PRAYER: THE CONDITIONS
1. We must pray with humility. St. James says: God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble (Jas. iv. 6). God rejects the prayers of the proud, and does not listen to them; their pride is a wall that hinders the Lord from hearing their petitions. But, on the other hand, Ecclesiasticus says that the prayer of him that humbleth himself shall pierce the clouds … and he will not depart till the Most High behold (Ecclus. xxxv. 21). The prayer of a soul that esteems itself unworthy of being heard penetrates the Heavens, and is presented at the throne of God; and it departs not till God beholds and hears the petition. When, therefore, we ask Divine graces, we must first cast a glance at our own unworthiness, particularly at the frequent infidelities into which, because we trusted too much in our own strength, we have fallen, after so many resolutions and promises. And, full of diffidence in ourselves, we should pray and implore of the Divine mercy the aid of which we stand in need.
2. It is necessary to pray with confidence. Ecclesiasticus says that no one ever trusted in the Lord and was confounded or not heard. No one hath hoped in the Lord, and hath been confounded (Ecclus. ii. 11). We should, as St. James says, pray without wavering, and with a secure confidence of being heard. Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering (James, i. 6). The Apostle adds: For he that wavereth, is like a wave of the sea, which is moved and carried about by the wind. Therefore, let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord (Ibid. 6, 7). He says that the man who prays with a want of confidence, being tossed like a wave of the sea, encouraged by one thought and disheartened by another, shall receive nothing from the Lord. We must, then, trust in the Divine mercy, and believe that if we pray we shall certainly receive the graces we ask. Our prayer will be certainly heard, and, as our Saviour assures us, the objects of our petitions will surely be granted. All things whatsoever you ask when ye pray, believe that you shall receive: and they shall come unto you (Mark xi. 24).
But, you will say, I am a sinner, I deserve chastisement, and not favours; and therefore I am afraid, because I am not worthy to be heard. But St. Thomas answers that the efficacy of prayer to obtain the Divine graces depends not on our merits, but on the mercy of God. Hence Jesus Christ has said: Ask and it shall be given you … for every one that asketh receiveth (Luke xi. 9). Every one, whether he be a just man or a sinner. But to remove every apprehension, our loving Redeemer has said: Amen, amen, I say to you, if you ask the Father anything in my name, he will give it you (Jo. xvi. 23). As if He would say: Sinners, you have no claim to be heard by My Father; but ask His grace in My Name, that is, through My merits, and I promise that He will give whatsoever you ask. How consoling the words of St. James: If any want wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men abundantly, and upbraideth not (Jas. i. 5), that is, when we ask God for His gifts, He does not reject our petition, and upbraid us with the insults we have offered to Him, but appears then to forget all our ingratitude; He accepts our homage and hears our prayer.
3. It is finally necessary to pray with perseverance. St. Hilary says that to obtain Divine grace depends on our continuance in prayer. The Lord wishes to hear some the first time, others the second, and others the third time. Hence, since we know not how often we are to present our supplications in order to be heard, we must always continue to ask the graces of which we stand in need, and particularly the gift of final perseverance, which, as the Council of Trent teaches, we cannot merit. But St. Augustine says that it may be merited in a certain manner by prayer; that is, by praying for it it is infallibly obtained. But to obtain this gift and to be saved, it is necessary, as St. Thomas observes, for every one to ask it continually of God. The Apostle says: Pray without ceasing (1 Thess. v. 17). It is not enough, says Cardinal Bellarmine, to ask the gift of perseverance once, or a few times. In order to obtain it every day, we must ask it every day. On the day we neglect to pray for it, we may fall into sin and be lost.
St. Gregory teaches that God wishes to give us perseverance, but in order to give it, He wishes to be importuned, and as it were forced by our prayers. “God,” says the holy Doctor, “wishes to be asked, He wishes to be forced; He wishes, in a certain manner, to be overcome by importunity.” This appears from the repeated exhortations of our Lord: Ask and it shall be given; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you(Luke xi. 9). Ask, seek, knock: this is necessary especially to obtain strength to conquer violent temptations; we must pray and multiply prayers until we are freed from the temptations. Let us continually repeat: My Jesus, mercy; Lord assist me; do not permit me to be separated from Thee.
