Part I - Chapter III
The Conditions of Prayer


Saint Dominic in Prayer - by GRECO, El - from Private collection

 

If we wish not to be forsaken by God,
we ought never to forsake praying to Him

 

Chapter III
The Conditions of Prayer

by Saint Alphonsus Liguori
Doctor of the Church
1759

The Confidence with Which We Ought to Pray
Excellence and Necessity of this Virtue

The principal instruction that Saint James gives us, if we wish, by prayer, to obtain grace from God, is, that we pray with a confidence that feels sure of being heard, and without hesitating: "But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering" - James 1:6. Saint Thomas teaches that as prayer receives its power of meriting from charity, so, on the other hand, it receives from faith and confidence its power of being efficacious to obtain: "Prayer has its power of meriting from charity, but its efficacy of obtaining from faith and confidence" - Summa Theologica. Saint Bernard teaches the same, saying that it is our confidence alone which obtains for us the Divine mercies: "Hope alone obtains a place of mercy with Thee, O Lord". God is much pleased with our confidence in His mercy, because we then honor and exalt that infinite goodness which it was His object in creating us to manifest to the world: "Let all them", says the Royal Prophet, "be glad that hope in Thee: they shall rejoice forever, and Thou shalt dwell in them" - Psalm 5:12. God protects and saves all those who confide in Him: "He is the Protector of all that trust in Him" - Psalm 17:31. "Thou Who savest them that trust in Thee" - Psalm 16:7. Oh, the great promises that are recorded in the Scriptures to all those who hope in God! He who hopes in God will not fall into sin: "None of them that trust in Him shall offend" - Psalm 33:23. Yes, says David, because God has His eyes turned to all those who confide in His goodness to deliver them by His aid from the death of sin. "Behold, the eyes of the Lord are on them that fear Him, and on them that hope for His mercy to deliver their souls from death," - Psalm 32:18-19. And in another place God Himself says: "Because he hoped in Me I will deliver him; I will protect him . . . ; I will deliver him . . . and I will glorify him" - Psalm 90:14. Mark the word "because". "Because" he confided in Me, I will protect, I will deliver him from his enemies, and from the danger of falling; and finally I will give him eternal glory. Isaiah says of those who place their hope in God: "They that hope in the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall take wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint" - Isaiah 40:31. They shall cease to be weak as they are now, and shall gain in God a great strength; they shall not faint; they shall not even feel weary in walking the way of salvation, but they shall run and fly as eagles; "in silence and in hope shall your strength be" - Isaiah 30:15. All our strength, the Prophet tells us, consists in placing all our confidence in God, and in being silent; that is, in reposing in the arms of His mercy, without trusting to our own efforts, or to human means.

And when did it ever happen that a man had confidence in God and was lost? "No one hath hoped in the Lord and hath been confounded" - Ecclesiasticus 2:11. It was this confidence that assured David that he should not perish: "In Thee, O Lord, have I trusted; let me never be confounded" - Psalm 30:2. Perhaps, then, says Saint Augustine, God could be a deceiver, Who offers to support us in dangers if we lean upon Him, and would then withdraw Himself if we had recourse to Him? "God is not a deceiver, that He should offer to support us, and then when we lean upon Him should slip away from us". David calls the man happy who trusts in God: "Blessed is the man that trusteth in Thee" - Psalm 83:13. And why? Because, says he, he who trusts in God will always find himself surrounded by God's mercy. "Mercy shall encompass him that hopeth in the Lord" - Psalm 31:10. So that he shall be surrounded and guarded by God on every side in such a way that he shall be prevented from losing his soul.

It is for this cause that the Apostle recommends us so earnestly to preserve our confidence in God; for [he tells us] it will certainly obtain from Him a great remuneration: "Do not therefore lose your confidence, which hath a great reward" - Hebrews 10:35. As in our confidence, so shall be the graces we receive from God; if our confidence is great, great too will be the graces: "Great faith merits great things". Saint Bernard writes that the Divine mercy is an inexhaustible fountain, and that he who brings to it the largest vessel of confidence shall take from it the largest measure of gifts: "Neither, O Lord, dost Thou put the oil of Thy mercy into any other vessel than that of confidence". The Prophet had long before expressed the same thought: "Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us [i.e., in proportion] as we have hoped in Thee" - Psalm 32:22. This was well exemplified in the centurion to whom Our Savior said, in praise of his confidence, "Go, and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee" - Matthew 8:13. And Our Lord revealed to Saint Gertrude that he who prays with confidence does Him in a manner such violence that He cannot but hear him in everything he asks: "Prayer", says Saint John Climacus, "does a pious violence to God". It does Him a violence, but a violence which He likes, and which pleases Him.

