On the Efficacy and Necessity of Prayer
by Saint Alphonsus Liguori
The Proud Pharisee and the Humble Publican at Temple
In this Day's Gospel we read that Two (2) Men, One a Pharisee and the Other a Publican, went to the Temple.
Instead of Bowing-down to Beg God to Assist him by His Graces, the Pharisee said:
I thank Thee, O Lord, that I am not as the Rest of Men, who are Sinners. "Deus gratias ago tibi,
quia non sum sicut caeteri homines". But the Publican, Filled-with Sentiments-of Humility, cried out:
"O God be Merciful to me a Sinner". Saint Luke tells us that this Publican returned-to his House,
Justified; and that the Pharisee went Home as Guilty, and as Proud as when he
entered the Temple. From this, most Beloved Brethren, you may infer how Pleasing to God,
and how Necessary for us, are our Humble Petitions, to Obtain-from the Lord all the
Graces which are Indispensable-for Salvation. In this Sermon I will show, in the
First (1st) Point, the 'Efficacy' of Prayer; and in the
Second (2nd), the 'Necessity' of Prayer.
First (1st) Point
On the Efficacy of Prayer
To understand the 'Efficacy' and 'Value' of our Prayers, we need only to consider the Great Promises which
God has made to everyone who Prays. "And Call upon Me in the
Day of Trouble: I will Deliver thee, and thou shalt Glorify Me" - Psalm 49:15. Call-upon Me, and
I will Save you from every Danger.
"He shall Cry to Me, and I will Hear him" - Psalm 90:15. "Cry to Me and I will Hear thee" -
Jeremiah 33:3. "You shall Ask whatever you Will, and it shall be Done unto you" - John 15:7.
'Ask' whatever you Wish, and it
shall be Given-to you. There are a Thousand Similar Passages in the Old and New Testament. By
His 'Nature', God is, as Saint Leo says, Goodness itself. "Deus
cujus natura bonitas". Hence He Desires, with a Great Desire, to make us Partakers-of
His Own Goods. Saint Mary Magdalene de Pazzi used to say that when a Soul Prays to God
for any Grace, He feels in a Certain Manner, under an Obligation-to
Her, and thanks Her; because by Prayer, the Soul
opens-to Him a Way-of Satisfying His Desire-to Dispense His
Graces to us. Hence, in the Holy Scriptures, the Lord appears to Recommend and Inculcate to us, nothing more Forcibly
than to 'Ask', and to Pray. To show this, the Words which we read in the Seventh (7th)
Chapter of Saint Matthew are sufficient. "Ask, and it shall be Given you: Seek, and you shall Find: Knock, and it shall be
Opened to you" - Matthew 7:7. Saint Augustine teaches, that by these Promises, God has bound
Himself to Grant all that we Ask in Prayer. "By His Promises, He has made Himself a
Debtor". And, in the Fifth (5th) Sermon, the Saint says, that if the Lord did
not Wish to Bestow His Graces upon us, He would not Exhort us so-Strenuously,
to 'Ask' them. "He would not Exhort us to Ask, unless He Wished to Give". Hence we see that the Psalms-of-David, and the
Books-of-Solomon and of the Prophets, are Full-of Prayers.
Theodoret has written that Prayer is so Efficacious before God, that
"though it be but One, it can do all things". "Oratio cum sit una, omnia potest". Saint
Bernard teaches that when we Pray, the Lord, if He
does not give the Grace we Ask, will Grant a more useful Gift.
"He will give either what we Ask, or what He Knows to be more Profitable to us". And whom has
God, when asked for Aid, ever Despised by not Listening-to his Petition?
"Who hath Called upon Him, and He Despised him?" - Ecclesiasticus 2:12. The Scripture says, that among the Nations, there is
none that has gods so willing to hear our Prayers, as our True God. "
Neither is there any other Nation so Great, that hath gods so nigh them, as our God is Present to all our Petitions" - Deuteronomy 4:7. The Princes-of
the Earth, says Saint Chrysostom, give Audience only to a Few; but God Grants
it to Everyone that Wished for it. "Aures principis paucis patent, Dei vero omnibus volentibus".
David tells us that this Goodness of God in Hearing us, at whatever
Time we Pray to Him, shows us that He is our
True God, Whose Love for us, Surpasses the Love of All Others.
"In what day soever I shall Call upon Thee, behold I know Thou art my God" - Psalm 55:10. He
Wishes and Ardently Desires to confer Favors upon us; but He requires us to
Pray for them. Jesus Christ said one day to His Disciples:
"Hitherto you have not Asked anything in My Name. Ask, and you shall Receive; that your Joy may be Full" - John 16:24.
