St. Thomas reduces to four the conditions required in prayer, in order that it may produce its effect: these are, that a man asks "(1) for himself; (2) things necessary for salvation; (3) piously; and (4) with perseverance.
St Alphonsus Ligouri on the Conditions of Prayer
Object of Prayer
"Amen, amen, I say to you, if you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it you." [John 16: 23] Jesus Christ then has promised, that whatever we ask His Father in His name, His Father will give us. But always with the understanding that we ask under the proper conditions.
Many seek, says St. James, and obtain not because they seek improperly: "Ye ask and receive not, because ye ask amiss." [James 4: 3] So St. Basil, following out the argument of the Apostle, says, "You sometimes ask and receive not, because you have asked badly; either without faith, or you have requested things not fit for you, or you have not persevered;" "faithlessly," that is, with little faith, or little confidence; "lightly," with little desire of the grace you ask; "things not fit for you, when you seek good things that will not be conducive to your salvation; or you have left off praying, without perseverance.
Hence St. Thomas reduces to four the conditions required in prayer, in order that it may produce its effect: these are, that a man asks "(1) for himself; (2) things necessary for salvation; (3) piously; and (4) with perseverance. [2. 2. q. 83, a. 15]
Can we pray efficaciously for others?
The first condition then of prayer is, that you make it "for yourself"; because St. Thomas holds, that one man cannot "ex condigno" [i.e. in the fitness of things] obtain for another eternal life; nor, consequently, even those graces which are requisite for his salvation. Since, as he says, the promise is made not to others, but only to those that pray: "He shall give to you."
Nevertheless, there are many theologians, Cornelius a Lapide, Sylvester, Tolet, Habert, and others, who hold the opposite doctrine, on the authority of St. Basil, who teaches that prayer, by virtue of God's promise, is infallibly efficacious, even for those for whom we pray, provided they put no positive impediment in the way. And they support their doctrine by Scripture: "Pray one for another, that you may be saved; for the continual prayer of the just man availeth much." [James 5: 16] "Pray for them that persecute and calumniate you." [Luke 6: 28]
And better still, on the text of St. John: "He that knoweth his brother to sin a sin which is not to death, let him ask, and life shall be given to him who sinneth and not unto death. There is a sin unto death; for that I say not that any man ask." [1 John 5: 16] St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, the Ven. Bede, and others, [Apud. Calm. in loc. cit.] explain the words "who sinneth not unto death" to mean, provided the sinner is not one who intends to remain obstinate till death; since for such a one a very extra-ordinary grace would be required. But for other sinners, who are not guilty of such malice, the Apostle promises their conversion to him who prays for them: "Let him ask, and life shall be given him for him that sinneth."
We ought to pray for sinners
Besides, it is quite certain that the prayers of others are of great use to sinners, and are very pleasing to God; and God complains of His servants who do not recommend sinners to Him, as he once complained to St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi, to whom He said one day: "See, my daughter, how the Christians are in the devil's hands; if my elect did not deliver them by their prayers they would be devoured."
But God especially requires this of priests and religious. The same Saint used to say to her nuns: "My sisters, God has not separated us from the world, that we should only do good for ourselves, but also that we should appease Him in behalf of sinners;" and God one day said to her, "I have given to you my chosen spouses the City of Refuge [i.e., the Passion of Jesus Christ], that you may have a place where you may obtain help for My creatures. Therefore have recourse to it, and thence stretch forth a helping hand to My creatures who are perishing, and lay down your lives for them."
For this reason the Saint, inflamed with holy zeal, used to offer God the Blood of the Redeemer fifty times a day in behalf of sinners, and was quite wasted away for the desire she had for their conversion. Oh, she used to say, what pain is it, O Lord, to see how one could help Thy creatures by giving one's life for them, and not be able to do so! For the rest, in every exercise she recommended sinners to God; and it is written in her life, that she scarcely passed an hour in the day without praying for them. Frequently, too, she arose in the middle of the night, and went to the Blessed Sacrament to pray for them; and yet for all this, when she was once found bathed in tears, on being asked the cause, she answered, "Because I seem to myself to do nothing for the salvation of sinners." She went so far as to offer to endure even the pains of Hell for their conversion, provided that in that place she might still love God; and often God gratified her by inflicting on her grievous pains and infirmities for the salvation of sinners. She prayed especially for priests, seeing that their good life was the occasion of salvation to others, while their bad life was the cause of ruin to many; and therefore she prayed God to visit their faults upon her, saying, "Lord, make me die and return to life again as many times as is necessary to satisfy Thy justice for them!" And it is related in her life, that the Saint, by her prayers, did indeed release many souls from the hands of Lucifer.
I wished to speak rather particularly of the zeal of this Saint; but, indeed, no souls that really love God neglect to pray for poor sinners. For how it is possible for a person who loves God, and knows what love He has for our souls, and what Jesus Christ has done and suffered for their salvation, and how our Savior desires us to pray for sinners,-----how is it possible, I say, that he should be able to look with indifference on the numbers of poor souls who are living without God, and are slaves of Hell, without being moved to importune God with frequent prayers to give light and strength to these wretched beings, so that they may come out from the miserable state of living death in which they are slumbering?
True it is that God has not promised to grant our requests, when those for whom we pray put a positive impediment in the way of their conversion; but still, God of His goodness has often deigned, at the prayer of His servants, to bring back the most blinded and obstinate sinners to a state of salvation, by means of extraordinary graces.
Therefore, let us never omit, when we say or hear Mass, when we receive Holy Communion, when we make our meditation or our visit to the Blessed Sacrament, to recommend poor sinners to God. And a learned author says, that he who prays for others will find that his prayers for himself are heard much sooner. But this is a digression. Let us now return to the examination of the other conditions that St. Thomas lays down as necessary to the efficacy of prayer.
We must ask for the graces necessary to salvation
The second condition assigned by the Saint is, that we ask those favors which are necessary to salvation; because the promise annexed to prayer was not made with reference to temporal favors, which are not necessary for the salvation of the soul.
