2. THE UTILITY AND NECESSITY OF PRAYER
1. By means of prayer we can obtain all things from God; but He does not always grant our petitions immediately.
We have Our Lord’s promise: Ask and it shall be given you (Matt. vii. 7), and again: “All things whatsoever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive” (Matt. xxi. 22). St. John Chrysostom declares that by prayer man becomes almost omnipotent. St. Augustine terms prayer the key that unlocks the treasury of the divine riches. As a man can get almost anything from his fellow-men for gold, so he can obtain almost anything from God by means of prayer. Let him therefore who is in affliction call upon God for succor. If he fail to do this, let him blame his own indolence and folly, not complain of his misery. Who would have patience with a beggar, half-starved with cold and hunger, if he would not apply for aid to a rich man who had promised to help him? The apostles prayed when the storm arose on the lake, and it was calmed. God does not always grant our petitions at once. One must knock long and loudly at the gate of this sovereign Lord, before it is opened to us. Monica prayed for her son’s conversion for eighteen years. God keeps us waiting for an answer to our prayer, both to try us, whether we are really in earnest, and also to make us value His gifts more when we do obtain them. He who is truly in earnest perseveres with more insistence than ever, the longer the answer to his prayer is delayed. So the blind man by the wayside on the road to Jericho cried out much more when Our Lord appeared to pay no heed to his cry: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” (Luke xviii. 39). “Thou dost delay, O Lord,” says St. Augustine, “to give us what we ask, that we may learn how to pray.” Sometimes God does not grant us what we implore, because He knows it would.be prejudicial, not beneficial to us.
Our prayers obtain a speedier answer if they are accompanied by fasting, almsdeeds, a promise, or if we invoke the intercession of the saints on our behalf; a petition is sooner granted if it is proffered by several persons at the same time; also if the suppliant is of the number of the just.
Fasting and almsdeeds are said to be the wings of prayer. Remember the prayer of the centurion Cornelius (Acts x.). That prayer receives a speedier answer in which several persons join. Our Lord promises: “If two of you shall consent upon earth concerning anything whatsoever they shall ask, it shall be done to them by My Father Who is in heaven” (Matt. xviii. 19). “When the Christians assemble together in large numbers to pray,” says Tertullian, “they are like a great army, which compels almighty God to grant their petition.” Wood burns more fiercely if several logs are piled together, for one kindles the other. In the time of the Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, a Christian legion was surrounded by the enemy, and the supply of water cut off. In dire distress the Christian soldiers prayed fervently for rain; and before many hours had passed, a storm came up, and there was a heavy downpour. The united prayer of the Church for St. Peter was the cause of his deliverance from prison. How great is the power of united prayer! This is why processions are held in times of calamity. The prayer of the just, moreover, obtains a speedier answer. The continual prayer of a just man availeth much (Jas. v. 16). The prayer of the prophet Elias for rain was quickly granted (3 Kings xvii.).
Oftentimes God turns a deaf ear to our petition and the reason is generally because He will not give us what would be harmful for us; or because we do not deserve that our prayer should be granted.
God acts like a wise physician who for the good of his patient will not allow him to have what would be injurious to him. If God sees that we shall employ His gifts amiss, He of His mercy with holds them from us (St. Augustine). St. Monica earnestly implored almighty God to prevent her son from going to Italy. Her prayer was not granted, because God designed that the preaching of St. Ambrose should be the means of Augustine’s conversion. St. Augustine himself at a later period exclaims: “Thou didst then deny my mother’s request, O Lord, in order to grant that which had long been her continual prayer.” God often does not grant our entreaty because we do not deserve that grace. Those who pray without devotion and without faith (Jas. i. 7), or who are in mortal sin, and will not renounce their evil ways, are unworthy of being heard (John ix. 31). Many persons do not obtain what they ask, because they do not per severe in prayer, their whole heart is not in their petition. Yet no prayer is offered in vain; if God does not give what is asked, He be stows on the suppliant something else, something better; like a parent who gives his child a rosy apple instead of the knife he is clamoring for. Even the sinner does not pray in vain, for by his prayers he earns the graces necessary for his conversion. When you pray, and your petition is not granted, do not ascribe this to unwillingness on God’s part, but to the imperfection of your prayer, or to the poor use you would perhaps make of the grace if it were bestowed on you. Act thus, and if you have prayed aright, God will give you some other gift far more worth having than that which you asked for. God is able to do all things more abundantly than we desire or understand (Eph. iii. 20).