As if He said: You Complain of Me for not making you
Perfectly Content; but you ought to Complain of yourselves, for not having
Asked-of Me all the Gifts you stood in Need-of; Ask, henceforth, whatever you Want, and your
Prayer shall be Heard. Many, says Saint Bernard, Complain that the
Lord is Wanting-to them. But, He Complains with more
Justice, that they are Wanting-to Him, by Neglecting-to ask Him for
His Graces. "Omnes nobis causamur deesse gratiam, sed justius forsitan ista sibi queritur
The Ancient Fathers, after having Consulted-together about the 'Exercise', most-conducive to Salvation, came to
the conclusion, that the Best Means-of securing Eternal (∞)
Life, is to Pray Continually, saying: Lord Assist me,
Lord Hasten-to my Assistance. "Incline unto my Aid, O God; O Lord make Haste to Help me". Hence the
Holy Church commands these Two (2) Petitions to be Often Repeated in the Canonical Hours,
by all the Clergy and by all Religious, who Pray not only for themselves, but also for the Whole Christian World. Saint
John Climacus says, that our Prayers, as-it-were, Compel God by a Holy Violence, to Hear us.
"Prayer Piously does Violence to God". Hence, when we Pray to the
Lord, He Instantly Answers, by Bestowing upon us the
Grace we Ask. "At the Voice of thy Cry, as soon as He shall Hear, He will Answer thee" - Isaiah 30:19. Hence Saint Ambrose
says that he who Asks of God, Receives while he Asks. And He not only Grants
His Graces Instantly, but Abundantly, giving us more than we
Pray for. Saint Paul tells us that God is Rich - that is, Liberal-of His Graces
to everyone that Prays to Him. "For the Same is Lord over all, Rich
unto all that Call upon Him" - Romans 10:12. And Saint James says: "But if any of you want Wisdom, let him Ask of God, Who Giveth
to all Men Abundantly, and Upbraideth not" - James 1:5. He Upbraideth not; when we Pray
to Him, He does not Reproach us with the
Insults we have Offered-to Him, but He appears then
to Forget all the Injuries we have done Him, and to Delight
in Enriching us with His Graces.
On the Necessity of Prayer
God, as Saint Paul has written, "will have all Men to be Saved, and to Come to the Knowledge
of the Truth" - 1Timothy 2:4. According to Saint Peter, He does not Wish anyone to be
Lost. "The Lord delayeth not His Promise, as some Imagine, but Dealeth Patiently for your Sake, not Willing that any should Perish,
but that all should Return to Penance" - 2Peter 3:9. Hence, Saint Leo teaches that as God Wishes us to Observe
His Commands, so He Prevents us by His Assistance, that we may
Fulfill them. "Juste instat praecepto qui praecurrit auxilio" - Sermon 16. And Saint Thomas, in Explaining the Words of the Apostle -
God will have all Men to be Saved - says: "Therefore, Grace is Wanting to no one; but He, on His Part,
Communicates it to All". And in another Place, the Holy Doctor writes: "to Provide every Man with the Means Necessary for his Salvation,
provided on his part, he puts no Obstacle to it, belongs to Divine Providence". But, according to Gennadius, this Assistance-of His
Grace, the Lord Grants only to those, who Pray for it.
"We believe . . . . that no one Works out his Salvation, but by God's Assistance; and he only who Prays, Merits Aid from God".
And Saint Augustine teaches that, Except the First Graces of Vocation-to the Faith and to Repentance, all other Graces, and Particularly
the Grace-of Perseverance, are Granted-to those only who Ask them. It is evident that God Gives some
Graces, such as the Beginning-of Faith - without Prayer,
and that He has Prepared other Graces - such as Perseverance
to the End, only for those who Pray. And in another Place he writes that: "God Wishes to Bestow His
Favors; but He Gives them only, to those who Ask".
Hence, Theologians commonly-teach, after Saint Basil, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Augustine, Clement of Alexandria, and others, that for Adults,
Prayer is Necessary, as a Means-of Salvation; that is, that without
Prayer, it is Impossible for them to be Saved. This Doctrine may be
Inferred-from the following Passages-of Scripture. "We Ought always to Pray" - Luke 18:1. "Ask, and you shall
Receive" - John 16:24. "Pray without Ceasing" - 1Thessalonians 5:17. The Words we Ought,
Ask, Pray, according to Saint Thomas, and the Generality-of Theologians, Imply a Precept, which
Obliges under Grievous Sin, particularly-in Three (3) Cases:
First (1st), when a Man is in a State of Sin;
Secondly (2nd), when he is in Great Danger of
Falling into Sin; and
Thirdly (3rd), when he is in Danger of
Theologians teach, that he who at other Times, Neglects Prayer for a
Month, or at most for Two (2) Months, cannot be Excused-from
Mortal Sin; because, without Prayer, we cannot Procure the Helps Necessary-for
the Observance-of the Law of God. Saint Chrysostom teaches, that as Water is Necessary-to Prevent Trees from
Withering, so Prayer is Necessary-to Save us from
Perdition. "Non minus quam arbores aquis, precibus indigemus".