St. Augustine, explaining the words of the Gospel, "Whatever ye shall ask in My name," says, that "nothing which is asked in a way detrimental to salvation is asked in the name of the Savior." [In Jo. tr. 102] Sometimes, says the same Father, we seek some temporal favors, and God does not hear us; but He does not hear us because He loves us, and wishes to be merciful to us. "A man may pray faithfully for the necessities of this life, and God may mercifully refuse to hear him; because the physician knows better than the patient what is good for the sick man." [Ap. s. Prosp. Sent. 212]
The physician who loves his patient will not allow him to have those things that he sees would do him harm. Oh, how many, if they had been sick or poor, would have escaped those sins which they commit in health and in affluence! And, therefore, when men ask God for health or riches, He often denies them because He loves them, knowing that these things would be to them an occasion of losing His grace, or at any rate of growing tepid in the spiritual life. Not that we mean to say that it is any defect to pray to God for the necessaries of this present life, so far as they are not inconsistent with our eternal salvation, as the Wise man said: "Give me only the necessaries of life." [Prov. 30: 8] Nor is it a defect, says St. Thomas, [2. 2. q. 83, a. 6] to have an anxiety about such goods, if it is not inordinate.
The defect consists in desiring and seeking these temporal goods, and in having an inordinate anxiety about them, as if they were our highest good. Therefore, when we ask of God these temporal favors, we ought always to ask them with resignation, and with the condition, if they will be useful to our souls; and when we see that God does not grant them, let us be certain that He then denies them to us for the love He bears us, and because He sees that they would be injurious to the salvation of our souls.
It often happens that we pray God to deliver us from some dangerous temptation, and yet that God does not hear us, but permits the temptation to continue troubling us. In such a case, let us understand that God permits even this for our greater good. It is not temptation or bad thoughts that separate us from God, but our consent to the evil.
When a soul in temptation recommends itself to God, and by His aid resists, oh, how it then advances in perfection, and unites itself more closely to God! and this is the reason why God does not hear it. St. Paul prayed instantly to be delivered from the temptation of impurity: "There was given me a sting of my flesh an angel of Satan to buffet me; for which thing thrice I besought the Lord, that it might depart from me." [2 Cor. 12: 7] But God answered him, that it was enough to have His grace: "My grace is sufficient for thee." So that even in temptations we ought to pray with resignation, saying, Lord, deliver me from this trouble, if it is expedient to deliver me; and if not, at least give me help to resist.
And here comes in what St. Bernard says, that when we beg any grace of God, He gives us either that which we ask, or some other thing more useful to us. He often leaves us to be buffeted by the waves, in order to try our faithfulness, and for our greater profit. It seems then that He is deaf to our prayers. But no; let us be sure that God then really hears us, and secretly aids us, and strengthens us by His grace to resist all the assaults of our enemies. See how He Himself assures us of this by the mouth of the psalmist: "Thou calledst upon Me in affliction, and I delivered thee: I heard thee in the secret place of tempest; I proved thee at the waters of contradiction."
[Ps. 80: 8]
Other conditions of prayer
The other conditions assigned by St. Thomas to prayer are, that it is to be made piously and perseveringly; by piously, he means with humility and confidence-----by perseveringly, continuing to pray until death. We must now speak distinctly of each of these three conditions, which are the most necessary for prayer, namely of humility, confidence, and perseverance.
The Lord does indeed regard the prayers of His servants, but only of His servants who are humble. "He hath had regard to the prayer of the humble." [Ps. 101: 18] Others He does not regard, but rejects them: "God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble." [James 4: 6] He does not hear the prayers of the proud who trust in their own strength; but for that reason leaves them to their own feebleness; and in this state deprived of God's aid, they must certainly perish. David had to bewail this case: "Before I was humbled I offended." [Ps. 118: 67] I sinned because I was not humble.
The same thing happened to St. Peter, who, though he was warned by our Lord that all the disciples would abandon Him on that night-----"All you shall be scandalized in Me this night" [Matt. 26: 31]-----nevertheless, instead of acknowledging his own weakness, and begging our Lord's aid against his unfaithfulness was too confident in his own strength, and said, that though all should abandon Him he would never leave Him: "Although all shall be scandalized in Thee, I will never be scandalized." And although our Saviour again foretold to him, in a special manner, that in that very night, before the cock-crow, he should deny Him three times; yet, trusting in his own courage, he boasted, saying, "Yea, though I should die with Thee, I will not deny Thee." But what came of it? Scarcely had the unhappy man entered the house of the high priest, when he was accused of being a disciple of Jesus Christ, and three times did he deny with an oath that he had ever known Him: "And again he denied with an oath, that I know not the Man." If Peter had humbled himself, and had asked our Lord for the grace of constancy, he would not have denied Him.
We ought all to feel that we are standing on the edge of a precipice, suspended over the abyss of all sins, and supported only by the thread of God's grace. If this thread fails us, we shall certainly fall into the gulf, and shall commit the most horrible wickedness. "Unless the Lord had been my helper, my soul had almost dwelt in Hell." [Ps. 93: 17] If God had not succoured me, I should have fallen into a thousand sins, and now I should be in Hell. So said the Psalmist, and so ought each of us to say. This is what St. Francis of Assisi meant, when he said that he was the worst sinner in the world. But, my Father, said his companion, what you say is not true; there are many in the world who are certainly worse than you are. Yes, what I say is but too true, answered St. Francis; because if God did not keep His hand over me, I should commit every possible sin.
It is of faith, that without the aid of grace we cannot do any good work, nor even think a good thought. "Without grace men do no good whatever, either in thought or in deed," says St. Augustine. [De Corr. et Gr. c. 2] As the eye cannot see without light, so, say the holy Father, man can do not good without grace. The Apostle had said the same thing before him: "Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves, as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God." [2 Cor. 3: 5] And David had said it before St. Paul: "Unless the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it." [Ps. 126: 1]
In vain does man weary himself to become a Saint, unless God lends a helping hand: "Unless the Lord keep the city, he watcheth in vain that keepeth it." If God did not preserve the soul from sins, in vain will it try to preserve itself by its own strength: and therefore did the holy prophet protest, "I will not trust in my bow." [Ps. 43: 7] I will not hope in my arms; but only in God, Who alone can save me.
Hence, whoever finds that he has done any good, and does not find that he has fallen into greater sins than those which are commonly committed, let him say with St. Paul, "By the grace of God I am what I am." [1 Cor. 15: 10] and for the same reason, he ought never to cease to be afraid of falling on every occasion of sin: "Wherefore, he that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall." [1 Cor. 10: 12] St. Paul wishes to warn us that he who feels secure of not falling, is in great danger of falling; and he assigns the reason in another place, where he says, "If any man think himself to be something, whereas he is nothing, he deceiveth himself." [Gal. 6: 3]
So that St. Augustine wrote wisely, "the presumption of stability renders many unstable; no one will be so firm as he who feels himself infirm." [Serm. 76 E.B.] If a man says he has no fear, it is a sign that he trusts in himself, and in his good resolutions; but such a man, with his mischievous confidence, deceives himself, because, through trust in his own strength, he neglects to fear; and through not fearing he neglects to recommend himself to God, and then he will certainly fall.