2. By means of prayer sinners become just, and the just are enabled to continue in a state of grace.
By prayer sinners obtain forgiveness. The penitent thief said only these few words: “Lord, remember me when Thou shalt come into Thy kingdom” (Luke xxiii. 42), and immediately Our Lord pardoned him. The publican in the Temple did but strike his breast, saying: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner,” and he went down to his house justified (Luke xviii. 13). As soon as David heard Nathan’s rebuke, he exclaimed: “I have sinned against the Lord,” and the prophet immediately assured him that the Lord had taken away his sin (2 Kings xii. 13). “When a man begins to pray,” says St. Augustine, “he ceases to sin; when he ceases to pray, he begins to sin.” Mortal sin is incompatible with the habit of prayer. Prayer transforms the character; by it the blind become enlightened, the weak become strong, sinners become saints.
By prayer sinners become just, because it earns for them the graces of contrition and amendment.
By prayer we draw down upon us the Holy Spirit, we obtain actual grace. As the nearer the earth approaches the sun, the greater the light and heat she derives from it, so the nearer we draw to Christ, the Sun of justice, the more our soul will be enlightened and strengthened. We have said that the soul is enlightened by prayer; she learns to estimate more justly the majesty and goodness of God, to perceive more clearly the final end of man, the will of God, the worthlessness of earthly things and her own poverty. In the case of some saints this inward illumination manifested itself externally. The countenance of Moses shone, after he had been conversing with God on the Mount. Our Lord, while He prayed, was transfigured (Luke ix. 29). Many saints are known to have been surrounded with an aureola of glory while at prayer. By prayer we gain strength and power to endure the ills of life. Prayer is like a celestial dew; as the earth is refreshed at night by the dew from heaven, so the soul is revived and fortified by prayer. Thus we should have recourse to prayer when our work is ended and before we commence anything of importance. Our Lord when on earth often spent the night in prayer, and before His Passion He prayed long and earnestly. The man who is given to prayer will never be a coward.
Prayer enables the just to continue in a state of grace, because it is a safeguard against temptation and sin.
Prayer is an antidote to the poison of temptation. The assaults of the devil darken the understanding and weaken the will; prayer does the very opposite; it enlightens the understanding and strengthens the will. It acts upon temptation as water does on fire; it is a shield which the fiery darts of the evil one cannot pierce; it is an anchor to the tempest-tossed vessel. It banishes sadness; the Holy Ghost is a comforter, He imparts joy to the heart. Our Lord promises to refresh all who labor and are burdened, if they come to Him (Matt. xi. 28). St. James says: “Is any among you sad? let him pray” (Jas, .v. 13). During prayer, sometimes, a foretaste is given us of the joys of heaven. Prayer affords to the troubled heart such solace as a child may find, who pours out his sorrows on the breast of a compassionate father. “O taste and see,” says the Psalmist, “that the Lord is sweet” (Ps. xxxiii. 9). One day spent in prayer is better than years devoted to the pleasures and distractions of the world. By prayer the just man acquires many virtues. Pray aright, and you will live aright. Between those who are much together a certain resemblance may be perceived; thus if we are much with God, we shall become like to Him. Prayer is to the soul what the sun shine is to a plant; it makes it grow and bear fruit abundantly.
3. By prayer we obtain the remission of the temporal penalty due to sin, and merit an eternal recompense,
When .prayer ascends to heaven, the mercy of God descends; it prevents the outburst of the divine wrath (St. Augustine). By every prayer we repeat some indulgence is gained, even though one is not definitely attached to it by the Holy See. Our Lord says: “When thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber, and having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret; and thy Father, Who seeth in secret, will repay thee” (Matt. vi. 6). Prayer is a work which can not be accomplished without toil and conflict, for the spirits of evil employ all their wiles to distract those who pray, by suggesting irrelevant thoughts to their mind. Hence those who preserve their recollection in spite of the assaults of the devil, and the hindrances he casts in their way, expiate many sins and merit a reward.
4. He who never prays cannot save his soul; for without prayer he will fall into grievous sins.
A servant who never saluted or spoke to his master would not long be retained in his service. Were one to look into hell, we should see that the majority of souls have been lost through neglect; of prayer. “If Our Lord,” says St. Ambrose, “spent whole nights in prayer, what ought not we poor mortals to do to save our souls?” He who does not pray is powerless to resist in the hour of temptation; he may be compared to a warrior without weapons, a bird without wings, a ship without sails or rudder; he is a reed, driven to and fro by every blast of wind. St. John Chrysostom says one who does not pray has no life in him, he has ceased to breathe. As corn must be stored in barns, not left lying on the damp ground, or it will grow mouldy and decay, so the heart of man must not continually rest upon earthly things; it must be lifted up to God, or it will lose its purity. Hence Our Lord bids us watch and pray (Matt. xxvi. 41). All nations of the world worship some deity or other; the obligation to pray is imprinted upon the human heart.
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