To comprehend what we are about to say upon this
subject, you must remember that there have been two
universal deluges, one material, the other moral. The
former took place in the time of Noe and destroyed
everything in the world but the ark and what it
contained. The moral deluge, much greater and more
fatal than the material, arose from the sin of our
first parents. Unlike the flood in the days of Noe,
it affected not only Adam and Eve, its guilty cause,
but every human being. It affected the soul even more
than the body. It robbed us of all the spiritual
riches and supernatural treasures which were bestowed
upon us in the person of our first parent.
this first deluge came all the miseries and
necessities under which we groan. So great and so
numerous are these that a celebrated doctor, who was
also an illustrious pontiff, has devoted to them an
entire work. (Innocent III, De Vilitate Conditionis
Humanae). Eminent philosophers; considering on the
one hand man's superiority to all other creatures,
and on the other the miseries and vices to which he
is subject, have greatly wondered at such
contradictions in so noble a creature. Unenlightened
by revelation, they knew not the cause of this
discord. They saw that of all animals man had most
infirmities of body; that he alone was tormented by
ambition, by avarice, by a desire to prolong his
life, by a strange anxiety concerning his burial,
and, as it appeared to them, by a still stranger
anxiety concerning his condition after death. In
fine, they saw that he was subject to innumerable
accidents and miseries of body and soul, and
condemned to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow.
His wretchedness was briefly but forcibly described
by Job when he said that "the life of man upon earth
is a warfare; and his days are like the days of a
hireling." (Job 7:1). Many of the ancient
philosophers were so impressed with this truth that
they doubted whether nature should not be called a
stepmother rather than a mother, so great are the
miseries to which she subjects us. Others argued that
it would be better never to be born, or to die
immediately after birth. And some have said that few
would accept life could they have any experience of
it before it was offered them.
Reduced to this
miserable condition, and deprived of our possessions
by the first deluge, what resource, what remedy, has
been left us by the Master who has punished us so
severely? There is but one remedy for us, and that is
to have recourse to Him, crying out with the holy
king Josaphat, "We know not what to do; we can only
turn our eyes to thee." (2Par. 20:12). Ezechias,
powerful monarch though he was, knew that this was
his only refuge, and therefore declared that he would
cry to God like a swallow and would moan before Him
as a dove. (Cf. Is. 38:14).
And David, though a
still greater monarch, placed all his confidence in
this heavenly succor. Inspired with the same
sentiment, he exclaimed, "I cried to the Lord with my
voice; to God with my voice, and he gave ear to me.
In the day of my trouble I sought God, with my hands
lifted up to him in the night, and I was not
deceived." (Ps. 76:2-3). Thus when all other avenues
of hope were closed against him, when all other
resources failed him, he had recourse to prayer, the
sovereign remedy for every evil.
You will ask,
perhaps, whether this is truly the sovereign remedy
for every evil. As this depends solely upon the will
of God, they alone can answer it who have been
instructed in the secrets of His will – the Apostles
and prophets. "There is no other nation so great,
that hath gods so nigh them, as our God is present to
all our petitions." (Deut. 4:7).
These are the
words of God Himself, though expressed by His
servant. They assure us with absolute certainty that
our prayers are not addressed in vain, that God is
invisibly present with us to receive every sigh of
our soul, to compassionate our miseries, and to grant
us what we ask, if it be for our welfare. What is
there more consoling in prayer than this guarantee of
God's assistance? But still more reassuring are the
promises of God Himself in the New Testament where He
tells us, "Ask, and you shall receive; seek, and you
shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you."
(Matt. 7:7). What stronger, what fuller pledge could
we find to allay our doubts?
Is it not evident
that this is one of the greatest privileges enjoyed
by the just, to whom these consoling words are in a
special manner addressed? "The eyes of the Lord are
upon the just, and his ears unto their prayers." (Ps.
33:16). "Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall
hear; thou shalt cry, and he shall say: Here I am."
(Is. 58:9). By the same prophet God promises more –
to grant the prayers of the just even before they are
addressed to Him. And yet none of these promises
equal those of Our Saviour in the New Testament. "If
you abide in me, " He says, "and my words abide in
you, you shall ask whatever you will, and it shall be
done unto you." (Jn. 15:7).
