On the Conditions of Prayer


Jesus Christ, at Prayer in the Garden, Strengthened in His Human Nature by an Angel-of God
by RICCI, Sebastiano - from Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

 

"Ask, and ye shall Receive" - John 16:24

"Prayer is Helplessness, Casting itself on Power;
Infirmity, Leaning on Strength;
Misery, Reaching to Mercy; and a
Prisoner, Clamoring for Relief". - Archbishop Fulton J Sheen

 

On the Conditions of Prayer

by Saint Alphonsus Liguori

In this Sermon, I shall show the Strict Necessity-of Prayer, and its Infallible Efficacy, to-obtain for us, all the Graces which can be Conducive-to our Eternal (∞) Salvation. "Prayer", says Saint Cyprian, "is Omnipotent; it is One; it can do all things". We read in Ecclesiastes, that God has never Refused-to Hear anyone, who Invoked His Aid. "Who hath Called upon Him, and He hath Despised him?". This, He never can do; for He has Promised-to Hear all, who Pray-to Him. "Ask, and ye shall Receive". But, this Promise Extends only-to Prayer, which has the 'Necessary Conditions'. Many Pray; but, because they Pray Negligently, they do not Obtain the Graces they Desire. "You Ask, and Receive not; because you Ask Amiss" - Saint James 4:3. To Pray as we Ought, we must Pray,

First (1st), with Humility;

Secondly (2nd), with Confidence; and

Thirdly (3rd), with Perseverance.

 

First Point
We must Pray with Humility

Saint James tells us, that God Rejects the Prayers-of the Proud: "God Resisteth the Proud, and giveth Grace to the Humble" - James 4:6. He cannot-Bear the Proud; He Rejects their Petitions, and Refuses-to Hear them. Let those Proud Christians, who Trust-in their own Strength, and Think themselves Better-than others, Attend-to this, and let them Remember-that, their Prayers shall be Rejected-by the Lord.

 

But He always Hears the Prayers-of the Humble: "The Prayer of him that Humbleth himself, Pierceth the Clouds; and he will not depart till the Most High Behold". David says, that "the Lord hath had Regard-to the Prayer-of the Humble" - Psalm 102:18. The Cry-of the Humble Man, Penetrates the Heavens, and he will not Depart, till God 'Hears' his Prayer. "You Humble yourself" says Saint Augustine, "and God comes-to you; you Exalt yourself, and He Flies-from you". If you Humble yourself, God Himself comes, of His own-Accord, to-Embrace you; but, if you Exalt yourself, and Boast-of your Wisdom and of your Actions, He Withdraws-from you, and Abandons you to your own 'Nothingness'.

 

The Lord cannot Despise, even the most Obdurate Sinners, when they Repent-from their Hearts, and Humble themselves before Him, Acknowledging-that they are Unworthy-to Receive any Favor, from Him. "A Contrite and Humble Heart, O God, Thou wilt not Despise". Let us Pass-to the other Points, in which there is a Great Deal, to be said.

 

Second Point
We must Pray with Confidence

"No one hath Hoped-in the Lord, and hath been Confounded". Oh! how Encouraging-to Sinners, are these Words! Though they may have Committed the most 'Enormous' Crimes, they are told-by the Holy Ghost, that "No one hath Hoped-in the Lord, and hath been Confounded". No Man, has ever Placed his Trust-in God, and has been Abandoned. He that Prays with-Confidence, obtains whatever he asks. "All things, whatsoever you ask, when you Pray, Believe that you shall Receive, and they shall Come-unto you" - Mark 11:24. When we Pray-for Spiritual Favors, let us have a Secure Confidence-of Receiving them, and we shall Infallibly-obtain them. Hence, the Savior has Taught us to-Call God, in our Petitions-for His Graces, by no-other Name than that-of "Father" (Our Father), that we may have Recourse-to Him with the Confidence, with which a Child seeks Assistance-from an Affectionate Parent.

Who, says Saint Augustine, can Fear that Jesus Christ, Who is "Truth" itself, can Violate His 'Promise' to Hear all who Pray to Him? Who, shall Fear Deception, when "Truth" Promises? Is God like Men, who Promise, and do not Afterwards Fulfill their Promise; either because in-making it, they Intend-to Deceive, or because, after having-made it, they 'Change' their Intention? "God is not a Man, that He should Lie, nor as the son-of-man, that He should be-Changed. Hath He told, then, and will He not do?" - Numbers 23:19. Our God cannot Tell a Lie; because He is "Truth" itself: He is not Liable-to 'Change'; because all His 'Arrangements' are Just and Holy.