And so, for like reasons, we should all abstain from noticing with any vainglory the sins of other people; but rather we should then esteem ourselves as worse in ourselves than they are, and should say, Lord, if Thou hadst not helped, I should have done worse. Otherwise, to punish us for our pride, God will permit us to fall into worse and more shameful sins.
For this cause St. Paul instructs us to labour for our salvation; but how? always in fear and trembling: "With fear and trembling work out your salvation." [Phil. 2: 12] Yes; for he who has a great fear of falling, distrusts his own strength, and therefore places his confidence in God, and will have recourse to Him in dangers; and God will aid him, and so he will vanquish his temptations, and will be saved. St. Philip Neri, walking one day through Rome, kept saying, "I am in despair!" A certain religious rebuked him, and the Saint thereupon said, "My father, I am in despair for myself; but I trust in God."
So must we do, if we would be saved; we must always live in despair of doing anything by our own strength; and in so doing we shall imitate St. Philip, who used to say to God the first moment he woke in the morning, "Lord, keep Thy hands over Philip this day; for if not, Philip will betray Thee."
This, then, we may conclude with St. Augustine, is all the grand science of a Christian,-----to know that he is nothing, and can do nothing. "This is the whole of the great science, to know that man is nothing." [In Ps. 70, S. 1] For then he will never neglect to furnish himself, by prayer to God, with that strength which he has not of himself, and which he needs in order to resist temptation, and to do good; and so, with the help of God, Who never refuses anything to the man who prays to Him in humility, he will be able to do all things: "The prayer of him that humbleth himself shall pierce the clouds, and he will not depart until the Most High behold." [Ecclus. 35: 21]
The prayer of a humble soul penetrates the heavens, and presents itself before the throne of God; and departs not without God's looking on it and hearing it. And though the soul be guilty of any amount of sin, God never despises a heart that humbles itself: "A contrite and humble heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise; [Ps. 1: 19] God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble." [James 4: 6] As the Lord is severe with the proud, and resists their prayers, so is He kind and liberal to the humble. This is precisely what Jesus Christ said one day to St. Catherine of Siena: "Know, my daughter, that a soul that perseveres in humble prayer gains every virtue."
It will be of use to introduce here the advice which the learned and pious Palafox, Bishop of Osma, gives to spiritual persons who desire to become Saints. It occurs in a note to the 18th letter of St. Teresa, which she wrote to her Confessor, to give him an account of all the grades of supernatural prayer with which God had favoured her. On this the bishop writes, that these supernatural graces which God designed to grant to St. Teresa, as He has also done to other Saints, are not necessary in order to arrive at sanctity, since many souls have become Saints without them; and, on the other hand, many have arrived at sanctity, and yet have, after all, been damned. Therefore he says it is superfluous, and even presumptuous, to desire and to ask for these supernatural gifts, when the true and only way to become a Saint is, to exercise ourselves in virtue and in the love of God; and this is done by means of prayer, and by corresponding to the inspirations and assistance of God, Who wishes nothing so much as to see us Saints. "For this is the will of God, your sanctification." [1 Thess. 4: 3]
Hence Bishop Palafox, speaking of the grades of supernatural prayer mentioned in St. Teresa's letter, namely, the prayer of quiet, the sleep or suspension of the faculties, the prayer of union, ecstasy or rapture, flight and impulse of the spirit, and the wound of love, says, very wisely, that as regards the prayer of quiet, what we ought to ask of God is that He would free us from attachment to worldly goods, and the desire of them, which give no peace, but bring disquiet and affliction to the soul: "Vanity of vanities," as Solomon well called them, "and vexation of spirit." [[Eccles. 1: 14] The heart of man will never find true peace, if it does not empty itself of all that is not God, so as to leave itself all free for His love, that He alone may possess the whole of it. But this the soul cannot do of itself; it must obtain it of God by repeated prayers.
As regards "the sleep and suspension of the faculties", we ought to ask God for grace to keep them asleep for all that is temporal, and only awake them to consider God's goodness, and to set our hearts upon His love and eternal happiness.
As regards the "union of the faculties", let us pray Him to give us grace not to think, nor to seek, nor to wish anything but what God wills; since all sanctity and the perfection of love consists in uniting our will to the will of God.
As regards "ecstasy and rapture", let us pray God to draw us away from the inordinate love of ourselves and of creatures, and to draw us entirely to Himself.
As regards "the flight of the spirit", let us pray Him to give us grace to live altogether detached from this world, and to do as the swallows, that do not settle on the ground even to fee, but take their food flying;-----so should we use our temporal goods for all that is necessary for the support of life, but always flying, without settling on the ground to look for earthly pleasures.
As regards "impulse of spirit", let us pray Him to give us courage and strength to do violence to ourselves, whenever it is necessary, for resisting the assaults of our enemies, for conquering our passions, and for accepting sufferings even in the midst of desolation and dryness of spirit.
Finally, as regards "the wound of love," as a wound by its pain perpetually renews the remembrance of what we suffer, so ought we to pray God to wound our hearts with His holy love in such a way that we shall always be reminded of His goodness and the love which He has borne us; and thus we should live in continual love of Him, and should be always pleasing Him with our works and our affections. But none of these graces can be obtained without prayer; and with prayer, provided it be humble, confident, and persevering, everything is obtained.
Excellence and necessity of this virtue
The principal instruction that St. James gives us, if we wish by prayer to obtain grace from God, is, that we pray with a confidence that feels sure of being heard, and without hesitating: "Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering." [James 1: 6]
St. Thomas teaches that as prayer receives its power of meriting from charity, so, on the other hand, it receives from faith and confidence its power of being efficacious to obtain: "Prayer has its power of meriting from charity, but its efficacy of obtaining from faith and confidence." [2. 2. q. 83, a. 15] St. Bernard teaches the same, saying that it is our confidence alone which obtains for us the Divine mercies: "Hope alone obtains a place of mercy with Thee, O Lord."