"Let us go, therefore", according to the admonition of Saint Paul, "with confidence to the throne of grace; that we may obtain mercy, and find grace in seasonable aid" - Hebrews 4:16. The Throne of grace is Jesus Christ, Who is now sitting on the right hand of the Father; not on the Throne of justice, but of grace, to obtain pardon for us if we fall into sin, and help to enable us to persevere if we are enjoying His friendship. To this Throne we must always have recourse with confidence; that is to say, with that trust which springs from faith in the goodness and truth of God, Who has promised to hear him who prays to Him with confidence, but with a confidence that is both sure and stable. On the other hand, says Saint James, let not the man who prays with hesitation think that he will receive anything: "For he who wavereth is like a wave of the sea, which is moved and carried about by the wind. Therefore let not that man think to receive anything of the Lord" - James 1:6-7. He will receive nothing, because the diffidence which agitates him is unjust towards God, and will hinder His mercy from listening to his prayers: "Thou hast not asked rightly, because thou hast asked doubtingly", says Saint Basil, "thou hast not received grace, because thou hast asked it without confidence". David says that our confidence in God ought to be as firm as a mountain, which is not moved by each gust of wind. "They who trust in the Lord are as Mount Sion; he shall not be moved forever" - Psalm 124:1. And it is this that Our Lord recommends to us, if we wish to obtain the graces which we ask: "Whatsoever you ask when ye pray, believe that you shall receive, and they shall come unto you" - Mark 11:24. Whatever grace you require, be sure of having it, and so you shall obtain it.

 

Foundation of Our Confidence

But on what, a man will say, am I, a miserable sinner, to found this certain confidence of obtaining what I ask? On what? On the promise made by Jesus Christ: "Ask, and you shall receive" - John 16:24. "Who will fear to be deceived, when the truth promises?", says Saint Augustine. How can we doubt that we shall be heard, when God, Who is truth itself, promises to give us that which we ask of Him in prayer? "We should not be exhorted to ask", says the same Father, "unless He meant to give".

Certainly God would not have exhorted us to ask Him for favors, if He had not determined to grant them; but this is the very thing to which He exhorts us so strongly, and which is repeated so often in the Scriptures-----pray, ask, seek, and you shall obtain what you desire: "Ask whatever you will, and it shall be done unto you" - John 15:7. And in order that we may pray to Him with due confidence, Our Savior has taught us, in the "Our Father", that when we have recourse to Him for the graces necessary to salvation [all of which are included in the petitions of the Lord's Prayer] we should call Him, not Lord, but Father-----"Our Father"-----because it is His will that we should ask God for grace with the same confidence with which a son, when in want or sick, asks food or medicine from his own father. If a son is dying of hunger, he has only to make his case known to his father, and his father will forthwith provide him with food; and if he has received a bite from a venomous serpent, he has only to show his father the wound, and the father will immediately apply whatever remedy he has.

Trusting, therefore, in God's promises, let us always pray with confidence; not vacillating, but stable and firm, as the Apostle says: "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering; for He is faithful that hath promised" - Hebrews 10:23. As it is perfectly certain that God is faithful in His promises, so ought our faith also to be perfectly certain that He will hear us when we pray. And although sometimes, when we are in a state of aridity, or disturbed by some fault we have committed, we perhaps do not feel while praying that sensible confidence which we would wish to experience, yet, for all this, let us force ourselves to pray, and to pray without ceasing; for God will not neglect to hear us. Nay, rather He will hear us more readily; because we shall then pray with more distrust of ourselves; and confiding only in the goodness and faithfulness of God, Who has promised to hear the man who prays to Him. Oh, how God is pleased in the time of our tribulations, of our fears, and of our temptations, to see us hope against hope; that is, in spite of the feeling of diffidence which we then experience because of our desolation! This is that for which the Apostle praises the Patriarch Abraham, "who against hope, believed in hope" - Romans 4:18.

