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
3. The confidence with which we should pray
The prayer of sinners
But I am a sinner, you will say; and in the Scriptures I read, "God heareth not sinners." [John 9: 31] St. Thomas answers [with St. Augustine] that this was said by the blind man, who, when he spoke, had not as yet been enlightened: "That is the word of a blind man not yet perfectly enlightened, and therefore it is not authoritative." [2. 2. q. 83, a. 16] Though, adds St. Thomas, it is true of the petition which the sinner makes, "so far forth as he is a sinner;" that is, when he asks from a desire of continuing to sin; as, for instance, if he were to ask assistance to enable him to take revenge on his enemy, or to execute any other bad intention. The same holds good for the sinner who prays God to save him, but has no desire to quit the state of sin.
There are some unhappy persons who love the chains with which the devil keeps them bound like slaves. The prayers of such men are not heard by God; because they are rash, presumptuous, and abominable. For what greater presumption can there be than for a man to ask favours of a prince whom he not only has often offended, but whom he intends to offend still more? And this is the meaning of the Holy Spirit, when he says that the prayer of him who turns away his ears so as not to hear what God commands is detestable and odious to God: "He who turneth away his ears from learning the law, his prayer shall be an abomination." [Prov. 28: 9]
To these people God says, it is of no use your praying to Me, for
I will turn My eyes from you, and will not hear you: "When you
stretch forth your hands, I will turn away My eyes from you; and
when you multiply prayer, I will not hear." [Is. 1: 15] Such,
precisely, was the prayer of the impious King Antiochus, who
prayed to God, and made great promises, but insincerely, and
with a heart obstinate in sin; the sole object of his prayer
being to escape the punishment that impended over him; therefore
God did not hear his prayer, but caused him to die devoured by
worms: "Then this wicked man prayed to the Lord, of Whom he was
not to obtain mercy." [1 Mach. 1: 13]
And in St. Luke, our Lord, when speaking of the man who gave all the loaves he had to his friend, not so much on account of his friendship as because of the other's importunity, says, "If he shall continue knocking, I say to you, although he will not rise and give him because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth." [Luke 11: 8] "And so I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given to you." So that persevering prayer obtains mercy from God, even for those who are not His friends.
That which is not obtained through friendship, says St. Chrysostom, is obtained by prayer: "That which was not effected by friendship was effected by prayer." He even says that prayer is valued more by God than friendship: "Friendship is not of such avail with God as prayer; that which is not effected by friendship is effected by prayer. And St. Basil doubts not that even sinners obtain what they ask if they persevere in praying: "Sinners obtain what they seek, if they seek perseveringly." St. Gregory says the same: "The sinner also shall cry, and his prayer shall reach to God." So St. Jerome, who says that even the sinner can call God his Father, if he prays to Him to receive him anew as a son; after the example of the Prodigal Son, who called Him Father, "Father, I have sinned," [Luke 15: 21] even though he had not as yet been pardoned.
If God did not hear sinners, says St. Augustine, in vain would the
Publican have asked for forgiveness: "If God does not hear
sinners, in vain would that Publican have said, God be merciful
to me a sinner." But the Gospel assures us that the Publican did
by his prayer obtain forgiveness: "This man went down to his
house justified." [Luke 18: 14]
Ah, we cannot desire to be pardoned as much as He longs to pardon us. "Thou dost not," says St. Chrysostom, "so much desire thy sins to be forgiven, as He desires to forgive thy sins." There is no grace, he goes on to say, that is not obtained by prayer, though it be the prayer of the most abandoned sinner, provided only it be persevering: "There is nothing which prayer cannot obtain, though a man be guilty of a thousand sins, provided it be fervent and unremitting." And let us mark well the words of St. James: "If any man wanteth wisdom, let him ask of God, Who giveth to all abundantly, and upbraideth not." [James 1: 5] All those, therefore, who pray to God, are infallibly heard by Him, and receive grace in abundance: "He giveth to all abundantly." But you should particularly remark the words which follow, and "upbraideth not." This means that God does not do as men, who, when a person who has formerly done them an injury comes to ask a favour, immediately upbraid him with his offence. God does not do so to the man who prays, even though he were the greatest sinner in the world, when he asks for some grace conducive to his eternal salvation. Then He does not upbraid him with the offences he has committed; but, as though he had never displeased Him, He instantly receives him, He consoles him, He hears him, and enriches him with an abundance of His gifts.
To crown all, our Saviour, in order to encourage us to pray, says
"Amen, amen, I say to you, if you ask the Father anything in My
name, He will give it you." [John 16: 23] As though He had said,
Courage, O sinners; do not despair: do not let your sins turn
away from having recourse to My Father, and from hoping to be
saved by Him, if you desire it. You have not now any merits to
obtain the graces which you ask for, for you only deserve to be
punished; still do this: go to My Father in My name, through My
merits ask the favours which you want, and I promise and swear
to you ["Amen, amen, I say to you," which, according to St.
Augustine, is a species of oath] that whatever you ask, My
Father will grant. O God, what greater comfort can a sinner have
after his fall than to know for certain that all he asks from
God in the name of Jesus Christ will be given to him!
But, above all, our confidence ought to revive, when we pray to
God for spiritual graces, as Jesus Christ says: "If you, being
evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much
more will your Father from Heaven give the good Spirit to them
that ask Him!" [Luke 11: 15] If you, who are so attached to your
own interests, so full of self-love, cannot refuse your children
that which they ask, how much more will your Heavenly Father,
Who loves you better than any earthly father, grant you His
spiritual goods when you pray for them!