"Amen, amen I say to
you: if you ask the Father any thing in my name, he
will give it you." (Jn. 16:23). Oh! Promise truly
worthy of Him who utters it! What other power could
offer such a pledge? Who but God could fulfill it?
Does not this favor make man, in a measure, the lord
of all things? Is he not thereby entrusted with the
keys of Heaven? "Whatsoever you shall ask" – provided
it lead to your salvation – shall be given to you."
There is no limitation, no special blessing – all the
treasures of grace are offered to us.
Ah! If men
knew how to appreciate things at their true value,
with what confidence would these words inspire them!
If men glory in possessing the favor of an earthly
monarch who places his royal power at their disposal,
how much more reason have we to rejoice in the favor
and protection of the King of kings!
If you would
learn how such promises are fulfilled, study the
lives of the saints and see what marvels they
effected by prayer. What did not Moses accomplish by
prayer in Egypt and throughout the journey of the
Israelites in the desert? How wonderful were the
works of Elias and his disciple Eliseus! Behold the
miracles which the Apostles wrought! Prayer was the
source of their power. It is, moreover, the weapon
with which the saints have fought and overcome the
world. By prayer they ruled the elements, and
converted even the fierce flames into refreshing dew.
By prayer they disarmed the wrath of God and opened
the fountains of His mercy. By prayer, in fine, they
obtained all their desires.
It is related that our
holy Father, St. Dominic, once told a friend that he
never failed to obtain a favor which he asked from
God. Whereupon his friend desired him to pray that a
celebrated doctor named Reginald might become a
member of his order. The saint spent the night in
prayer for this disciple, and early in the morning,
as he was beginning the first hymn of the morning
office, Reginald suddenly came into the choir, and,
prostrating himself at the feet of the saint, begged
for the habit of his order. Behold the recompense
with which God rewards the obedience of the just.
They are docile to the voice of His commandments, and
He is equally attentive to the voice of their
supplications. Hence Solomon tells us that "an
obedient man shall speak of victory." (Prov. 21:28).
How differently are the prayers of the wicked
answered! "When you stretch forth your hands," the
Almighty tells them, "I will turn away my eyes from
you; and when you multiply prayer I will not hear."
(Is. 1:15). "In the time of their affliction," says
the prophet, "they will say to the " Lord, Arise, and
deliver us." But God will ask, Where are the gods
whom thou hast made thee? Let them arise and deliver
thee." (Jer. 2:27-28).
"What is the hope of the
hypocrite, if through covetousness he takes by
violence? Will God hear his cry when distress shall
come upon him?" (Job 27:8).
"Dearly beloved," says
St. John, "if our heart do not reprehend us, we have
confidence towards God; and whatsoever we shall ask,
we shall receive of him, because we keep his
commandments, and do those things which are pleasing
in his sight." (1Jn. 3:21-22).
"If I have looked
at iniquity in my heart," the royal prophet tells us;
"the Lord will not hear me"; but I have not committed
iniquity, and "therefore God hath heard me, and
attended to the voice of my supplication." (Ps.
It would be easy to find in Holy
Scripture many similar passages, but these will
suffice to manifest the difference between the
prayers of the just and those of the wicked, and, by
consequence, the incomparable privileges which the
former enjoy. The just are heard and treated as the
children of God; the wicked are rejected as His
enemies. This should not astonish us, for a prayer
unsupported by good works, devoid of fervor, charity,
or humility, cannot be pleasing to God.
Nevertheless, the sinner who reads these lines must
not give way to discouragement. It is only the
obstinately wicked who are rejected. It is only those
who wish to continue in their disorders who are thus
cut off. Though your sins are as numerous as the
sands on the shore, though your life has been wasted
in crime, never forget that God is your Father, that
He awaits you with open arms and open heart, that He
is continually calling upon you to return and be
reconciled to Him. Have the desire to change your
life; be resolved to walk in the path of virtue, and
turn to God in humble prayer, with unshaken
confidence that you will be heard. "Ask, and you
shall receive; seek, and you shall find; knock, and
it shall be opened to you."