It is also necessary to ask always the spirit of prayer, or the grace to pray continually — that great gift that God had promised to the family of David. And I will pour out upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace, and of prayers (Zach. xii. 10). Mark the words, of grace, and of prayers; which mean, that prayer is always united to the grace we desire. He who perseveres in prayer will always be certain to escape the snares of his enemies. A net is spread in vain before the eyes of them that have wings (Prov. i. 17). In vain, says the Wise Man, is the net cast before the eyes of the bird; for it instantly flies away and escapes the snare. Thus, they that pray escape all temptations; for by prayer they instantly fly to God, and He delivers them.
And here let us remember that there never can be any excuse for a sinner, who says that he fell because he had not strength to resist; for the Coucil of Trent has declared that “God does not command impossibilities, but by His precepts He admonishes you to do what you can, and to ask what you cannot do, and He assists you that you may be able to do it.”
The Lord then hears the prayers of all, because He has promised to hear them; but it is necessary to know that this promise does not extend to temporal favours — such as bodily health, the acquisition of wealth, or the attainment of a post of honour, and the like. For God frequently, and justly, refuses these gifts, because He knows that they would be injurious to the soul. “The physician,” says St. Augustine, “knows better than the patient what is useful for him.” If these temporal favours be the object of prayer, they should be asked with resignation, and on condition that they will be conducive to our eternal salvation; if we ask them without this resignation, the Lord will not listen to our prayers. But in praying for spiritual blessings, we must pray not conditionally, but absolutely, and with a firm confidence of obtaining them. Behold how our Saviour encourages us to ask such graces: If you, then, He says, 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 xi. 13).
O God, how often are the prayers of certain persons offered for temporal graces only! The time of prayer, says St. Teresa, is not a time for treating with God on matters of little importance. Let us ask for virtues, for Divine light in order to fulfil the Divine Will. Let us ask for meekness, for patience under crosses, for perseverance, and for Divine love, which, as St. Francis de Sales says, contains all other good gifts. Let us ask the grace to pray always, and to recommend ourselves continually to God. “If,” says St. Augustine, “Thou dost not hear these prayers of Thy servants, what wilt Thou hear?” Ah! the Lord desires ardently to enrich us with His gifts, because He is Infinite Goodness! So great is His desire that, as St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi says, when we ask His graces, He, in a certain manner, considers Himself under an obligation to us, and thanks us, because we then give Him an opportunity of satisfying His desire of promoting our welfare. If He does not bestow His graces upon us, the fault is ours; it is because we do not ask them of Him. He, then, that remains in his poverty, is undeserving of compassion: he is poor because he does not wish to ask of God the graces that are necessary for him. Hence, St. Teresa used to say, that she would have wished to ascend a mountain, from which she could be heard by all men, and from which she would continually exclaim: O men, pray! pray! pray!
I will not dilate more on this subject, because, as I have said in the beginning, I have written at length on it in several places, and particularly in the little book on Prayer, which is now in the hands of many, and therefore I will not weary those who have read it, by repeating the same things.
But I would wish to do nothing else than write, and speak always on this great means of prayer: for I see that the Scriptures, the Old as well as the New Testament, exhort us so often to pray, to ask, and cry out, if we wish for the Divine graces. Cry to me and I will hear thee (Jer. xxxiii. 3). Call on me … and I will deliver thee (Ps. xlix. 15). Ask and it shall be given you (Matt. vii. 7). All things whatsoever you ask when you pray, believe that you shall receive; and they shall come unto you (Mark xi. 24). You shall ask whatever you will, and it shall be done unto you (Jo. xv. 7). lf you shall ask me anything in my name, that I will do (Jo. xiv. 14).
There are a thousand similar passages. The holy Fathers of the Church, also, are continually exhorting us to pray. And to speak the truth, I complain of preachers, of confessors, and of spiritual writers, for I see that neither preachers, confessors, nor spiritual writers speak as much as they ought of the Great Means of Salvation — Prayer. Hence I have written at length on this subject in so many of my little works; and when I preach, I do nothing else but say: Pray! Pray, if you wish to be saved and to become saints.
Our Lord wishes us to ask, to seek, to knock — to pray and pray again and never cease to pray, that God may keep His hand over us, and never permit us to be separated from Him by sin. Let us not forget to recommend ourselves to the Divine Mother. “Let us ask for grace and let us ask it through Mary” (St. Bernard).