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. Without Prayer It is Impossible to Resist Temptations and to Keep the Commandments
Moreover, prayer is the most necessary weapon of defence against our enemies; he who does not avail himself of it, says St. Thomas, is lost. He does not doubt that the reason of Adam's fall was, because he did not recommend himself to God when he was tempted: "He sinned because he had not recourse to the Divine assistance." [P. 1, q. 94, a. 4] St. Gelasius says the same of the rebel angels: "Receiving the grace of God in vain, they could not persevere, because they did not pray."
St. Charles Borromeo, in a pastoral letter, observes, that among all the means of salvation recommended by Jesus Christ in the Gospel, the first place is given to prayer; and he has determined that this should distinguish his Church from all false religions, when he calls her "the house of prayer": "My house is a house of prayer." [Matt. 21: 13] St. Charles concludes that prayer is .the beginning and progress, and the completion of all virtues." So that in darkness, distress, and danger, we have no other hope than to raise our eyes to God, and with fervent prayers to beseech his mercy to save us: "As we know not," said king Josaphat, "what to do, we can only turn our eyes to Thee." [2 Par. 20: 12]
This also was David's practice,
who could find no other means of safety from his enemies, than
continual prayer to God to deliver him from their snares: "My
eyes are ever towards the Lord; for He shall pluck my feet out
of the snare." [Ps. 24: 16] So he did nothing but pray: "Look
Thou upon me, and have mercy on me; for I am alone and poor. I
cried unto Thee, a Lord; save me that I may keep Thy
Commandments." [Ps. 118: 146] Lord turn Thine eyes to me, have
pity on me, and save me; for I can do nothing, and beside Thee
there is none that can help me.
It is true, says St.
Augustine, that man, in consequence of his weakness, is unable
to fulfill some of God's commands with his present strength and
the ordinary grace given to all men; but he can easily, by
prayer, obtain such further aid as he requires for his
salvation: "God commands not impossibilities, but by commanding
he suggests to you to do what you can, to ask for what is beyond
your strength; and he helps you, that you may be able." This is
a celebrated text, which was afterwards adopted and made a
doctrine of faith by the Council of Trent, [Sess. 6, c. 11] The
holy Doctor immediately adds, "Let us see whence?" [i.e., how
man is enabled to do that which he cannot]. "By medicine he can
do that which his natural weakness renders impossible to him."
[De Nat. et Gr. c. 43] That is, by prayer we may obtain a remedy
for our weakness; for when we pray, God gives us strength to do
that which we cannot do of ourselves.
But why, it will be asked, has God commanded
us to do things impossible to our natural strength? Precisely
for this, says St. Augustine, that we may be incited to pray for
help to do that which of ourselves we cannot do. "He commands
some things which we cannot do, that we may know what we ought
to ask of him," [De Gr. et Lib. Arb. c. 16] And in another
place: "The law was given, that grace might be sought for; grace
was given that the law might be fulfilled." [De Spir. et Litt.
c. 19] The law cannot be kept without grace, and God has given
the law with this object, that we may always ask him for grace
to observe it. In another place
he says: "The law is good, if it be used lawfully; what then, is
the lawful use of the law?"
This foe is so
terrible that, when he fights with us, he, as it were, takes
away all light; he makes us forget all our meditations, all our
good resolutions; he makes us also disregard the truths of
faith, and even almost lose the fear of the Divine punishments.
For he conspires with our natural inclinations, which drive us
with the greatest violence to the indulgence of sensual
pleasures, he who in such a moment does not have recourse to God
is lost. The only defence against this temptation is prayer, as
St. Gregory of Nyssa says: "Prayer is the bulwark of chastity;"
and before him Solomon: "And as I knew that I could not
otherwise be continent except God gave it, I went to the Lord
and besought Him." [Wisd. 8: 21] Chastity is a virtue which we
have not strength to practice, unless God gives it us; and God
does not give this strength except to him who asks for it. But
whoever prays for it will certainly obtain it.
There is no doubt that we are too weak to resist the attacks of our enemies. But, on the other hand, it is certain that God is faithful, as the Apostle says, and will not permit us to be tempted beyond strength: "God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able; but will make also with the temptation issue, that ye may be able to bear it." [1 Cor. 10: 13] "He will provide an issue for it," says Primasius, "by the protection of his grace, that you may be able to withstand the temptation."
We are weak, but God is strong; when we ask him for aid, he communicates he strength to us; and we shall be able to do all things, as the Apostle reasonably assured himself: "I can do all things in Him who strengtheneth me." [Phil. 4: 13] He, therefore, who falls has no excuse [says St. Chrysostom], because he has neglected to pray; for if he had prayed, he would not have been overcome by his enemies. "Nor can anyone be excused who, by ceasing to pray, has shown that he did not wish to overcome his enemy."