God is much pleased with our confidence in his mercy, because we then honour and exalt that infinite goodness which it was his object in creating us to manifest to the world: "Let all those, O my God", says the royal prophet, who hope in Thee be glad, for they shall be eternally happy, and Thou shalt dwell in them." [Ps. 5: 12] God protects and saves all those who confide in Him: "He is the Protector of all that hope in Him." [Ps. 17: 31] "Thou who savest them that trust in Thee." [Ps. 16: 7]
Oh, the great promises that are recorded in the Scriptures to all those who hope in God! He who hopes in God will not fall into sin: "None of them that trust in Him shall offend. [Ps. 33: 23] Yes, says David, because God has His eyes turned to all those who confide in His goodness to deliver them by His aid from the death of sin. "Behold, they eyes of the Lord are on them that fear Him, and on them that hope for His mercy to deliver their souls from death," [Ps. 32: 18] And in another place God Himself says: "Because he hoped in Me I will deliver him; I will protect him; I will deliver him and I will glorify him." [Ps. 90: 14] Mark the word "because." "Because" he confided in Me, I will protect, I will deliver him from his enemies, and from the danger of falling; and finally I will give him eternal glory.
Isaias says of those who place their hope in God: "They that hope in the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall take wings as the eagles; they shall run and not be weary: they shall walk and not faint." [Is. 40: 31] They shall cease to be weak as they are now, and shall gain in God a great strength; they shall not faint; they shall not even feel weary in walking the way of salvation, but they shall run and fly as eagles; "in silence and in hope shall your strength be." [Is. 30: 15] All our strength, the prophet tells us, consists in placing all our confidence in God, and in being silent; that is, in reposing in the arms of His mercy, without trusting to our own efforts, or to human means.
And when did it ever happen that a man had confidence in God and was lost? "No one hath hoped in the Lord and hath been confounded." [Ecclus. 2: 11]
It was this confidence that assured David that he should not perish: "In Thee, O Lord, have I trusted; I shall not be confounded forever." [Ps. 30: 2] Perhaps, then, says St. Augustine, God could be a deceiver, Who offers to support us in dangers if we lean upon Him, and would then withdraw Himself if we had recourse to Him? "God is not a deceiver, that He should offer to support us, and then when we lean upon Him should slip away from us." David calls the man happy who trusts in God: "Blessed is the man that trusteth in Thee." [Ps. 83: 13] And why? Because, says he, he who trusts in God will always find himself surrounded by God's mercy. "Mercy shall encompass him that hopeth in the Lord." [Ps. 31: 10] So that he shall be surrounded and guarded by God on every side in such a way that he shall be prevented from losing his soul.
It is for this cause that the Apostle recommends us so earnestly to preserve our confidence in God; for [he tells us] it will certainly obtain from him a great remuneration: "Do not therefore lose your confidence, which hath a great reward." [Heb. 10: 35] As in our confidence, so shall be the graces we receive from God: if our confidence is great, great too will be the graces: "Great faith merits great things."
St. Bernard writes that the Divine mercy is an inexhaustible fountain, and that he who brings to it the largest vessel of confidence shall take from it the largest measure of gifts: "Neither, O Lord, dost Thou put the oil of thy mercy Into any other vessel than that of confidence." The Prophet had long before expressed the same thought: "Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us [i.e., in proportion] as we have hoped in Thee." [Ps. 32: 22] This was well exemplified in the centurion to whom our Saviour said, in praise of his confidence, "Go, and as thou hast believe, so be it done unto thee." [Matt. 8: 12] And our Lord revealed to St. Gertrude that he who prays with confidence does Him in a manner such violence that He cannot but hear him in everything he asks: "Prayer," says St. John Climacus, "does a pious violence to God." It does Him a violence, but a violence which He likes, and which pleases Him.
"Let us go, therefore, " according to the admonition of St. Paul, "with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace in seasonable aid." [Heb. 4: 16] The throne of grace is Jesus Christ, Who is now sitting on the right hand of the Father; not on the throne of justice, but of grace, to obtain pardon for us if we fall into sin, and help to enable us to persevere if we are enjoying His friendship.
To this throne we must always have recourse with confidence; that is to say, with that trust which springs from faith in the goodness and truth of God, Who has promised to hear him who prays to Him with confidence, but with a confidence that is both sure and stable.
On the other hand, says St. James, let not the man who prays with hesitation think that he will receive anything: "For he who wavereth is like a wave of the sea, which is moved and carried about by the wind. Therefore let not that man think to receive anything of the Lord." [James 1: 6] He will receive nothing, because the diffidence which agitates him is unjust towards God, and will hinder His mercy from listening to his prayers: "Thou hast not asked rightly, because thou hast asked doubtingly," says St. Basil; "thou hast not received grace, because thou hast asked it without confidence."
David says that our confidence in God ought to be as firm as a mountain, which is not moved by each gust of wind. "They who trust in the Lord are as Mount Sion; He shall not be moved forever." [Ps. 124: 1] And it is this that our Lord recommends to us, if we wish to obtain the graces which we ask: "Whatsoever you ask when you pray, believe that you shall receive, and they shall come unto you." [Mark 11: 24] Whatever grace you require, be sure of having it, and so you shall obtain it.
Foundation of our confidence
But on what, a man will say, am I, a miserable sinner, to found this certain confidence of obtaining what I ask? On what? On the promise made by Jesus Christ: "Ask, and you shall receive." [John 16: 24] "Who will fear to be deceived, when the truth promises?" says St. Augustine. How can we doubt that we shall be heard, when God, Who is truth itself, promises to give us that which we ask of Him in prayer? "We should not be exhorted to ask," says the same Father, "unless He meant to give."
Certainly God would not have exhorted us to ask Him for favours, if He had not determined to grant them; but this is the very thing to which He exhorts us so strongly, and which is repeated so often in the Scriptures-----pray, ask, seek, and you shall obtain what you desire: "Whatever you will, seek and it shall be done to you." [John 15: 7] And in order that we may pray to Him with due confidence, our Saviour has taught us, in the "Our Father," that when we have recourse to Him for the graces necessary to salvation [all of which are included in the petitions of the Lord's Prayer] we should call Him, not Lord, but Father-----"Our Father"-----because it is His will that we should ask God for grace with the same confidence with which a son, when in want or sick, asks food or medicine from his own father.
If a son is dying of hunger, he has only to make his case known to his father, and his father will forthwith provide him with food; and if he has received a bite from a venomous serpent, he has only to show his father the wound, and the father will immediately apply whatever remedy he has.
