of a mortal sin (Less., loco citato). The reason is, because prayer is a means without which we cannot obtain the helps necessary for salvation.
Ask, and you shall receive. He who asks, receives; then, says St. Teresa, he who does not ask, does not receive. And before her, St. James said the same thing. You have not, because you ask not.25 Prayer is particularly necessary to obtain the virtue of continence. And, said the wise man, as I knew that I could not otherwise be continent, except God gave it, . . I went to the Lord, and besought Him.26 Let us conclude this point. He who prays, is certainly saved; he who does not pray, is certainly lost. All the elect are saved by prayer; all the damned are lost by neglect of prayer, and their greatest despair is, and will be forever, caused by the conviction, that they had it in their power to save their souls so easily by prayer, and that now the time of salvation is no more.
Affections and Prayers.
Ah, my Redeemer! how have I been able hitherto to live in such forgetfulness of Thee? Thou wert prepared to grant me all the graces that I should ask of Thee; Thou only didst wait for me to ask them. But I have thought only of indulging my senses, and have been indifferent about the privation and loss of Thy love and of Thy graces. Lord! forget all my ingratitude, and have mercy on me. Pardon me all the displeasure I have given Thee, and grant me perseverance. O God of my soul! give me the grace always to ask Thy aid not to offend Thee. Do not permit me to be, as I have hitherto been, negligent in the performance of this duty. Grant me light and strength always to recommend myself to Thee, and particularly when my enemies tempt me to offend Thee again. Grant, O my God! this grace through the merits of Jesus Christ, and through the love which Thou bearest to him. O Lord! I have offended Thee enough. I wish to love Thee during the remainder of my life. Give me Thy love; and may this love remind me to ask Thy aid whenever I am in danger of losing Thee by sin. Mary, my hope after Jesus! through thy intercession I hope for the grace to recommend myself in all my temptations to thee and to thy son. Hear me, O my Queen! through the love which thou bearest to Jesus Christ.
Conditions of Prayer.
Lastly, let us consider the conditions of prayer. Many pray, and do not obtain the object of their prayers, because they do not pray as they ought. You ask, says St. James, and receive not, because you ask amiss.27 To pray well, it is necessary, in the first place, to pray with humility. God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.28 God rejects the petitions of the proud, but does not allow the humble to depart without hearing all their prayers. The prayer of him that humbleth himself shall pierce the clouds, . . . and he will not depart till the Most High behold.29 This holds, even though they have been hitherto sinners. A contrite and humble heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.30 Secondly, it is necessary to pray with confidence. No one hath hoped in the Lord, and hath been confounded.31 Jesus Christ has taught us to call God, in our petitions for his graces, by no other name than that of Father, in order to make us pray with the same confidence with which a child has recourse to a parent. He, then, who prays with confidence, obtains every grace. All things whatsoever you ask when you pray, believe that you shall receive, and they shall come unto you.32 And who, says St. Augustine, can fear that the promises of God, who is truth itself, will be violated?33 God, says the Scripture, is not like men, who promise, but do not perform, either because they intend to deceive, or because they change their purpose. God is not as a man, that he should lie, nor as the son of man, that He should be changed. Hath He told then, and will He not do?34 And why, adds the same St. Augustine, should the Lord so earnestly exhort us to ask his graces, if he did not wish to bestow them upon us? By his promises he has bound himself to grant us the graces we ask from him. “By promising,” says St. Augustine, “he has made himself a debtor.”35
