"It is vanity to love what passes quickly and not to look ahead where eternal joy abides. "

Thomas á Kempis

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"To think of oneself as nothing, and always to think well and highly of others is the best and most perfect wisdom. Wherefore, if you see another sin openly or commit a serious crime, do not consider yourself better, for you do not know how long you can remain in good estate. All men are frail, but you must admit that none is more frail than yourself. "

Thomas á Kempis

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"Spiritual persons ought to be equally ready to experience sweetness and consolation in the things of God, or to suffer and keep their ground in drynesses of spirit and devotion, and for as long as God pleases, without their making any complaint about it."

St Philip Neri

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St Alphonsus de Liguori  (1696 - 1787)

 

PRAYER - The Great Means of Salvation and of Perfection (cont)

 

by St Alphonsus de Liguori

Introduction

Necessary to be read

I have published several spiritual works,--on visiting the Blessed Sacrament, on the Passion of Jesus Christ, on the Glories of Mary, and, besides, a work against the Materialists and Deists, with other devout little treatises. Lately I brought out a work on the Infancy of our Saviour, entitled Novena for Christmas; and another entitled Preparation for Death, besides the one on the Eternal Maxims, most useful for meditation and for sermons, to which are added nine discourses suitable during seasons of Divine chastisements. But I do not think that I have written a more useful work than the present, in which I speak of prayer as a necessary and certain means of obtaining salvation, and all the graces that we require for that object. If it were in my power, I would distribute a copy of it to every Catholic in the world, in order to show him the absolute necessity of prayer for salvation.

I say this, because, on the one hand, I see that the absolute necessity of prayer is taught throughout the Holy Scriptures, and by all the holy Fathers; while, on the other hand, I see that Christians are very careless in their practice of this great means of salvation. And, sadder still, I see that preachers take very little care to speak of it to their flocks, and confessors to their penitents; I see, moreover, that even the spiritual books now popular do not speak sufficiently of it; for there is not a thing preachers, and confessors, and spiritual books should insist upon with more warmth and energy than prayer; not but that they teach many excellent means of keeping ourselves in the grace of God, such as avoiding the occasions of sin, frequenting the sacraments, resisting temptations, hearing the Word of God, meditating on the eternal truths, and other means,-- all of them, I admit, most useful; but, I say, what profit is there in sermons, meditations, and all the other means pointed out by masters of the spiritual life, if we forget to pray? since our Lord has declared that he will grant his graces to no one who does not pray. "Ask and ye shall receive." [John 16: 24]

Without prayer, in the ordinary course of Providence, all the meditations that we make, all our resolutions, all our promises, will be useless. If we do not pray, we shall always be unfaithful to the inspirations of God, and to the promises we made to him. Because, in order actually to do good, to conquer temptations, to practice virtues, and to observe God's law, it is not enough to receive illumination from God, and to meditate and make resolutions, but we require, moreover, the actual assistance of God; and, as we shall soon see, he does not give this assistance except to those who pray, and pray with perseverance.

The light we receive, and the considerations and good resolutions that we make, are of use to incite us to the act of prayer when we are in danger, and are tempted to transgress God's law; for then prayer will obtain for us God's help, and we shall be preserved from sin; but if in such moments we do not pray, we shall be lost.

My intention in prefacing my book with this sentiment is, that my readers may thank God for giving them an opportunity, by means of this little book, to receive the grace of reflecting more deeply on the importance of prayer; for all adults who are saved, are ordinarily saved by this single means of grace. And therefore I ask my readers to thank God; for surely it is a great mercy when he gives the light and the grace to pray.

I hope, then, that you, my beloved brother, after reading this little work, will never from this day forward neglect to have continual recourse to God in prayer, whenever you are tempted to offend him. If ever in times past you have had your conscience burdened with many sins, know that the cause of this has been the neglect of prayer, and not asking God for help to resist the temptations that assailed you.

I pray you, therefore, to read it again and again with the greatest attention; not because it is my production, but because it is a means that God offers you for the good of your eternal salvation, thereby giving you to understand that he wishes you to be saved. And after having read it yourself, induce as many of your friends and neighbours as you can to read it also. Now let us begin in the name of the Lord.

Definition of Prayer

The Apostle writes to Timothy: "Beseech, therefore, that first of all supplications, petitions, and thanksgivings be made. [1 Tim. 2: 1] St. Thomas explains, that prayer is properly the lifting up of the soul to God. [2. 2. q. 83, a. 17] Petition is that kind of prayer which begs for determinate objects; when the thing sought is indeterminate [as when we say, "Incline to my aid, O God!"] it is called supplication. Obsecration is a solemn adjuration, or representation of the grounds on which we dare to ask a favour; as when we say, "By Thy Cross and Passion, O Lord, deliver us!" Finally, thanksgiving is the returning of thanks for benefits received, whereby, says St. Thomas, we merit to receive greater favours. Prayer, in a strict sense, says the holy Doctor, means recourse to God; but in its general signification it includes all the kinds just enumerated. It is in this latter sense that the word is used in this book.

Plan of the Work

In order, then, to attach ourselves to this great means of salvation, we must first of all consider how necessary it is to us, and how powerful it is to obtain for us all the graces that we can desire from God, if we know how to ask for them as we ought. Hence, in the first part, we will speak first of the necessity and power of prayer; and next, of the conditions necessary to make it efficacious with God. Then, in the second part, we will show that the grace of prayer is given to all; and there we will treat of the manner in which grace ordinarily operates.