Saint John says that he who reposes a sure trust in God certainly will become a Saint: "And every one that hath this hope in Him sanctifieth himself, as He also is holy" - 1John 3:3. For God gives abundant graces to them that trust in Him. By this confidence the host of Martyrs, of Virgins, even of children, in spite of the dread of the torments which their persecutors prepared for them, overcame both their tortures and their persecutors.

Sometimes, I say, we pray, but it seems to us that God will not hear us. Alas! Let us not then neglect to persevere in prayer and in hope; let us then say, with Job, "Although He should kill me, I will trust in Him" - Job 13:15. O my God! Though Thou hast driven me from Thy presence, I will not cease to pray, and to hope in Thy mercy. Let us do so, and we shall obtain what we want from God. So did the Canaanite woman, and she obtained all that she wished from Jesus Christ. This woman had a daughter possessed by a devil, and prayed Our Savior to deliver her: "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Thou Son of David: my daughter is grieviously troubled by the devil" - Matthew 15:22. Our Lord answered her, that He was not sent for the Gentiles, of whom she was one, but for the Jews. She, however, did not lose heart, but renewed her prayer with confidence: Lord, Thou canst console me! Thou must console me: "Lord, help me!" Jesus answered, but as to the bread of the children, it is not good to give it to the dogs: "It is not good to take the children's bread, and to cast it to the dogs". But, my Lord, she answered, even the dogs are allowed to have the fragments of bread which fall from the table: "Yea, Lord; for the whelps eat of the crumbs that fall from the tables of their masters". Then Our Savior, seeing the great confidence of this woman, praised her, and did what she asked, saying: "O woman, great is thy faith; be it done to thee as thou wilt". For who, says Ecclesiasticus, has ever called on God for aid, and has been neglected and left unaided by Him? "Or who hath called upon Him, and He hath despised him?" - Ecclesiasticus 2:12.

Saint Augustine says that prayer is a key which opens Heaven to us; the same moment in which our prayer ascends to God, the grace which we ask for descends to us: "The prayer of the just is the key of Heaven; the petition ascends, and the mercy of God descends" - Sermon 47. The Royal Prophet writes that our supplications and God's mercy are united together: "Blessed be God, Who hath not turned away my prayer, nor His mercy from me" - Psalm 65:20. And hence the same Saint Augustine says that when we are praying to God, we ought to be certain that God is hearing us: "When you see that your prayer is not removed from you, be sure that His mercy is not removed from you" - Psalm 65. And for myself, I speak the truth, I never feel greater consolation, nor a greater confidence of my salvation, than when I am praying to God, and recommending myself to Him. And I think that the same thing happens to all other believers; for the other signs of our salvation are uncertain and unstable; but that God hears the man who prays to Him with confidence is an infallible truth, as it is infallible that God cannot fail in His promises.

When we find ourselves weak, and unable to overcome any passion, or any great difficulty, so as to fulfill that which God requires of us, let us take courage and say, with the Apostle, "I can do all things in Him, Who strengtheneth me" - Philippians 4:13. Let us not say, as some do, I cannot; I distrust myself. With our own strength certainly we can do nothing; but with God's help we can do everything. If God said to anyone, take this mountain on your back and carry it, for I am helping you, would not the man be a mistrustful fool if he answered, I will not take it; for I have not strength to carry it? And thus, when we know how miserable and weak we are, and when we find ourselves most encompassed with temptations, let us not lose heart; but let us lift up our eyes to God; and say, with David, "The Lord is my helper; and I will look over my enemies" -  Psalm 117:7. With the help of my Lord, I shall overcome and laugh to scorn all the assaults of my foes. And when we find ourselves in danger of offending God, or in any other critical position, and are too confused to know what is best to be done, let us recommend ourselves to God, saying, "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom  shall I fear?" - Psalm 26:1. And let us be sure that God will then certainly give us light, and will save us from every evil.