But some will say: I am a sinner, and therefore I do not deserve to be heard. In answer, St. Thomas says that the efficacy of prayer to obtain graces depends, not on our merits, but on the divine mercy.36 Every one, says Jesus Christ, that asketh receiveth;37 that is, says the author of the Imperfect Work, “every one, whether he be a just man or a sinner.”38 But the Redeemer himself takes away all fear, saying: Amen, amen, I say to you: If you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it to you.39 As if he said: Sinners, if you are without merits, I have merits before my Father. Ask, then, in my name, and I promise that you will receive whatsoever you ask. But it is necessary to know that this promise does not extend to temporal favors, such as health, goods of fortune, and the like; for God often justly refuses these graces, because he sees that they would be injurious to our salvation. “The physician,” says St. Augustine, “knows better than the patient what is useful to him.”40 The holy Doctor adds, that God refuses to some through mercy, what he gives to others through wrath.41 Hence we should ask temporal blessings only on condition that they will be profitable to the soul. But spiritual graces, such as pardon of sins, perseverance, divine love, and the like, should be asked absolutely, and with a firm confidence of obtaining them. If, says Jesus Christ, you being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father from heaven give the good Spirit to them that ask Him!42
Above all, perseverance in prayer is necessary. In his commentary on the eleventh chapter of St. Luke, Cornelius a Lapide says, that the Lord “wishes us to persevere in prayer even to importunity.”43 This may be inferred from the following passages of Scripture: We ought always to pray.44 Watch ye, therefore, praying at all times. Pray without ceasing.45 It may be also inferred from our Lord’s repeated exhortations to prayer. Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.46 It might be sufficient to have said, ask; but no; the Lord wishes us to understand that we ought to imitate beggars, who do not cease to ask, to entreat, and to knock at the gate, until they receive an alms. But final perseverance, in particular, is a grace which is not obtained without continual prayer. We cannot merit this grace of perseverance; but, according to St. Augustine, it may be merited in a certain manner. “This gift,” says the holy Doctor, “can be suppliantly merited; that is, it may be obtained by supplication.”47 Let us, then, if we wish to be saved, pray always, and never cease to pray. And let all confessors and preachers, if they desire the salvation of souls, never cease to exhort their penitents or hearers to prayer. And, in conformity with the advice of St. Bernard, let us always have recourse to the intercession of Mary. Let us ask grace, and ask it through Mary: for what she asks she obtains, and her prayer cannot be fruitless.”48
Affections and Prayers.
My God! I hope that Thou hast already pardoned me; but my enemies will not cease to fight against me till death. Unless Thou dost assist me, I shall lose Thee again. Ah! through the merits of Jesus Christ, I ask holy perseverance. Do not permit me to be separated from Thee. And I ask the same grace for all who are at present in the state of grace. I hope, with certainty in Thy promise, that Thou wilt give me perseverance if I will continue to ask it from Thee. But I fear that in my temptations I shall neglect to have recourse to Thee, and that thus I shall relapse into sin. I therefore ask of Thee the grace never more to neglect prayer. Grant that in the occasions in which I shall be in danger of relapsing, I may recommend myself to Thee, and may invoke the aid of the most holy names of Jesus and Mary. My God! this I purpose and hope to do with the assistance of Thy grace. Hear me for the sake of Jesus Christ. O Mary, my Mother! obtain for me the grace that in all dangers of losing God, I may have recourse to thee and to thy Son.

1“Clama ad me, et exaudiam te.” – Jer. xxxiii. 3.
2“Invoca mc. . . . eruam te.” – Ps. xlix. 15.
3“Si quid petieritis me in nomine meo, hoc faciam.” – John, xiv. 14.
4“Quodcumque volueritis, petetis, et fiet vobis.” – 7ohn, xv. 7.
5“Aut dabit quod petimus, aut quod nobis noverit esse utilius.” – In Quadr. s. 5.
6“Tu, Domine, suavis et mitis et multæ misericordiæ omnibus invocantibus te.” – Ps. lxxxv. 5.
7“Si quis vestrum indiget sapientia, postulet a Deo, qui dat omnibus affluentur, et non improperat.” – James, i. 5.
8“Oratio pie Deo vim infert.” – Scala spir. gr. 28.
9“Hæc vis Deo grata est.” – Apolog. c. 39.
10“Plus vult ille dare, quam nos accipere.” – Serm. 105. E. B.
11“In quacumque die invocavero te; ecce cognovi quoniam Deus meus es.” – Ps. lv. 10.