Trusting, therefore, in God's promises, let us always pray with confidence; not vacillating, but stable and firm, as the Apostle says: "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering; for He is faithful that hath promised." [Heb. 10: 23] As it is perfectly certain that God is faithful in His promises, so ought our faith also to be perfectly certain that He will hear us when we pray. And although sometimes, when we are in a state of aridity, or disturbed by some fault we have committed, we perhaps do not feel while praying that sensible confidence which we would wish to experience, yet, for all this, let us force ourselves to pray, and to pray without ceasing; for God will not neglect to hear us. Nay, rather He will hear us more readily; because we shall then pray with more distrust of ourselves; and confiding only in the goodness and faithfulness of God, Who has promised to hear the man who prays to Him. Oh, how God is pleased in the time of our tribulations, of our fears, and of our temptations, to see us hope against hope; that is, in spite of the feeling of diffidence which we then experience because of our desolation! This is that for which the Apostle praises the patriarch Abraham, "who against hope, believed in hope." [Rom. 4: 18]
St. John says that he who reposes a sure trust in God certainly will become a Saint: "And every one that hath this hope in Him sanctifieth himself, as he also is holy." [1 John 3: 3] For God gives abundant graces to them that trust in Him. By this confidence the host of Martyrs, of Virgins, even of children, in spite of the dread of the torments which their persecutors prepared for them, overcame both their tortures and their persecutors. Sometimes, I say, we pray, but it seems to us that God will not hear us. Alas!
Let us not then neglect to persevere in prayer and in hope; let us then say, with Job, "Although He should kill me, I will trust in Him." [Job 13: 15] O my God! Though Thou hast driven me from Thy presence, I will not cease to pray, and to hope in Thy mercy. Let us do so, and we shall obtain what we want from God. So did the Canaanite woman, and she obtained all that she wished from Jesus Christ. This woman had a daughter possessed by a devil, and prayed our Saviour to deliver her: "Have mercy on me, my daughter is grievously tormented by a devil." [Matt. 15: 22] Our Lord answered her, that He was not sent for the Gentiles, of whom she was one, but for the Jews. She, however, did not lose heart, but renewed her prayer with confidence: Lord, Thou canst console me! Thou must console me: "Lord, help me!" Jesus answered, but as to the bread of the children, it is not good to give it to the dogs: "It is not good to take the children's bread, and to cast it to the dogs." But, my Lord, she answered, even the dogs are allowed to have the fragments of bread which fall from the table: "Yea, Lord; for the whelps eat of the crumbs that fall from the tables of their masters."
Then our Saviour, seeing the great confidence of this woman, praised her, and did what she asked, saying: "O woman, great is thy faith; be it done to thee as thou wilt." For who, says Ecclesiasticus, has ever called on God for aid, and has been neglected and left unaided by Him? "Or who hath called upon Him, and He hath despised him?" [Ecclus. 2: 12]
St. Augustine says that prayer is a key which opens Heaven to us; the same moment in which our prayer ascends to God, the grace which we ask for descends to us: "The prayer of the just is the key of Heaven; the petition ascends, and the mercy of God descends." [Serm. 47. E.B. app.] The royal prophet writes that our supplications and God's mercy are united together: "Blessed is God, Who has not turned away my prayer, nor His mercy for me." [Ps. 65: 20] And hence the same St. Augustine says that when we are praying to God, we ought to be certain that God is hearing us: "When you see that your prayer is not removed from you, be sure that His mercy is not removed from you." [In Ps. 65]
And for myself, I speak the truth, I never feel greater consolation, nor a greater confidence of my salvation, than when I am praying to God, and recommending myself to Him. And I think that the same thing happens to all other believers; for the other signs of our salvation are uncertain and unstable; but that God hears the man who prays to Him with confidence is an infallible truth, as it is infallible that God cannot fail in His promises.
When we find ourselves weak, and unable to overcome any passion, or any great difficulty, so as to fulfill that which God requires of us, let us take courage and say, with the Apostle, "I can do all things in Him, Who strengtheneth me." [Phil. 4: 13] Let us not say, as some do, I cannot; I distrust myself. With our own strength certainly we can do nothing; but with God's help we can do everything. If God said to anyone, take this mountain on your back and carry it, for I am helping you, would not the man be a mistrustful fool if he answered, I will not take it; for I have not strength to carry it? And thus, when we know how miserable and weak we are, and when we find ourselves most encompassed with temptations, let us not lose heart; but let us lift up our eyes to God; and say, with David, "The Lord is my helper; and I will despise my enemies." [Ps. 117: 7]
With the help of my Lord, I shall overcome and laugh to scorn all the assaults of my foes, And when we find ourselves in danger of offending God, or in any other critical position, and are too confused to know what is best to be done, let us recommend ourselves to God, saying, "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?" [Ps. 26: 1] And let us be sure that God will then certainly give us light, and will save us from every evil.
The prayer of sinners
But I am a sinner, you will say; and in the Scriptures, I read, "God heareth not sinners." [John 9: 31] St. Thomas answers [with St. Augustine] that this was said by the blind man, who, when he spoke, had not as yet been enlightened: "That is the word of a blind man not yet perfectly enlightened, and therefore it is not authoritative." [2. 2. q. 83, a. 16] Though, adds St. Thomas, it is true of the petition which the sinner makes, "so far forth as he is a sinner;" that is, when he asks from a desire of continuing to sin; as, for instance, if he were to ask assistance to enable him to take revenge on his enemy, or to execute any other bad intention. The same holds good for the sinner who prays God to save him, but has no desire to quit the state of sin.
There are some unhappy persons who love the chains with which the devil keeps them bound like slaves. The prayers of such men are not heard by God; because they are rash, presumptuous, and abominable. For what greater presumption can there be than for a man to ask favors of a prince whom he not only has often offended but whom he intends to offend still more? And this is the meaning of the Holy Spirit when he says that the prayer of him who turns away his ears so as not to hear what God commands is detestable and odious to God: "He who turneth away his ears from learning the law, his prayer shall be an abomination." [Prov. 28: 9]
To these people God says, it is of no use your praying to Me, for I will turn My eyes from you, and will not hear you: "When you stretch forth your hands, I will turn away My eyes from you; and when you multiply prayer, I will not hear." [Is. 1: 15] Such, precisely, was the prayer of the impious King Antiochus, who prayed to God, and made great promises, but insincerely, and with a heart obstinate in sin; the sole object of his prayer being to escape the punishment that impended over him; therefore God did not hear his prayer, but caused him to die devoured by worms: "Then this wicked man prayed to the Lord, of Whom he was not to obtain mercy." [1 Mach. 1: 13]
But others, who sin through frailty, or by the violence of some great passion, and who groan under the yoke of the enemy, and desire to break these chains of death, and to escape from their miserable slavery, and therefore ask the assistance of God; the prayer of these, if it is persevering, will certainly be heard by Him, Who says that every one that asks receives; and he who seeks grace finds it: "For every one that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth." [Matt. 7: 8] "Everyone, whether he be a just man or a sinner," says the author of the Opus Imperfectum.
