PRAYER: ITS NECESSITY AND ITS EFFICACY
We must all be persuaded that we cannot perform any good action without the actual graces of God. But the Lord declares that these graces He gives only to those who ask them of Him: Ask and it shall be given you (Matt. vii. 7). He, then, says St. Teresa, who does not ask, will not receive.
For adults, prayer is necessary, as a matter of strict precept. We ought, says Jesus Christ, always to pray (Luke xviii. 1). Pray that you enter not into temptation (Mark xiv. 38). Ask, and you shall receive (Jo. xvi. 24). The words, we ought, pray, ask, according to St. Thomas, and the generality of Theologians, imply a strict precept that binds under pain of grievous sin. “Every man,” says the angelic Doctor, “is bound to pray, because he is bound to procure spiritual goods, which cannot be obtained unless they are asked.” A person is obliged to pray, particularly in three cases: when he finds himself in the state of sin; when he is in danger of death; when he is assailed by any violent temptation.
Prayer is necessary, not only as a matter of strict precept, but, according to St. Basil, St. Augustine, and others, it is also necessary as a means of salvation, without which it is absolutely impossible for us to preserve ourselves in the grace of God, and to be saved. “It is simply impossible,” says St. John Chrysostom, “without the aid of prayer, to lead a virtuous life.”
The angelic Doctor teaches that “after Baptism continual prayer is necessary for a man, in order to enter Heaven.” Because, adds the Saint, though sins are cancelled by Baptism, we still have temptations to conquer, which we shall not have strength to overcome without prayer. Hence he says in another place: “After a person is justified by grace, he requires to ask of God the gift of perseverance, that he may be preserved from evil to the end of life.”
To understand the reason of this doctrine, it is necessary to know, first, that without special aid from God we cannot continue for a long time in His grace without falling into mortal sin. For we have so many enemies that continually combat against us, and we are at the same time so weak, that if God does not assist us with special helps, or if He gives us only the common graces given to all, we shall not have strength to resist. This is even a Dogma of Faith defined by the Council of Trent in the following words: “If any one shall say that a person who has been justified can, without special aid from God, persevere in the justice which he has received, or cannot persevere with such aid, let him be anathema.” It is necessary to know also, that this special aid to persevere in grace is given, at least ordinarily speaking, only to those who ask it. “It is evident,” says St. Augustine, “that God gives, even to those who do not pray, some gifts, such as the beginning of Faith; and that He prepares other graces, such as perseverance to the end, only for those who ask them,”
From all that has been said we must conclude that prayer is strictly necessary for the attainment of salvation. All the reprobate have been damned in consequence of their neglect of prayer; had they prayed they would not have been lost; and the Saints have become Saints by prayer; had they neglected prayer they would not have become Saints, and could not have been saved. We must be persuaded, as St. John Chrysostom says that to neglect prayer, and to lose the life of the soul or the grace of God, are one and the same thing. Lord assist me, and hasten to my aid, for if Thou delay Thy assistance, I shall fall, and lose Thy grace. If we pray, then, we shall be certainly saved; if we neglect to pray, we shall be certainly lost.
Consider the efficacy of holy Prayer. “Prayer, though, one can do all things,” says Theodoret. He who prays obtains whatsover he wishes. And in this it appears to me that God displays the immense love He bears us, and His ardent desire to promote our welfare. What greater love can a person show to a friend than to say to him; Friend, ask what you wish from me, and I will grant your petition. This God says to each of us: Ask, and it shall be given you (Luke xi. 9). He makes no exception: You shall ask whatever you will, and it shall be done unto you (Jo. xv. 7). He tells us to ask whatsoever we desire, and promises that our prayer shall be heard. St. John Climacus asserts that prayer is so powerful before God, that it, as it; were, constrains Him to give us all the graces we ask. Devout prayer does violence to God. We are, as David says, poor mendicants: But I am a beggar and poor (Ps. xxxix. 18). But to be rich depends on ourselves: let us ask graces of God, and they will be given us: let us ask them frequently, and they will be poured out upon us abundantly. David blessed the Lord in a special manner for His goodness in always uniting His mercy to our prayers. Blessed be God who hath not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from Me (Ps. lxv. 20). St. Augustine explains this passage in these words: “When you see that your prayer has not been turned away, be assured that the mercy of God is not turned away from you.” When you see that you pray, be certain that the Divine mercy will not fail to assist you. And St. John Chrysostom says that when we pray, the Lord hears us before the conclusion of our prayer. For this we have even God’s own promise: As they are yet speaking I will hear (Is. lxv. 24).