Of the Need in Which We Stand of Prayer

by admin on March 20, 2011

OF the need in which we stand of prayer we have abun­dant experience; would to God we had not so much! For man, being in such need of the favor of God by reason of his being liable to so many falls, surrounded by so many dangerous enemies, and wanting so many things for soul and body, has no other resource but constant recourse to God, begging with his whole heart divine favor and aid in all his dangers and necessities. So King Josaphat said, coming to be surrounded by enemies: As we are so weak and so poor and so needy and know not what to do, we have no other resource but to raise our eyes to God, and ask in prayer for what we want and stand in need of (II Chron. xx. 12). So Pope Celestine in a decretal letter to teach the importance of prayer, says: “I know nothing better to say to you than what my predecessor, Zozimus, said: ‘What time is there in which we have not need of God?’ None. Then in every time, in all cases, in all affairs we need to have recourse to Him by prayer and crave His favor; great pride it is for a weak and miserable man to presume any­thing of himself”—In omnibus igitur actibus, causis, cogita-tionibus, motibus, adiutor et protector orandus est Deus.

St. Thomas, treating of prayer, gives one very good and substantial reason for its necessity, and it is the teaching of Saints Damascene, Augustine, Basil, Chrysostom, and Gregory, that what God by His divine providence and dis­position has determined from eternity to give to souls, that He gives them in time by this means of prayer, and on this means depends the deliverance, salvation, conversion, and cure of many souls and the progress and perfection of oth­ers. Thus, just as God has determined and arranged that by means of matrimony the human race should be multiplied, and by means of ploughing and sowing and cultivating the earth there should be abundance of bread and wine and other fruits, and by means of craftsmen and building mate­rials there should be houses and buildings, so He has deter­mined to work many effects in the world and impart many graces and gifts to souls by this means of prayer. So Christ our Redeemer says in the Gospel: Ask and it shall be given you, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you; for everyone that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and the door shall be opened to him that knocketh (Matt. vii. 7). Thus this is the means and this the conduct whereby the Lord wishes to supply our needs and enrich our poverty and fill us with good things and graces. Hereby is well seen the great need that we have of having recourse to prayer. And so the saints make a good comparison in saying that it is a chain of gold attached to heaven and reaching right down to earth, whereby all good things are lowered and let down to us and whereby we must mount up to God. Or they say that it is the ladder of Jacob, that reached from earth to heaven, whereby angels ascended and descended. The glorious St. Augustine says that prayer is the key of heaven that fits all the gates of heaven and all the coffers of the treasures of God, and nothing hidden from it. And elsewhere he says that what bread is to the body, prayer is to the soul. The same says the holy martyr and abbot Nilus.

One of the chief reasons whereby the saints declare on the one hand the value and worth of prayer and on the other the great need in which we stand of it, is that prayer is a chief and most efficacious means to attune and put in order our whole life and to overcome and smooth down all the difficulties that present themselves in the way of vir­tue. And so they say that on it depends the government of our whole life; and that, when prayer is well in order, life is well in order; and when prayer gets out of order, everything else gets out of order. “He knows how to live well, who knows how to pray well”—Recte novit vivere, qui recte novit orare, says St. Augustine. And St. John Clima-cus says that a servant of God once spoke a memorable word to him, which was this, that from early morning he knew what was to be the order of the whole day; meaning that, if he made his morning prayer well, all the rest went well, and contrariwise when he did not make his morning prayer well. And it is the same with all the rest of life. And so we ourselves very commonly experience that when we make our prayer well, we go on in such good order, so cheerful, so vigorous, so full of good purposes and desires, that it is something to praise God for; and, contrariwise, when we are careless at prayer, everything goes amiss. St. Bonaventure says: “Where prayer fails, thereupon every­thing goes forlorn;” thereupon tepidity sets in, thereupon little by little the spirit begins to grow feeble and to wither and to lose that vigor and heartiness which it once had; thereupon, I know not how, all those holy purposes and thoughts of first fervor disappear and all our passions begin to awake and revive; thereupon the man comes out a lover of vain mirth, a lover of talking, laughing and enjoyment, and such like other vanities; and what is worse, thereupon there bursts into new life the appetite of vainglory, of anger, of envy, of ambition, and the like, which before seemed to be dead.

The Abbot Nilus says that prayer should be the looking-glass of the religious. In it we should look and look again every day for a long time to see and recognize our faults, to go on getting rid of anything ugly that we find in our­selves. In this looking-glass we should look and study the virtues that shine forth in Christ, in order with them to adorn and beautify our soul. The glorious St. Francis says: “One of,the things most desirable in a religious is the grace of prayer: without it there is no hope of fruit or improvement; with it everything may be hoped for.” St. Thomas Aquinas, among other grave utterances related in his Life, said that a religious without prayer was a soldier in battle naked and without arms. That holy archbishop of Valentia, Friar Thomas of Villanova, said that prayer was like the natural heat of the stomach, without which it is impossible for the natural life to be preserved, or for any food to do good; whereas with it everything is well digested and assimilated, the man is nourished, and all the members are supplied with virtue and strength enough to do their work. So, he says, without prayer the spiritual life cannot be preserved; with it, it is preserved; with it, the man revives and recovers spiritual strength enough for all the works of obedience that he has to do and for all the occa­sions and afflictions that may offer; with prayer, all those things are digested and made light, and all converted to the profit of the soul. Finally, if we use prayer as we ought, we shall find therein a remedy for all our faults and a means of preserving ourselves in virtue and religion. If perchance you become careless in obedience and observ­ance of rules, if you begin to grow disorderly on any point, if passion and evil habit begin to revive, all this will be checked and remedied, by favor of the Lord, at once when we betake ourselves to prayer. And if you grow remiss in prayer itself and careless therein, you must cure and recover yourself by that same means. In prayer we have a universal remedy even for a falling off in prayer itself. Thus they make an excellent comparison who say that prayer is as the hand in the body, which is an instrument for all the body and even for itself, since the hand works for the sustenance and clothing of the whole body and for all other things necessary for body and soul and even for itself; for if it is ailing, the hand waits on the hand; if it is dirty, the hand washes the hand; if it is cold, the hand warms the hand; in short, the hands do everything. So it is with prayer.

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