Most Groundless was the Assertion-of Jansenius, that there are some Commands,
the Fulfillment-of which is Impossible to us; and that we have not even the Grace to 'Gender' their Observance Possible. For
the Council-of-Trent teaches, in the Words of Saint Augustine, that though Man is not Able, with the Aid of Grace ordinarily-given,
to Fulfill-all the Commandments, still he can by Prayer, obtain the Additional
Helps Necessary-for their Observance. "God does not Command Impossibilities; but, by His Precepts, He Admonishes
you to 'Do' what you can, and to 'Ask' what you cannot Do; and He Assists you, that you may be Able to do it". To this may be added another Celebrated Passage of
Saint Augustine: "By our Faith, which teaches that God does not Command Impossibilities, we are Admonished what to 'Do', in things that are Easy,
and what to 'Ask', in things that are Difficult".
Truly, Prayer is a Great Armor
But 'Why' does God, Who Knows our Weakness,
Permit us to be Assailed by Enemies, which we are not Able-to Resist? The
Lord, Answers the Holy Doctor, seeing the Great Advantages which we Derive-from the Necessity-of Prayer, Permits us to be
Attacked by Enemies, more-Powerful than we are, that we may 'Ask' His
Assistance. Hence, they who are Conquered, cannot Excuse themselves by saying that they had not Strength to Resist
the Assault of the Enemy; for if they 'Asked' Aid from
God, He should have Given it; and had they Prayed, they should
have been Victorious. Therefore, if they are Defeated, God will
Punish them. Saint Bonaventure says, that if a General Lose a Fortress, in Consequence-of not having sought Timely
Succor from his Sovereign, he shall be Branded as a Traitor. "Reputaretur infidelis, nisi expectaret a rege
auxilium". Thus God regards as a Traitor, the Christian who, when he finds himself
Assailed by Temptations, Neglects-to Seek the
Divine Aid. "Ask", says Jesus Christ, "and you shall
Receive". Then, concludes Saint Teresa, he that does not 'Ask', does not Receive. This is Conformable-to the Doctrine
of Saint James: "You 'Have' not, because you 'Ask' not" - James 4:2. Saint Chrysostom says, that Prayer
is a Powerful Weapon of Defense against all Enemies. "Truly, Prayer is a Great Armor". Saint Ephrem
writes, that he who Fortifies himself Beforehand, by Prayer, Prevents the Entrance-of Sin into the
Soul. "If you Pray before you Work, the Passage into the Soul will not be Open to Sin".
David said the same thing: "Praising, I will Call upon the Lord: and I shall be Saved from my Enemies" - Psalm 17:4.
If we Wish to Lead a Good Life, and to Save our
Souls, we must Learn-to Pray. "He", says Saint Augustine, "Knows
how to Live Well, who Knows how to Pray Well" - Homily 43. In order to obtain God's Graces by
Prayer, it is Necessary, First (1st), to take-away Sin; for
God does not Hear Obstinate Sinners. For example, if a Person 'Entertains'
Hatred towards another, and Wishes to take Revenge, God does
not Hear his Prayer. "When you Multiply Prayer, I will not Hear: for your Hands are Full of
Blood" - Isaiah 1:15. Saint Chrysostom says that he who Prays, while he Cherishes a Sinful
Affection, does not Pray, but Mocks
God. "Qui orat et peccat, non rogat Deum sed illudit" - Homily 11. But if he 'Ask' the
Lord to Take-away Hatred from his Heart, the Lord
will Hear him. Secondly (2nd), it is Necessary to Pray with Attention. Some
imagine that they Pray by-Repeating many 'Our Fathers', with such Distractions that they do not Know what they say.
These Speak, but do not Pray. Of them the Lord says, by the Prophet Isaiah:
"Their Lips Glorify Me, but their Heart is far from Me" - Isaiah 19:13. Thirdly (3rd),
it is Necessary, as the Holy Ghost Exhorts us, to Take-away the Occasions which Hinder us to
Pray. "Let nothing Hinder thee from Praying always" - Ecclesiasticus 18:22. He who is Occupied-in
a Thousand Affairs, Unprofitable-to the Soul, places a Cloud
before his Prayers, which Prevents their Passing-to the Throne of Grace. "Thou
hast set a Cloud before thee, that our Prayer may not Pass through" - Lamentations 3:44. I will not omit here the Exhortation-of Saint Bernard, to 'Ask'
Graces of God through the Intercession-of His Divine
Mother. "Let us Ask Grace, and Ask it through Mary; for she is a Mother, and her Prayer cannot be
Fruitless". Saint Anselm says: "Many things are Asked of God, and are not Obtained; what is Asked of Mary is Obtained, not because
she is more Powerful, but because God Decreed thus to Honor her, that Men may Know that she can Obtain all things from God".
- End of Liguori Sermon -
Prayer to Mary
Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy!
Our Life, our Sweetness and our Hope!
To thee do we cry, poor Banished Children of Eve;
to thee do we send up our sighs, Mourning and Weeping in this Valley of Tears.
Turn then, most Gracious Advocate, thine Eyes of Mercy toward us,
and after this our Exile, show unto us the Blessed Fruit of thy Womb, Jesus.
O Clement, O Loving, O Sweet Virgin Mary!
V. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made Worthy of the Promises of Christ.