And in St. Luke, our Lord, when speaking of the man who gave all the loaves he had to his friend, not so much on account of his friendship as because of the other's importunity, says, "If he shall continue knocking, I say to you, although he will not rise and give him because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth." [Luke 11: 8] "And so I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given to you." So that persevering prayer obtains mercy from God, even for those who are not His friends.
That which is not obtained through friendship, says St. Chrysostom, is obtained by prayer: "That which was not effected by friendship was effected by prayer." He even says that prayer is valued more by God than friendship: "Friendship is not of such avail with God as prayer; that which is not effected by friendship is effected by prayer. And St. Basil doubts not that even sinners obtain what they ask if they persevere in praying: "Sinners obtain what they seek if they seek perseveringly." St. Gregory says the same: "The sinner also shall cry, and his prayer shall reach to God." So St. Jerome, who says that even the sinner can call God his Father, if he prays to Him to receive him anew as a son; after the example of the Prodigal Son, who called Him Father, "Father, I have sinned," [Luke 15: 21] even though he had not as yet been pardoned.
If God did not hear sinners, says St. Augustine, in vain would the Publican have asked for forgiveness: "If God does not hear sinners, in vain would that Publican have said, God be merciful to me a sinner." But the Gospel assures us that the Publican did by his prayer obtain forgiveness: "This man went down to his house justified." [Luke 18: 14]
But further still, St. Thomas examines this point more minutely, and does not hesitate to affirm that even the sinner is heard if he prays; for though his prayer is not meritorious, yet it has the power of impetration,-----that is, of obtaining what we ask; because impetration is not founded on God's justice, but on His goodness. "Merit," he says, "depends on justice; impetration, on grace." [2. 2. q. 83, a. 16] Thus did Daniel pray, "Incline, O my God, thine ear and hear . . . For not in our justifications do we present our prayers before Thy face, but in the multitude of Thy mercies." [Dan. 9: 18] Therefore, when we pray, says St. Thomas, it is not necessary to be friends of God, in order to obtain the grace we ask; for prayer itself renders us His friends: "Prayer itself makes us of the family of God."
Moreover, St. Bernard uses a beautiful explanation of this, saying that the prayer of a sinner to escape from sin arises from the desire to return to the grace of God. Now this desire is a gift, which is certainly given by no other than God Himself; to what end, therefore, says St. Bernard, would God give to a sinner this holy desire unless He meant to hear him? "For what would He give the desire, unless He willed to hear?" And, indeed, in the Holy Scriptures themselves, there are multitudes of instances of sinners who have been delivered from sin by prayer. Thus was King Achab [3 Kings 21: 27] delivered; thus King Manasses; [2 Par. 33: 12] thus King Nabuchodonosor; [Dan. 4: 31] and thus the good thief. [Luke 23: 42] Oh, the wonderful! oh, the mighty power of prayer! Two sinners are dying on Calvary by the side of Jesus Christ: one, because he prays, "Remember me," is saved; the other, because he prays not, is damned.
And, in fine, St. Chrysostom says, "No man has with sorrow ask favorsrs from Him, without obtaining what he wished." No sinner has ever with penitence prayed to God, without having his desires granted. But why should we cite more authorities, and give more reasons, to demonstrate this point, when Our Lord Himself says, "Come to me, all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you." [Matt. 11: 28] The "burdened," according to Saints Augustine, Jerome, and others, are sinners in general, who groan under the load of their sins; and who, if they have recourse to God, will surely, according to His promise, be refreshed and saved by His grace.
Ah, we cannot desire to be pardoned as much as He longs to pardon us. "Thou dost not," says St. Chrysostom, "so much desire thy sins to be forgiven, as He desires to forgive thy sins." There is no grace, he goes on to say, that is not obtained by prayer, though it be the prayer of the most abandoned sinner, provided only it be persevering: "There is nothing which prayer cannot obtain, though a man be guilty of a thousand sins, provided it be fervent and unremitting." And let us mark well the words of St. James: "If any man wanteth wisdom, let him ask of God, Who giveth to all abundantly, and upbraideth not." [James 1: 5] All those, therefore, who pray to God, are infallibly heard by Him, and receive grace in abundance: "He giveth to all abundantly." But you should particularly remark the words which follow, and "upbraideth not." This means that God does not do as men, who, when a person who has formerly done them an injury comes to ask a favour, immediately upbraid him with his offence. God does not do so to the man who prays, even though he were the greatest sinner in the world, when he asks for some grace conducive to his eternal salvation. Then He does not upbraid him with the offences he has committed; but, as though he had never displeased Him, He instantly receives him, He consoles him, He hears him, and enriches him with an abundance of His gifts.
To crown all, our Saviour, in order to encourage us to pray, says "Amen, amen, I say to you, if you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it you." [John 16: 23] As though He had said, Courage, O sinners; do not despair: do not let your sins turn away from having recourse to My Father, and from hoping to be saved by Him, if you desire it. You have not now any merits to obtain the graces which you ask for, for you only deserve to be punished; still do this: go to My Father in My name, through My merits ask the favours which you want, and I promise and swear to you ["Amen, amen, I say to you," which, according to St. Augustine, is a species of oath] that whatever you ask, My Father will grant. O God, what greater comfort can a sinner have after his fall than to know for certain that all he asks from God in the name of Jesus Christ will be given to him!
I say "all" but I mean only that which has reference to his eternal salvation; for with respect to temporal goods, we have already shown that God even when asked, sometimes does not give them; because He sees that they would injure our soul. But so far as relates to spiritual goods, His promise to hear us is not conditional, but absolute; and therefore St. Augustine tells us, that those things which God promises absolutely, we should demand with absolute certainty of receiving: "Those things which God promises, seek with certainty." [Serm 354, E.B.] And how, says the Saint, can God ever deny us His graces, than we to receive them! "He is more willing to be munificent of His benefits to thee than thou art desirous to receive them." [Serm 105, E.B.]
