"Let no one wear a mask, otherwise he will do ill; and if he has one, let him burn it."

St Philip Neri

* * *

"God looks neither at long nor beautiful prayers, but at those that come from the heart."

The Cure D'Ars

* * *

"The name of Jesus, pronounced with reverence and affection, has a kind of power to soften the heart. "

St Philip Neri

* * *

 

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


Chapter 1: The Necessity 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.

And, indeed how could we ever resist our enemies and observe God's precepts, especially since Adam's sin, which has rendered us so weak and infirm, unless we had prayer as a means whereby we can obtain from God sufficient light and strength to enable us to observe them? It was a blasphemy of Luther's to say, that after the sin of Adam the observance of God's law has become absolutely impossible to man. Jansenius also said that there are some precepts which are impossible even to the just, with the power which they actually have, and so far his proposition bears a good sense; but it was justly condemned by the Church for the addition he made to it, when he said that they have not the grace to make the precepts possible.

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.

We cannot believe, continues St. Augustine, that God would have imposed on us the observance of a law, and then made the law impossible. When, therefore, God shows us that of ourselves we are unable to observe all His commands it is simply to admonish us to do the easier things by means of the ordinary grace which He bestows on us, and then to do the more difficult things by means of the greater help which we can obtain by prayer. "By the very fact that it is absurd to suppose that God could have commanded us to do impossible things, we are admonished what to do in easy matters, and what to ask for in difficulties." [De Nat. et Gr. c. 69]

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?"

He answers: "When by the law we perceive our own weakness, and ask of God the grace to heal us." [Ser. 156, Ed. Ben.] St. Augustine then says: We ought to use the law; but for what purpose? to learn by means of the law, which we find to be above our strength, our own inability to observe it, in order that we may then obtain by prayer the Divine aid to cure our weakness.

St. Bernard's teaching is the same; "What are we, or what is our strength, that we should be able to resist so many temptations? This certainly it was that God intended; that we, seeing our deficiencies, and that we have no other help, should with all humility have recourse to his mercy." [In Quad. 5. 5] God knows how useful it is to us to be obliged to pray, in order to keep us humble, and to exercise our confidence; and he therefore permits us to be assaulted by enemies too mighty to be overcome by our own strength, that by prayer we may obtain from his mercy aid to resist them; and it is especially to be remarked, that no one can resist the impure temptations of the flesh, without recommending himself to God when he is tempted.

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.

Hence St. Thomas observes [in contradiction to Jansenius], that we ought not to say that the precept of chastity, or any other, is impossible to us; for though we cannot observe it by our own strength, we can by God's assistance. "We must say, that what we can do with the Divine assistance is not altogether impossible to us." [1. 2. q. 109, a. 4] Nor let it be said that it appears an injustice to order a cripple to walk straight, No, says St. Augustine, it is not an injustice, provided always means are given him to find the remedy for his lameness; for after this, if he continues to go crooked, the fault is his own, "It is most wisely commanded that man should walk uprightly, so that when he sees that he cannot do so of himself, he may seek a remedy to heal the lameness of sin," [De Perf. Just. hom. c. 3] Finally, the same holy Doctor says, that he will need know how to live well who does not know how to pray well. "He knows how to live aright who knows how to pray aright;" [Ser. 55, E.B. app.] and, on the other hand, St. Francis of Assisi says, that without prayer you can never hope to find good fruit in a soul.

Wrongly, therefore, do those sinners excuse themselves who say that they have no strength to resist temptation. But if you have not this strength, why do you not ask for it? is the reproof which St. James gives them: "You have it not, because you ask it not." [James 4: 2]

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."