 

The Prayer of Sinners

But I am a sinner, you will say; and in the Scriptures I read, "God heareth not sinners" - John 9:31. Saint Thomas answers [with Saint Augustine] that this was said by the blind man, who, when he spoke, had not as yet been enlightened: "That is the word of a blind man not yet perfectly enlightened, and therefore it is not authoritative" - Summa Theologica. Though, adds Saint Thomas, it is true of the petition which the sinner makes, "so far forth as he is a sinner"; that is, when he asks from a desire of continuing to sin; as, for instance, if he were to ask assistance to enable him to take revenge on his enemy, or to execute any other bad intention. The same holds good for the sinner who prays God to save him, but has no desire to quit the state of sin. There are some unhappy persons who love the chains with which the devil keeps them bound like slaves. The prayers of such men are not heard by God; because they are rash, presumptuous, and abominable. For what greater presumption can there be than for a man to ask favors of a prince whom he not only has often offended, but whom he intends to offend still more? And this is the meaning of the Holy Spirit, when He says that the prayer of him who turns away his ears so as not to hear what God commands is detestable and odious to God: "He that turneth away his ears from hearing the law, his prayer shall be an abomination" - Proverbs 28:9. To these people God says, it is of no use your praying to Me, for I will turn My eyes from you, and will not hear you: "When you stretch forth your hands, I will turn away My eyes from you; and when you multiply prayer, I will not hear" - Isaiah 1:15. Such, precisely, was the prayer of the impious King Antiochus, who prayed to God, and made great promises, but insincerely, and with a heart obstinate in sin; the sole object of his prayer being to escape the punishment that impended over him; therefore God did not hear his prayer, but caused him to die devoured by worms: "Then this wicked man prayed to the Lord, of Whom he was not to obtain mercy".

But others, who sin through frailty, or by the violence of some great passion, and who groan under the yoke of the enemy, and desire to break these chains of death, and to escape from their miserable slavery, and therefore ask the assistance of God; the prayer of these, if it is persevering, will certainly be heard by Him, Who says that every one that asks receives; and he who seeks grace finds it: "For every one that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth" - Matthew 7:8. "Everyone, whether he be a just man or a sinner", says the author of the Opus Imperfectum. And in Saint Luke, Our Lord, when speaking of the man who gave all the loaves he had to his friend, not so much on account of his friendship as because of the other's importunity, says, "And if he shall continue knocking, I say to you, although he will not rise and give him because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth" - Luke 11:8. "And so I say unto you, ask, and it shall be given to you" - Luke 11:9. So that persevering prayer obtains mercy from God, even for those who are not His friends. That which is not obtained through friendship, says Saint Chrysostom, is obtained by prayer: "That which was not effected by friendship was effected by prayer". He even says that prayer is valued more by God than friendship: "Friendship is not of such avail with God as prayer; that which is not effected by friendship is effected by prayer". And Saint Basil doubts not that even sinners obtain what they ask if they persevere in praying: "Sinners obtain what they seek, if they seek perseveringly".  Saint Gregory says the same: "The sinner also shall cry, and his prayer shall reach to God". So Saint Jerome, who says that even the sinner can call God his Father, if he prays to Him to receive him anew as a son; after the example of the Prodigal Son, who called Him Father, "Father, I have sinned" - Luke 15:21, even though he had not as yet been pardoned. If God did not hear sinners, says Saint Augustine, in vain would the Publican have asked for forgiveness: "If God does not hear sinners, in vain would that Publican have said, God be merciful to me a sinner". But the Gospel assures us that the Publican did by his prayer obtain forgiveness: "This man went down to his house justified" - Luke 18:14.

But further still, Saint Thomas examines this point more minutely, and does not hesitate to affirm that even the sinner is heard if he prays; for though his prayer is not meritorious, yet it has the power of impetration,-----that is, of obtaining what we ask; because impetration is not founded on God's justice, but on His goodness. "Merit," he says, "depends on justice; impetration, on grace" - Summa Theologica. Thus did Daniel pray, "Incline, O my God, Thine ear and hear . . . for it is not for our justifications that we present our prayers before Thy face, but for the multitude of Thy tender mercies" - Daniel 9:18. Therefore, when we pray, says Saint Thomas, it is not necessary to be friends of God, in order to obtain the grace we ask; for prayer itself renders us His friends: "Prayer itself makes us of the family of God".

