1. As a matter of fact we ought to pray continually, for Our Lord requires of us “always to pray and not to faint” (Luke xviii. i).
The Apostle bids us: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. v. 17). We may approach God at any moment; there is no sentry before His door to turn us back; we have but to call upon Him by His name of Father, and His ear is open to us at once. “He who seeks God,” says St. Alphonsus, “will find Him at all times and in every place.” If our heart is continually raised to Him in prayer, we shall be like the angels who continually behold His countenance. If we are unceasing in prayer, we shall obtain our requests from God without difficulty, and we shall be preserved from many temptations. Our Lord says: “Watch ye and pray, that ye enter not into temptation,” (Matt. xxvi. 41). The habit of constant prayer may be compared to a ram part against the malign foe; to a breastplate from which his arrows rebound; to a harbor, in which the rough waves cannot reach us. We are liable at any moment to the assaults of the devil, wherefore let us ever be ready, armed with prayer, as those who are exposed to the danger of fire always have water at hand in case a conflagration should break out. By continuing in prayer, we shall have a surer hope of maintaining ourselves in the grace of God until our life’s end.
It is, however, by no means required of us, nay, it would be impossible for us to remain constantly upon our knees; what we are to do is to pray while we work.
Martha’s vocation, that of active work for one’s neighbor, ought to be united to Mary’s vocation, that of contemplation and prayer. St. Bernard says Martha’s employment was good, Mary’s was better, but a combination of the two is best of all. Christ, Who is in all things our Model, united a life of activity to a life of prayer. While we are in this world, work must oft-times be our prayer; hereafter, when there is no more occasion for work, the contemplation of the divine majesty will be our only occupation. He who gives up work for the sake of prayer, deserves not, according to the dictum of the Apostle, to have bread to eat (2 Thess. iii. 10).
While engaged in our work we can utter ejaculatory prayers, and we ought on commencing our work to direct our intention so as to do all to the glory of God.
St. Teresa had in her cell a picture of Our Lord at Jacob’s well; when her eyes fell upon it she said: “Lord, give me that living water.” St. Ignatius frequently exclaimed: “All for the greater glory of God.” Let us accustom ourselves to say from time to time: “Lord, remember me in Thy kingdom.” He who raises his heart to God ever and anon by ejaculatory prayers, will keep calm and recollected amid the turmoil and distractions of life, for ejaculations are no weak weapons of defence; their brevity, too, enables them to be said with greater fervor than longer prayers. St. Francis of Sales recommends the frequent and fervent repetition of the same ejaculation. Our Lord on the Mount of Olives prayed using the same words. St. Francis of Assisi spent the whole night repeating the words: “My God and my all.” St. Paul bids us: “Whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. x. 31). It is well to direct one’s intention in the morning, and renew it before every undertaking of any importance.
We should do well to employ our leisure time in prayer.
Blessed Clement Hofbauer answered a man who complained that his time hung heavy on his hands, with the words: “Well, then, you can pray.” The saints spent as much time as they could in prayer; it is recorded of St. James that through being constantly on his knees, callosities formed on them. The Christian need not pray in a manner to be observed by others, but he can always pray in spirit, whatever his occupations may be. The saints used to make use of visible things to raise their thoughts to what is unseen; natural objects suggested to them thoughts of the supernatural. St. Gregory Nazianzen, seeing the shells washed up on the seashore and the immovable rocks that resisted the shock of the waves, compared the former to men who had no mastery over themselves, and the latter to those whom no temptation could seduce. The sight of a lamb led St. Francis of Assisi to speak of the meekness of the Redeemer; to other saints the sight of a flower, a picture, a church, was enough to inspire holy thoughts and practical reflections. This is no wonder, for all visible objects should recall to our mind the omnipotence and bounty of the Creator, and invite us to pay Him homage. Our life ought to be one uninterrupted prayer; for our mind ought to be detached from earthly things, and our conversation in heaven.
2. We ought to pray more especially every morning and evening, before and after meals, and when we hear the Angelus.
1. In the morning we ought to give thanks to God for having preserved us during the night, and beseech Him to protect us during the day from misfortune and from sin, and to give us what is needful for our bodily sustenance.