12“Usque modo non petistis quidquam in nomine meo; petite, et accipietis, ut gaudium vestrum sit plenum.” – John, xvi. 24.
13“Deus, in adjutorium meum intende.” – Ps. lxix. 2.
14Aures principis paucis patent, Dei vero omnibus volentibus.
15“Non minus quam arbores aquis, precibus indigemus.” – De or. Deo, l. 1.
16“Omnes homines vult salvos fieri. “ – 1 Tim. ii. 4.
17“Nolens aliquos perire, sed omnes ad pœnitentiam reverti.” – 2 Peter, iii. 9.
18“Deus impossibilia non jubet; sed jubendo monet, et facere quod possis, et petere quod non possis.” – Sess. vi. c. xi.
19“Constat alia Deum dare etiam non orantibus, sicut initium fidei; alia nonnisi orantibus præparasse, sicut usque in finem perseverantiam.” – De done, pers. c. 16.
20“Fide tenendum est, orationem adultis ad salutem esse necessariam, ut colligitur ex Scripturis.” – De Just. l. 2, c. 37. d. 3.
21“Oportet semper orare.” – Luke, xviii. 1.
22“Vigilate et orate, ut non intretis in tentationem.” – Luke, xxii. 40.
23“Petite, et dabitur vobis.” – Matt. vii. 7.
24“Sine intermissione orate.” – 1 Thess. v. 17.
25“Non habetis, propter quod non postulatis.” – James, iv. 2.
26“Et ut scivi, quoniam aliter non possem esse continens, nisi Deus det . . . adii Dominum, et deprecatus sum.” – Wis. viii. 21.
27“Petitis. et non accipitis, eo quod male petatis.” – James, iv. 3.
28“Deus superbis resistit, humilibus autem dat gratiam.” – Ibid. iv. 6.
29“Oratio humiliantis se nubes penetrabit; . . . et non discedet, donec Altissimus aspiciat.” – Ecclus. xxxv. 21.
30“Cor contritum et humiliatum, Deus, non despicies.” – Ps. l. 19.
31“Nullus speravit in Domino, et confusus est.” – Ecclus. ii. 11.
32“Omnia quæcumque orantes petitis, credite quia accipietis, et evenient vobis.” – Mark, xi. 24.
33“Quis falli timeat, cum promittit Veritas?” – Conf. l. 12. c. 1.
34“Non est Deus quasi homo, ut mentiatur, nec ut filius hominis, ut mutetur. Dixit ergo, et non faciet?” – Num. xxiii. 19.
35“Promittendo, debitorem se Deus fecit.” – Serm. 110, E. B.
36“Oratio in impetrando non innititur merito, sed divinæ misericordiæ.” – 2. 2. q. 178, a. 2.
37“Omnis qui petit, accipit.” – Matt. vii. 8.
38“Omnis, sive justus, sive peccator sit.” – Hom. 18.
39“Amen, amen, dico vobis: si quid petieritis Patrem in nomine meo, dabit vobis.” – John, xvi. 23.
40“Quid infirmo sit utile, magis novit medicus quam ægrotus.” – Ap. S. Prosp. sent. 212.
41“Deus negat propitius quæ concedit iratus.” – Serm. 354, E. B.
42“Si vos, cum sitis mali, nostis bona data dare filiis vestris; quanto magis Pater vester de cœlo dabit spiritum bonum petentibus se!” – Luke, xi. 13.
43“Vult nos esse perseverantes in oratione, usque ad importunitatem.” – In Luc. xi.
44“Oportet semper orare, et non deficere.” – Luke, xviii. 1.
45“Sine intermissione orate.” – 1 Thess. v. 17.
46“Petite, et dabitur vobis; quærite, et invenietis; pulsate, et aperietur vobis.” – Luke, xi. 9.
47“Hoc Dei donum suppliciter emereri potest.” – De dono persev. c. 6.
48“Quæramus gratiam, et per Mariam quæramus; quia, quod quærit, invenit, et frustrari non potest.” – Serm. de Aquæd.


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