Moreover, Saint Bernard uses a beautiful explanation of this, saying that the prayer of a sinner to escape from sin arises from the desire to return to the grace of God. Now this desire is a gift, which is certainly given by no other than God Himself; to what end, therefore, says Saint Bernard, would God give to a sinner this holy desire, unless He meant to hear him? "For what would He give the desire, unless He willed to hear"? And, indeed, in the Holy Scriptures themselves there are multitudes of instances of sinners who have been delivered from sin by prayer. Thus was King Achab [3Kings 21:27] delivered; thus King Manasses [2Paralipomenon 33:12]; thus King Nabuchodonosor; [Daniel 4: 31] and thus the good thief [Luke 23:42]. Oh, the wonderful! oh, the mighty power of prayer! Two sinners are dying on Calvary by the side of Jesus Christ: one, because he prays, "Remember me", is saved; the other, because he prays not, is damned.

And, in fine', Saint Chrysostom says, "No man has with sorrow asked favors from Him, without obtaining what he wished".  No sinner has ever with penitence prayed to God, without having his desires granted. But why should we cite more authorities, and give more reasons, to demonstrate this point, when Our Lord Himself says, "Come to Me, all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you" - Matthew 11:28. The "burdened," according to Saints Augustine, Jerome, and others, are sinners in general, who groan under the load of their sins; and who, if they have recourse to God, will surely, according to His promise, be refreshed and saved by His grace. Ah, we cannot desire to be pardoned as much as He longs to pardon us. "Thou dost not", says Saint Chrysostom, "so much desire thy sins to be forgiven, as He desires to forgive thy sins". There is no grace, he goes on to say, that is not obtained by prayer, though it be the prayer of the most abandoned sinner, provided only it be persevering: "There is nothing which prayer cannot obtain, though a man be guilty of a thousand sins, provided it be fervent and unremitting". And let us mark well the words of Saint James: "If any man wanteth wisdom, let him ask of God, Who giveth to all abundantly, and upbraideth not" - James 1:5. All those, therefore, who pray to God, are infallibly heard by Him, and receive grace in abundance: "He giveth to all abundantly". But you should particularly remark the words which follow, and "upbraideth not". This means that God does not do as men, who, when a person who has formerly done them an injury comes to ask a favor, immediately upbraid him with his offense. God does not do so to the man who prays, even though he were the greatest sinner in the world, when he asks for some grace conducive to his eternal salvation. Then He does not upbraid him with the offenses he has committed; but, as though he had never displeased Him, He instantly receives him, He consoles him, He hears him, and enriches him with an abundance of His gifts. To crown all, Our Savior, in order to encourage us to pray, says, "Amen, amen, I say to you, if you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it you" - John 16:23. As though He had said, Courage, O sinners; do not despair: do not let your sins turn you away from having recourse to My Father, and from hoping to be saved by Him, if you desire it. You have not now any merits to obtain the graces which you ask for, for you only deserve to be punished; still do this: go to My Father in My name, through My merits ask the favors which you want, and I promise and swear to you ["Amen, amen, I say to you" which, according to Saint Augustine, is a species of oath] that whatever you ask, My Father will grant. O God, what greater comfort can a sinner have after his fall than to know for certain that all he asks from God in the name of Jesus Christ will be given to him!

I say "all" but I mean only that which has reference to his eternal salvation; for with respect to temporal goods, we have already shown that God even when asked, sometimes does not give them; because He sees that they would injure our soul. But so far as relates to spiritual goods, His promise to hear us is not conditional, but absolute; and therefore Saint Augustine tells us, that those things which God promises absolutely, we should demand with absolute certainty of receiving: "Those things which God promises, seek with certainty" - Sermon 354. And how, says the Saint, can God ever deny us His graces, than we to receive them! "He is more willing to be munificent of His benefits to thee than thou art desirous to receive them" - Sermon 105.