St. Chrysostom says that the only time when God is angry with us is when we neglect to ask Him for his gifts: "He is only angry when we do not pray." And how can it ever happen that God will not hear a soul who asks Him for favours all according to His pleasure? When the soul says to Him, Lord, I ask Thee not for goods of this world,-----riches, pleasures, honours; I ask Thee only for Thy grace: deliver me from sin, grant me a good death, give me Paradise, give me Thy holy love [which is that grace which St. Francis de Sales says we should seek more than all others], give me resignation to Thy will; how is it possible that God should not hear! What petitions wilt Thou, O my God, ever hear [says St. Augustine], if Thou dost not hear those which are made after Thy Own heart? "What prayers dost Thou hear, if Thou hearest not these?" [De Civ. Dei, 1, 22 c. 8]
But, above all, our confidence ought to revive, when we pray to God for spiritual graces, as Jesus Christ says: "If 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!" [Luke 11: 15] If you, who are so attached to your own interests, so full of self-love, cannot refuse your children that which they ask, how much more will your Heavenly Father, Who loves you better than any earthly father, grant you His spiritual goods when you pray for them!
Our prayers, then, must be humble and confident; but this is not enough to obtain final perseverance, and thereby eternal life. Individual prayers will obtain the individual graces which they ask of God; but unless they are persevering, they will not obtain final perseverance: which, as it is the accumulation of many graces, requires many prayers, that are not to cease till death. The grace of salvation is not a single grace, but a chain of graces, all of which are at last linked with the grace of final perseverance. Now, to this chain of graces there ought to correspond another chain [as it were] of our prayers; if we, by neglecting to pray, break the chain of our prayers, the chain of graces will be broken too; and as it is by this that we have to obtain salvation, we shall not be saved.
It is true that we cannot merit final perseverance, as the Council of Trent teaches: "It cannot be had from any other source but from Him Who is able to confirm the man who is standing, that he may stand with perseverance." [Sess. 6, c. 13] Nevertheless, says St. Augustine, this great gift of perseverance can in a manner be merited by our prayers; that is, can be obtained by praying: "This gift, therefore, can be suppliantly merited; that is, can be obtained by supplication." And F. Suarez adds, that the man who prays, infallibly obtains it. But to obtain it, and to save ourselves, says St. Thomas, a persevering and continual prayer is necessary:
"After Baptism continual prayer is necessary to a man in order that he may enter Heaven." [P. 3, q. 39, a. 5] And before this, our Saviour Himself had said it over and over again: "We ought always to pray, and not to faint." [Luke 18: 1] "Watch ye therefore, praying at all times, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that are to come, and to stand before the Son of man." [Luke 21: 36]
The same had been previously said in the Old Testament: "Let nothing hinder thee from praying always." [Ecclus. 18: 22] "Bless God at all times, and desire Him to direct thy ways." [Job 4: 20] Hence the Apostle inculcated on his disciples never to neglect prayer: "Pray without intermission." [1 Thess. 5: 17] "Be instant in prayer, watching in it with thanksgiving." [Col. 4: 12] "I will therefore that men pray in every place." [1 Tim. 2, 8] God does indeed wish to give us perseverance, says St. Nilus, but He will only give it to him who prays for it perseveringly: "He willeth to confer benefits on him who perseveres in prayer." Many sinners by the help of God's grace come to be converted, and to receive pardon. But then, because they neglect to ask for perseverance, they fall again, and lose all.
Nor is it enough, says Bellarmine, to ask the grace of perseverance once, or a few times; we ought always to ask it, every day till our death, if we wish to obtain it: "It must be asked day by day, that it may be obtained day by day." He who asks it one day, obtains it for that one day; but if he does not ask it the next day, the next day he will fall.
And this is the lesson which our Lord wished to teach us in the parable of the man who would not give his loaves to his friend who asked him for them until he had become importunate in his demand: "Although he will not rise and give because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity, he will rise and give him as many as he needeth." [Luke 11: 8] Now if this man, solely to deliver himself from the troublesome importunity of his friend, gave him even against his own will the loaves for which he asked, "how much more," says St. Augustine, "will the good God give, who both commands us to ask, and is angry if we ask not!" [Serm. 61, E.B.] How much more will God, Who, as He is infinite goodness, has a commensurate desire to communicate to us His good things,-----how much more will He give His graces when we ask Him for them! And the more, as He Himself tells us to ask for them, and as He is displeased when we do not demand them. God, then, does indeed wish to give us eternal life, and therein all graces; but He wishes also that we should never omit to ask Him for them, even to the extent of being troublesome.
Cornelius a Lapide says on the text just quoted, "God wishes us to be persevering in prayer to the extent of importunity." Men of the world cannot bear the importunate; but God not only bears with them, but wishes us to be importunate in praying to Him for graces, and especially for perseverance. St. Gregory says that God wishes us to do Him violence by our prayers; for such violence does not annoy, but pleases Him: "God wills to be called upon, He wills to be forced, He wills to be conquered by importunity. . . . Happy violence, by which God is not offended, but appeased!"
So that to obtain perseverance we must always recommend ourselves to God morning and night, at meditation, at Mass, at Communion, and always; especially in time of temptation, when we must keep repeating, Lord help me; Lord, assist me; keep Thy hand upon me; leave me not; have pity upon me! Is there anything easier than to say, Lord, help me, assist me! The Psalmist says, "With me is prayer to the God of my life." [Ps. 41: 9]
On which the gloss is as follows: "A man may say, I cannot fast, I cannot give alms; but if he is told to pray, he cannot say this." Because there is nothing easier than to pray. But we must never cease praying; we must [so to speak] continually do violence to God, that He may assist us always-----a violence which is delightful and dear to Him. "This violence is grateful to God," says Teliulllan; and St. Jerome says that the more persevering and importunate our prayers are, so much the more are they acceptable to God: "Prayer, as long as it is importunate, is more acceptable."
"Blessed is the man that heareth Me, and that watcheth daily at My gates." [Prov. 8: 34] Happy is that man, says God, who listens to Me, and watches continually with holy prayers at the gates of My mercy. And Isaias says, "Blessed are all they that wait for Him." [Is. 30: 18] Blessed are they who till the end wait [in prayer] for their salvation from God. Therefore in the Gospel Jesus Christ exhorts us to pray; but how? "Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you." [Luke 11: 9] Would it not have been enough to have said, "ask?" why add "seek" and "knock?" No, it was not superfluous to add them; for thereby our Saviour wished us to understand that we ought to do as the poor who go begging. If they do not receive the alms they ask [I speak of licensed beggars], they do not cease asking: they return to ask again: and if the master of the house does not show himself anymore, they set to work to knock at the door, till they become very importunate and troublesome.
