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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