Saint Chrysostom says that the only time when God is angry with us is when we neglect to ask Him for His gifts: "He is only angry when we do not pray". And how can it ever happen that God will not hear a soul who asks Him for favors all according to His pleasure? When the soul says to Him: Lord, I ask Thee not for goods of this world,-----riches, pleasures, honors; I ask Thee only for Thy grace: deliver me from sin, grant me a good death, give me Paradise, give me Thy holy love [which is that grace which Saint Francis de Sales says we should seek more than all others], give me resignation to Thy will; how is it possible that God should not hear! What petitions wilt Thou, O my God, ever hear [says Saint Augustine], if Thou dost not hear those which are made after Thy Own heart? "What prayers dost Thou hear, if Thou hearest not these"?  But, above all, our confidence ought to revive, when we pray to God for spiritual graces, as Jesus Christ says: "If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father from Heaven give the good Spirit to them that ask Him" - Luke 11:13. If you, who are so attached to your own interests, so full of self-love, cannot refuse your children that which they ask, how much more will your Heavenly Father, Who loves you better than any earthly father, grant you His spiritual goods when you pray for them!

 

The Perseverance Required in Prayer

Our prayers, then, must be humble and confident; but this is not enough to obtain final perseverance, and thereby eternal life. Individual prayers will obtain the individual graces which they ask of God; but unless they are persevering, they will not obtain final perseverance: which, as it is the accumulation of many graces, requires many prayers, that are not to cease till death. The grace of salvation is not a single grace, but a chain of graces, all of which are at last linked with the grace of final perseverance. Now, to this chain of graces there ought to correspond another chain [as it were] of our prayers; if we, by neglecting to pray, break the chain of our prayers, the chain of graces will be broken too; and as it is by this that we have to obtain salvation, we shall not be saved.

It is true that we cannot merit final perseverance, as the Council of Trent teaches: "It cannot be had from any other source but from Him Who is able to confirm the man who is standing, that he may stand with perseverance" - Session 6, c. 13. Nevertheless, says Saint Augustine, this great gift of perseverance can in a manner be merited by our prayers; that is, can be obtained by praying: "This gift, therefore, can be suppliantly merited; that is, can be obtained by supplication". And Father Suarez adds, that the man who prays, infallibly obtains it. But to obtain it, and to save ourselves, says Saint Thomas, a persevering and continual prayer is necessary:

"After Baptism continual prayer is necessary to a man in order that he may enter Heaven". And before this, Our Savior Himself had said it over and over again: "We ought always to pray, and not to faint" - Luke 18:1. "Watch ye therefore, praying at all times, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that are to come, and to stand before the Son of Man" - Luke 21:36. The same had been previously said in the Old Testament: "Let nothing hinder thee from praying always" - Ecclesiasticus 18:22; "Bless God at all times, and desire Him to direct thy ways" - Tobit 4:20. Hence the Apostle inculcated on his disciples never to neglect prayer: "Pray without ceasing" - 1Thessalonians 5:17. "Be instant in prayer, watching in it with thanksgiving" - Colossians 4:2. "I will therefore that men pray in every place" - 1Timothy 2:8. God does indeed wish to give us perseverance, says Saint Nilus, but He will only give it to him who prays for it perseveringly: "He willeth to confer benefits on him who perseveres in prayer". Many sinners by the help of God's grace come to be converted, and to receive pardon. But then, because they neglect to ask for perseverance, they fall again, and lose all.

Nor is it enough, says Bellarmine, to ask the grace of perseverance once, or a few times; we ought always to ask it, every day till our death, if we wish to obtain it: "It must be asked day by day, that it may be obtained day by day". He who asks it one day, obtains it for that one day; but if he does not ask it the next day, the next day he will fall.

And this is the lesson which Our Lord wished to teach us in the parable of the man who would not give his loaves to his friend who asked him for them until he had become importunate in his demand: "Although he will not rise and give because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity, he will rise and give him as many as he needeth" - Luke 11:8. Now if this man, solely to deliver himself from the troublesome importunity of his friend, gave him even against his own will the loaves for which he asked, "how much more", says Saint Augustine, "will the good God give, Who both commands us to ask, and is angry if we ask not!" - Sermon 61. How much more will God, Who, as He is infinite goodness, has a commensurate desire to communicate to us His good things,-----how much more will He give His graces when we ask Him for them! And the more, as He Himself tells us to ask for them, and as He is displeased when we do not demand them. God, then, does indeed wish to give us eternal life, and therein all graces; but He wishes also that we should never omit to ask Him for them, even to the extent of being troublesome.

