St Alphonsus de Liguori (1696 - 1787)
Catholic belief, prayers and spiritual teaching
St Alphonsus de Liguori (1696 - 1787)
PRAYER - The Great Means of Salvation and of Perfection (cont)
by St Alphonsus de Liguori
Part I: The Necessity, Power and Conditions of Prayer
2. The humility with which we should pray
The Lord does indeed regard the prayers of His servants, but only of His servants who are humble. "He hath had regard to the prayer of the humble." [Ps. 101: 18] Others He does not regard, but rejects them: "God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble." [James 4: 6] He does not hear the prayers of the proud who trust in their own strength; but for that reason leaves them to their own feebleness; and in this state deprived of God's aid, they must certainly perish. David had to bewail this case: "Before I was humbled I offended." [Ps. 118: 67] I sinned because I was not humble.
The same thing happened to St. Peter, who, though he was warned by
our Lord that all the disciples would abandon Him on that
night-----"All you shall be scandalized in Me this night" [Matt.
26: 31]-----nevertheless, instead of acknowledging his own
weakness, and begging our Lord's aid against his unfaithfulness
was too confident in his own strength, and said, that though all
should abandon Him he would never leave Him: "Although all shall
be scandalized in Thee, I will never be scandalized." And
although our Saviour again foretold to him, in a special manner,
that in that very night, before the cock-crow, he should deny
Him three times; yet, trusting in his own courage, he boasted,
saying, "Yea, though I should die with Thee, I will not deny
Thee." But what came of it? Scarcely had the unhappy man entered
the house of the high priest, when he was accused of being a
disciple of Jesus Christ, and three times did he deny with an
oath that he had ever known Him: "And again he denied with an
oath, that I know not the Man." If Peter had humbled himself,
and had asked our Lord for the grace of constancy, he would not
have denied Him.
In vain does man weary himself to become a Saint, unless God lends
a helping hand: "Unless the Lord keep the city, he watcheth in
vain that keepeth it." If God did not preserve the soul from
sins, in vain will it try to preserve itself by its own
strength: and therefore did the holy prophet protest, "I will
not trust in my bow." [Ps. 43: 7] I will not hope in my arms;
but only in God, Who alone can save me.
So that St. Augustine wrote wisely, "the presumption of stability renders many unstable; no one will be so firm as he who feels himself infirm." [Serm. 76 E.B.] If a man says he has no fear, it is a sign that he trusts in himself, and in his good resolutions; but such a man, with his mischievous confidence, deceives himself, because, through trust in his own strength, he neglects to fear; and through not fearing he neglects to recommend himself to God, and then he will certainly fall.
And so, for like reasons, we should all abstain from noticing with any vainglory the sins of other people; but rather we should then esteem ourselves as worse in ourselves than they are, and should say, Lord, if Thou hadst not helped, I should have done worse. Otherwise, to punish us for our pride, God will permit us to fall into worse and more shameful sins.
For this cause St. Paul instructs us to labour for our salvation;
but how? always in fear and trembling: "With fear and trembling
work out your salvation." [Phil. 2: 12] Yes; for he who has a
great fear of falling, distrusts his own strength, and therefore
places his confidence in God, and will have recourse to Him in
dangers; and God will aid him, and so he will vanquish his
temptations, and will be saved. St. Philip Neri, walking one day
through Rome, kept saying, "I am in despair!" A certain
religious rebuked him, and the Saint thereupon said, "My father,
I am in despair for myself; but I trust in God."
The prayer of a humble soul penetrates the heavens, and presents
itself before the throne of God; and departs not without God's
looking on it and hearing it. And though the soul be guilty of
any amount of sin, God never despises a heart that humbles
itself: "A contrite and humble heart, O God, Thou wilt not
despise; [Ps. 1: 19] God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace
to the humble." [James 4: 6] As the Lord is severe with the
proud, and resists their prayers, so is He kind and liberal to
the humble. This is precisely what Jesus Christ said one day to
St. Catherine of Siena: "Know, my daughter, that a soul that
perseveres in humble prayer gains every virtue."
As regards "the sleep and suspension of the faculties", we ought to ask God for grace to keep them asleep for all that is temporal, and only awake them to consider God's goodness, and to set our hearts upon His love and eternal happiness.
As regards the "union of the faculties", let us pray Him to give us grace not to think, nor to seek, nor to wish anything but what God wills; since all sanctity and the perfection of love consists in uniting our will to the will of God.
As regards "ecstasy and rapture", let us pray God to draw us away from the inordinate love of ourselves and of creatures, and to draw us entirely to Himself.
As regards "the flight of the spirit", let us pray Him to give us grace to live altogether detached from this world, and to do as the swallows, that do not settle on the ground even to fee, but take their food flying;-----so should we use our temporal goods for all that is necessary for the support of life, but always flying, without settling on the ground to look for earthly pleasures.
As regards "impulse of spirit", let us pray Him to give us courage and strength to do violence to ourselves, whenever it is necessary, for resisting the assaults of our enemies, for conquering our passions, and for accepting sufferings even in the midst of desolation and dryness of spirit.
Finally, as regards "the wound of love," as a wound by its pain
perpetually renews the remembrance of what we suffer, so ought
we to pray God to wound our hearts with His holy love in such a
way that we shall always be reminded of His goodness and the
love which He has borne us; and thus we should live in continual
love of Him, and should be always pleasing Him with our works
and our affections. But none of these graces can be obtained
without prayer; and with prayer, provided it be humble,
confident, and persevering, everything is obtained.