The morning prayer should be said kneeling, and before we take our breakfast. The birds set us an example in this respect; they warble their morning song before they seek to satisfy their hunger. “We ought to prevent the sun to bless Thee, and adore Thee at the dawning of the light” (Wisd. xvi. 28). A particular blessing rests upon our morning prayer. As the Israelites could only gather the manna before the sun was up, so we cannot expect God’s blessing on the day if we do not consecrate its earliest hours to Him by prayer. As a well-spent youth influences a man’s whole life, so the manner in which the day is begun influences all its later hours. In the morning God is more easily found: “They that in the morning early watch for Me shall find Me” (Prov. viii. 17). The early Christians used to meet together at daybreak for divine worship. He who on rising neglects to pray, and gives his attention at once to temporal concerns, cannot expect God’s blessing on his day’s work. If the foundation of a house is unsound, the super structure will soon fall in.
2. At night we ought to give thanks to God for the benefits we have received during the day, and beseech Him to pardon the sins we have committed in its course, and to protect us during the coming night.
At our night prayers we ought to make an examination of conscience. Every merchant at the close of the day reckons up his gain or loss, although only temporal profits are in question; how much more ought the Christian to make a careful scrutiny of the transactions which affect his spiritual interests. Priests and religious have to recite the breviary at seven different times in the day. David says: “Seven times a day have I given praise to Thee” (Ps. cxviii. 164). The early Christians used to pray at midnight (Acts xvi. 26), and at the hours of the Passion: When Our Lord was condemned (nine o’clock), crucified (noon), when He died (three o’clock), and when He was laid in the grave (sunset). These are the fixed hours for reciting the divine office, but priests are not obliged to adhere to them strictly.
3. Before arid after meals we ought to give thanks to God for our nourishment, and implore His grace to avoid such sins as are committed at table.
“When thou shalt have eaten and art full, take heed diligently lest thou forget the Lord” (Deut. vi. 12, 13). Daniel when in the lion’s den thanked God for the dinner that He sent to him (Dan. xiv. 37). Those who do not give thanks before and after their meals are like the beasts of the field. King Alfonso of Aragoii, observing that his courtiers did not give thanks either before or after their repasts, gave them a practical lesson in this respect. He invited a beggar to his royal table, forbidding him most strictly either to make an obeisance on entering the dining hall, or to express his gratitude to the king when departing. The man obeyed his orders, and went away without a word or sign. The courtiers were highly incensed; but the king checked their wrath, saying: “Is not this exactly how you act towards your heavenly King? You neither ask a blessing nor return thanks; has He not as much reason to be indignant with you as you have with this ignorant mendicant?” The courtiers acknowledged the justice of the rebuke and never after omitted to say grace before and after meals. The sins committed at table usually are sins of intemperance, anger (if all is not to our liking), and detraction. And when the appetite is satisfied, there comes the temptation to sloth and self-indulgence.
4. We ought also to pray when the Angelus rings, calling upon us three times a day, morning, noon, and evening, to say the Angelic Salutation; and if we are near a church, when we hear the bell for the consecration, or for benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
3. Furthermore we ought to pray in the hour of affliction, distress, or temptation, when entering upon an important undertaking, and when we feel an inspiration and desire to pray.
We ought to pray in times of distress, for God enjoins this upon us: “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee and thou shalt glorify Me” (Ps. xlix. 15). How did the apostles act when the storm arose on the lake? Too often in their troubles men seek after human aid. In temptation we ought also to have recourse to prayer. “Watch ye and pray, that ye enter not into temptation” (Matt. xxvi. 41). St. Francis of Sales says that when we are as sailed by temptation we should do as little children do if they are frightened by the approach of some animal; they run to their father or mother. On commencing any important undertaking we ought to pray. Tobias exhorts his son: “Desire of God to direct thy ways” (Tob. iv. 20). Our Lord passed the whole night in prayer to God before He chose the twelve apostles (Luke vi. 12); He prayed before the raising of Lazarus (John xi. 41), and before He went to His Passion (Luke xxii. 41). The apostles prayed before they chose Matthias by lot (Acts i. 23). St. Peter prayed before he recalled Tabitha to life (Acts ix. 40). St. Jerome admonishes us to arm ourselves by prayer at our outgoing, and on our incoming to let prayer be our first action. We should also make use of those moments when we feel moved to pray. The mariner hastens to put to sea when he finds the wind is favorable; so we, when we perceive the impulse of the Holy Spirit, must follow His gracious inspirations. Unhappily those moments are too often allowed to slip by, or distraction is sought in worldly amusements. Of this the entertainments held after weddings, and on great festivals of the Church, the feasts the poor make after funerals, etc., . afford abundant evidence. How much those who thus act will have one day to answer for! Such solemn times should be times of greater devotion.
This article, 4. WHEN OUGHT WE TO PRAY? is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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