Cornelius a Lapide says on the text just quoted, "God wishes us to be persevering in prayer to the extent of importunity". Men of the world cannot bear the importunate; but God not only bears with them, but wishes us to be importunate in praying to Him for graces, and especially for perseverance. Saint Gregory says that God wishes us to do Him violence by our prayers; for such violence does not annoy, but pleases Him: "God wills to be called upon, He wills to be forced, He wills to be conquered by importunity.  . . . Happy violence, by which God is not offended, but appeased!"

So that to obtain perseverance we must always recommend ourselves to God morning and night, at meditation, at Mass, at Communion, and always; especially in time of temptation, when we must keep repeating, Lord help me; Lord, assist me; keep Thy hand upon me; leave me not; have pity upon me! Is there anything easier than to say, Lord, help me, assist me! The Psalmist says, "With me is prayer to the God of my life" - Psalm 41:9.

On which the gloss is as follows: "A man may say, I cannot fast, I cannot give alms; but if he is told to pray, he cannot say this". Because there is nothing easier than to pray. But we must never cease praying; we must [so to speak] continually do violence to God, that He may assist us always-----a violence which is delightful and dear to Him. "This violence is grateful to God", says Teliulllan; and Saint Jerome says that the more persevering and importunate our prayers are, so much the more are they acceptable to God: "Prayer, as long as it is importunate, is more acceptable".

"Blessed is the man that heareth Me, and that watcheth daily at My gates" - Proverbs 8:34. Happy is that man, says God, who listens to Me, and watches continually with holy prayers at the gates of My mercy. And Isaiah says, "Blessed are all they that wait for Him" - Isaiah 30:18. Blessed are they who till the end wait [in prayer] for their salvation from God. Therefore in the Gospel, Jesus Christ exhorts us to pray; but how? "Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you" - Luke 11:9. Would it not have been enough to have said, "ask"? why add "seek" and "knock"? No, it was not superfluous to add them; for thereby Our Savior wished us to understand that we ought to do as the poor who go begging. If they do not receive the alms they ask [I speak of licensed beggars], they do not cease asking: they return to ask again: and if the master of the house does not show himself any more, they set to work to knock at the door, till they become very importunate and troublesome. That is what God wishes us to do: to pray, and to pray again, and never leave off praying, that He would assist us and succor us, that He would enlighten us and strengthen us, and never allow us to forfeit His grace. The learned Lessius says that the man cannot be excused from mortal sin who does not pray when he is in sin, or in danger of death; or, again, if he neglects to pray for any notable time, as [he says] for one or two months. But this does not include the time of temptations; because whoever finds himself assailed by any grievous temptation, without doubt sins mortally if he does not have recourse to God in in prayer, to ask for assistance to resist it; seeing that otherwise he places himself in a proximate, nay, in a certain, occasion of sin.

 

Why God Delays Granting Us Final Perseverance
Conclusion

But, some one will say, since God can give and wishes to give me the grace of perseverance, why does He not give it me all at once, when I ask Him?

The holy Fathers assign many reasons:

1. God does not grant it at once, but delays it, first, that He may better prove our confidence.

2. And, further, says Saint Augustine, that we may long for it more vehemently. Great gifts, he says, should be greatly desired; for good things soon obtained are not held in the same estimation as those which have been long looked for: "God wills not to give quickly, that you may learn to have great desire for great things; things long desired are pleasanter to obtain, but things soon given are cheapened" Sermon 61.

3. Again, the Lord does so that we may not forget Him; if we were already secure of persevering and of being saved, and if we had not continual need of God's help to preserve us in His grace and to save us, we should soon forget God. Want makes the poor keep resorting to the houses of the rich; so God, to draw us to Himself, as Saint Chrysostom says, and to see us often at His feet, in order that He may thus be able to do us greater good, delays giving us the complete grace of salvation till the hour of our death: "It is not because He rejects our prayers that He delays, but by this contrivance He wishes to make us careful, and to draw us to Himself". Again, He does so in order that we, by persevering in prayer, may unite ourselves closer to Him with the sweet bonds of love: "Prayer", says the same Saint Chrysostom, "which is accustomed to converse with God, is no slight bond of love to Him". This continual recurrence to God in prayer, and this confident expectation of the graces which we desire from Him, oh, what a great spur and chain is it of love to inflame us, and to bind us more closely to God!