That is what God wishes us to do: to pray, and to pray again, and never leave off praying, that He would assist us and succor us, that He would enlighten us and strengthen us, and never allow us to forfeit His grace. The learned Lessius says that the man cannot be excused from mortal sin who does not pray when he is in sin, or in danger of death; or, again, if he neglects to pray for any notable time, as [he says] for one or two months. But this does not include the time of temptations; because whoever finds himself assailed by any grievous temptation, without doubt sins mortally if he does not have recourse to God in prayer, to ask for assistance to resist it; seeing that otherwise he places himself in a proximate, nay, in a certain, occasion of sin.
Why God delays granting us final perseverance. Conclusion
But, some one will say, since God can give and wishes to give me the grace of perseverance, why does He not give it me all at once, when I ask Him?
The holy Fathers assign many reasons:
1. God does not grant it at once, but delays it, first, that He may better prove our confidence.
2. And, further, says St. Augustine, that we may long for it more vehemently. Great gifts, he says, should be greatly desired; for good things soon obtained are not held in the same estimation as those which have been long looked for: "God wills not to give quickly, that you may learn to have great desire for great things; things long desired are pleasanter to obtain, but things "Soon given are cheapened." [Serm. 61, E.B.]
3. Again, the Lord does so that we may not forget Him; if we were already secure of persevering and of being saved, and if we had not continual need of God's help to preserve us in His grace and to save us, we should soon forget God. Want makes the poor keep resorting to the houses of the rich; so God, to draw us to Himself, as St. Chrysostom says, and to see us often at His feet, in order that He may thus be able to do us greater good, delays giving us the complete grace of salvation till the hour of our death: "It is not because He rejects our prayers that He delays, but by this contrivance He wishes to make us careful, and to draw us to Himself." Again, He does so in order that we, by persevering in prayer, may unite ourselves closer to Him with the sweet bonds of love: "Prayer," says the same St. Chrysostom, "which is accustomed to converse with God, is no slight bond of love to Him." This continual recurrence to God in prayer, and this confident expectation of the graces which we desire from Him, oh, what a great spur and chain is it of love to inflame us, and to bind us more closely to God!
But, till what time have we to pray! Always, says the same Saint, till we receive favorable sentence of eternal life; that is to say, till our death: "Do not leave off till you receive." And he goes on to say that the man who resolves, I will never leave off praying till I am saved, will most certainly be saved: "If you say, I will not give in till I have received, you will assuredly receive." The Apostle writes that many run for the prize, but that he only receives it who runs till he wins: "Know you not that they who run in the race, all run indeed, but one receiveth the prize? So run that you may obtain." [1 Cor. 9: 24] It is not, then, enough for salvation simply to pray; but we must pray always, that we may come to receive the crown which God promises, but promises only to those who are constant in prayer till the end.
So that if we wish to be saved, we must do as David did, who always kept his eyes turned to God, to implore His aid against being overcome by his enemies: "My eyes are ever towards the Lord, for He shall pluck my feet out of the snare." [Ps. 24: 15] As the devil does not cease continually spreading snares to swallow us up, as St. Peter writes: "Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about, seeking whom he may devour;" [1 Peter 5] so ought we ever to stand with our arms in our hands to defend ourselves from such a foe, and to say, with the royal prophet, "I will pursue after my enemies, and I will not turn again till they are consumed." [Ps. 17: 38] I will never cease fighting till I see my enemies conquered.
But how can we obtain this victory, so important for us, and so difficult? "By most persevering prayers," says St. Augustine,-----only by prayers, and those most persevering; and till when? As long as the fight shall last. "As the battle is never over," says St. Bonaventure, "so let us never give over asking for mercy." As we must be always in the combat, so should we be always asking God for aid not to be overcome. Woe, says the Wise Man, to him who in this battle leaves off praying: "Woe to them that have lost patience." [Ecclus 2: 16] We may be saved, the Apostle tells us, but on this condition, "if we retain a firm confidence and the glory of hope until the end;" [Heb. 3: 6] if we are constant in praying with confidence until death.
Let us, then, take courage from the mercy of God, and His promises, and say with the same Apostle, "Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or danger or persecution, or the sword?" [Rom. 8: 35, 37] Who shall succeed in estranging us from the love of Jesus Christ? Tribulation, perhaps, or the danger of losing the goods of this world? The persecutions of devils or men? The torments inflicted by tyrants? "In all these we overcome" [it is St. Paul who encourages us], "because of Him that hath loved us." [Ibid.] No, he says, no tribulation, no misery, danger, persecution, or torture, shall ever be able to separate us from the love of Jesus Christ; because with God's help we shall overcome all, if we fight for love of Him who gave his life for us.
F. Hippolitus Durazzo, the day when he resolved to relinquish his dignity of prelate at Rome, and to give himself entirely to God by entering the Society of Jesus [which he afterward did], was so afraid of being faithless by reason of his weakness that he said to God, "Forsake me not, Lord, now that I have given myself wholly to Thee; for pity's sake, do not forsake me!" But he heard the whisper of God in his heart, "Do not thou forsake Me; rather," said God, "do I say to thee, Forsake Me not." And so, at last, the servant of God, trusting in His goodness and help, concluded, "Then, O my God, Thou wilt not leave me, and I will not leave Thee."
Finally, if we wish not to be forsaken by God, we ought never to forsake praying to Him not to leave us. If we do thus, He will certainly always assist us, and will never allow us to perish, and to be separated from His love. And to this end let us not only take care always to ask for final perseverance, and the graces necessary to obtain it, but let us, at the same time, always by anticipation ask God for grace to go on praying; for this is precisely that great gift which He promised to His elect by the mouth of the prophet: "And I will pour out upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and prayers." [Zach. 12: 10]
Oh, what a great grace is the spirit of prayer; that is, the grace which God confers on a soul to enable it to pray always! Let us, then, never neglect to beg God to give us this grace, and this spirit of continual prayer; because if we pray always, we shall certainly obtain from God perseverance and every other gift which we desire, since His promise of hearing whoever prays to Him cannot fail. "For we are saved by hope." [Rom. 8: 24] With this hope of always praying, we may reckon ourselves saved. "Confidence will give us a broad entrance into this city." This hope, said Venerable Bede, will give us a safe passage into the city of Paradise.