"To do God's will -- this was the goal upon which the saints constantly fixed their gaze. They were fully persuaded that in this consists the entire perfection of the soul. "

St Alphonsus de Liguori

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"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."

St Augustine

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"It is well to choose some one good devotion, and to stick to it, and never to abandon 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

Part I: The Necessity, Power and Conditions of Prayer

Chapter 2: The Power of Prayer

3. God is always ready to hear us

St. Bernardine of Siena says that prayer is a faithful ambassador, well known to the King of Heaven, and having access to His private chamber, and able by his importunity to induce the merciful heart of the King to grant every aid to us His wretched creatures, groaning in the midst of our conflicts and miseries in this valley of tears. "Prayer is a most faithful messenger, known to the King, who is used to enter His chamber, and by his importunity to influence the merciful mind of the King, and to obtain us assistance in our toils."

Isaias also assures us, that as soon as the Lord hears our prayers, He is moved with compassion towards us; and does not leave us to cry long to Him, but instantly replies, and grants us what we ask: "Weeping, though shalt not wee; He will surely have pity upon thee: the voice of thy cry as soon as He shall hear, He will answer thee." [Is. 30: 19]

In another place He complains of us by the mouth of Jeremias: "Am I become a wilderness to Israel, or a lateward springing land? Why then have My people said, we are revolted, and will come to Thee no more?" [Jer. 2: 31] Why do you say that you will no more have recourse to Me? Has My mercy become to you a barren land, which can yield you no fruits of grace? or a cold soil, which yields its fruit too late! So has our loving Lord assured us that He never neglects to hear us, and to hear us instantly when we pray; and so does He reproach those who neglect to pray through distrust of being heard.

If God were to allow us to present our petitions to Him once a month, even this would be a great favour. The kings of the earth give audiences a few times in the year, but God gives a continual audience. St. Chrysostom writes, that God is always waiting to hear our prayers, and that a case never occurred when He neglected to hear a petition offered to Him properly: "God is always prepared for the voice of His servants, nor did He ever, when called upon as He ought to be, neglect to hear."

And in another place he says, that when we pray to God, before we have finished recounting to Him our supplications, He has already heard us: "It is always obtained, even while we are yet praying." We even have the promise of God to do this: "As they are yet speaking I will hear." [Is. 45: 24] The Lord, says David, stands near to every one who prays, to console, to hear, and to save him; "The Lord is nigh to all them that call upon Him; to all that call upon Him in truth" [that is, as they ought to call]. "He will do the will of them that fear Him; and He will hear their prayer and will save them." [Ps. 146: 18] This was it in which Moses gloried, when he said:

"There is not another nation so great, that has gods so nigh them, as our God is present to all our petitions." [Deut. 4: 7] The gods of the Gentiles were deaf to those who invoked them, for they were wretched fabrications, which could do nothing. But our God, Who is Almighty, is not deaf to our prayers, but always stands near the man who prays, ready to grant him all the graces which he asks: "In what day soever I shall call upon Thee, behold I shall know that Thou art my God." [Ps. 55: 10] Lord, says the Psalmists, hereby do I know that Thou, my God, art all goodness and mercy, in that, whenever I have recourse to Thee, Thou dost instantly help me.

But to return to the question just proposed: are we obliged to have recourse to the intercession of the Saints? I do not wish to meddle with the decision of this question; but I cannot omit the exposition of a doctrine of St. Thomas.

In several places above quoted, and especially in his book of Sentences, he expressly lays it down as certain that everyone is bound to pray; because [as he asserts] in no other way can the graces necessary for salvation be obtained from God, except by prayer: "Every man is bound to pray, from the fact that he is bound to procure spiritual good for himself, which can only be got from God; so it can only be obtained by asking it of God." [In 4. Sent. d. 15, q. 4, a. 1]

Then, in another place of the same book, he proposes the exact question, "Whether we are bound to pray to the Saints to intercede for us?" [Dist. 45, q. 3, a. 2] And he answers as follows-----in order to catch his real meaning, we will quote the entire passage: "According to Dionysius, the order which God has instituted for his creature requires that things which are remote may be brought to God by means of things which are nearer to him. Hence, as the Saints in Heaven are nearest of all to him, the order of his law requires that we who 'remaining in the body are absent from the Lord,' should be brought to Him by means of the Saints; and this is effected by the Divine goodness pouring forth his gifts through them. And as the path of our return to God should correspond to the path of the good things which proceed from him to us, it follows that, as the benefits of God come down to us by means of the suffrages of the Saints, we ought to be brought to God by the same way, so that a second time we may receive his benefits by the mediation of the Saints. Hence it is that we make them our intercessors with God, and as it were our mediators, when we ask them to pray for us."

Note well the words-----"The order of God's law requires;' and especially note the last words-----"As the benefits of God come down to us by means of the suffrages of the Saints, in the same way we must be brought back to God so that a second time we may receive his benefits by the mediation of the Saints." So that, according to St. Thomas, the order of the Divine law requires that we mortals should be saved by means of the Saints, in that we receive by their intercession the help necessary for our salvation.

He then puts the objection, that it appears superfluous to have recourse to the Saints, since God is infinitely more merciful than they, and more ready to hear us. This he answers by saying: "God has so ordered, not on account of any want of mercy on His part, but to keep the right order which He has universally established, of working by means of second causes. It is not for want of His mercy, but to preserve the aforesaid order in the creation."

In conformity with this doctrine of St. Thomas, the Continuator of Tourneley and Sylvius writes, that although God only is to be prayed to as the Author of grace, yet we are bound to have recourse also to the intercession of the Saints, so as to observe the order which God has established with regard to our salvation, which is, that the inferior should be saved by imploring the aid of the superior, "By the law of nature we are bound to observe the order which God has appointed; but God has appointed that the inferior should obtain salvation by imploring me assistance at his superior."