But, till what time have we to pray! Always, says the same Saint, till we receive favorable sentence of eternal life; that is to say, till our death: "Do not leave off till you receive". And he goes on to say that the man who resolves, I will never leave off praying till I am saved, will most certainly be saved: "If you say, I will not give in till I have received, you will assuredly receive". The Apostle writes that many run for the prize, but that he only receives it who runs till he wins: "Know you not that they who run in the race, all run indeed, but one receiveth the prize? So run that you may obtain" - 1Corinthians 9:24. It is not, then, enough for salvation simply to pray; but we must pray always, that we may come to receive the crown which God promises, but promises only to those who are constant in prayer till the end.

So that if we wish to be saved, we must do as David did, who always kept his eyes turned to God, to implore His aid against being overcome by his enemies: "My eyes are ever towards the Lord, for He shall pluck my feet out of the snare" - Psalm 24:15. As the Devil does not cease continually spreading snares to swallow us up, as Saint Peter writes: "Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about, seeking whom he may devour" - 1Peter 5:8. So ought we ever to stand with our arms in our hands to defend ourselves from such a foe, and to say, with the Royal Prophet, "I will pursue after my enemies; and I will not turn again till they are consumed" - Psalm 17:38. I will never cease fighting till I see my enemies conquered. But how can we obtain this victory, so important for us, and so difficult? "By most persevering prayers", says Saint Augustine,-----only by prayers, and those most persevering; and till when? As long as the fight shall last. "As the battle is never over", says Saint Bonaventure, "so let us never give over asking for mercy". As we must be always in the combat, so should we be always asking God for aid not to be overcome. Woe, says the Wise Man, to him who in this battle leaves off praying: "Woe to them that have lost patience" - Ecclesiasticus 2:16. We may be saved, the Apostle tells us, but on this condition, "if we hold fast the confidence and glory of hope unto the end" - Hebrews 3:6, if we are constant in praying with confidence until death.

Let us, then, take courage from the mercy of God, and His promises, and say with the same Apostle, "Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or danger or persecution, or the sword?" - Romans 8:35. Who shall succeed in estranging us from the love of Jesus Christ? Tribulation, perhaps, or the danger of losing the goods of this world? The persecutions of devils or men? The torments inflicted by tyrants? "In all these we overcome" [it is Saint Paul who encourages us], "because of Him that hath loved us" - Romans 8:35. No, he says, no tribulation, no misery, danger, persecution, or torture, shall ever be able to separate us from the love of Jesus Christ; because with God's help we shall overcome all, if we fight for love of Him Who gave His life for us.

F. Hippolitus Durazzo, the day when he resolved to relinquish his dignity of prelate at Rome, and to give himself entirely to God by entering the Society of Jesus [which he afterwards did], was so afraid of being faithless by reason of his weakness that he said to God, "Forsake me not, Lord, now that I have given myself wholly to Thee; for pity's sake, do not forsake me!" But he heard the whisper of God in his heart, "Do not thou forsake Me; rather", said God, "do I say to thee, Forsake Me not". And so at last the servant of God, trusting in His goodness and help, concluded, "Then, O my God, Thou wilt not leave me, and I will not leave Thee".

Finally, if we wish not to be forsaken by God, we ought never to forsake praying to Him not to leave us. If we do thus, He will certainly always assist us, and will never allow us to perish, and to be separated from His love. And to this end, let us not only take care always to ask for final perseverance, and the graces necessary to obtain it, but let us, at the same time, always by anticipation ask God for grace to go on praying; for this is precisely that great gift which He promised to His elect by the mouth of the Prophet: "And I will pour out upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and prayers" - Zechariah 12:10. Oh, what a great grace is the spirit of prayer; that is, the grace which God confers on a soul to enable it to pray always! Let us, then, never neglect to beg God to give us this grace, and this spirit of continual prayer; because if we pray always, we shall certainly obtain from God perseverance and every other gift which we desire, since His promise of hearing whoever prays to Him cannot fail. "For we are saved by hope" - Romans 8:24. With this hope of always praying, we may reckon ourselves saved. "Confidence will give us a broad entrance into this city". This hope, said Venerable Bede, will give us a safe passage into the city of Paradise.