And because He Ardently Desires our Welfare, He earnestly Exhorts and Commands us to Ask the Graces, we Stand in-Need-of. "Ask, and it shall be Given you; Seek, and you shall Find; Knock, and it shall be Opened-to you?" - Matthew 7:7. Why, says Saint Augustine, should the Lord Exhort us so-Strongly to-Ask His Graces, if He did not Wish-to give them to us? " Non nos hortaretur, ut peteremus, nisi dare vellet". He has even 'Bound' Himself by His Promise, to-Hear our Prayers, and to-Bestow upon us, all the Graces which we Ask, with a Confidence-of Obtaining them. "By His Promises, He has made Himself a Debtor".

But some will say: I have but little Confidence in God, because I am a Sinner. I have been too Ungrateful to Him, and therefore, I see that I do not Deserve to be Heard. But, Saint Thomas tells us, that the Efficacy-of our Prayers, in obtaining Graces-from God, does not Depend-on our Merits, but on the Divine Mercy. "Oratio in impetrando non innititur nostris meritis, sed soli divinŠ misericordiŠ". As-often-as we Ask with-Confidence, Favors which are Conducive-to our Eternal (∞) Salvation, God 'Hears' our Prayer. I have said, Favors Conducive-to our Salvation; for, if what we Seek, be Injurious-to the Soul, God does-not, and can-not 'Hear' us. For example: if a Person asked Help-from God, to be Revenged-of an Enemy, or to-accomplish what would be Offensive-to God, the Lord will not 'Hear' his Prayers; because, says Saint Chrysostom, such a Person Offends God in the very Act-of Prayer; he does not Pray, but, in a certain-manner, Mocks God. "Qui orat et peccat, lion rogat Deum, sed eludit".

Moreover, if you Wish-to Receive-from God, the Aid which you Ask, you must Remove every Obstacle, which may Render you Unworthy-of being Heard. For example: if you Ask-of God, Strength-to Preserve you from Relapsing-into a Certain Sin, but will not Avoid the Occasions of the Sin, nor Keep-at a Distance-from the House, from the Object, or the Bad Company, which Led-to your Fall, God will not 'Hear' your Prayer. And why? Because "Thou hast set a Cloud before thee, that Prayer may not Pass-through". Should you Relapse, do not Complain-of God, nor say: I have Besought the Lord to Preserve me from Falling into Sin, but He has not Heard me. Do you not see that, by not Taking-away the Occasions of Sin, you have Interposed a Thick Cloud, which has Prevented your Prayers from Passing-to the Throne-of Divine Mercy?

It is also Necessary to-Remark, that the Promise-of Jesus Christ to 'Hear' those who Pray-to Him, does not Extend-to all the Temporal Favors, which we ask - such-as a Plentiful Harvest, a Victory-in a Law-suit, or a Deliverance-from Sickness or from certain Persecutions. These Favors, God Grants-to those who Pray-for them; but only when they are Conducive-to their Spiritual Welfare. Otherwise, He Refuses them; and He 'Refuses' them, because He Loves us, and because He knows that they would be Injurious-to our Souls. "A Physician", says Saint Augustine, "knows better-than his Patient, what is Useful for him". The Saint adds, that God Refuses-to some, through-Mercy, what He Grants-to others, as a Chastisement. "Deus negat propitius, quae concedit iratus". Hence Saint John-Damascene says, that sometimes, when we do not Obtain the Graces which we 'Ask', we 'Receive', by 'not-Receiving' them; because it is better-for us not to-Receive, than to-Receive them. "Etiarn si non accipias, non accipendo accepisti, interdurn enim non accipere quam accipere satius est". We often ask Poison, which would Cause our Death. How many are there, who, had they Died-in the Sickness or Poverty with which they were Afflicted, should be Saved. But, because they Recovered their Health, or because they were Raised-to Wealth and Honors, they became Proud, and Forgot God, and thus have been Damned. Hence, Saint Chrysostom Exhorts us to Ask-in our Prayers, what God Knows to be Expedient-for us. "Orantes in ejus potestate ponamus, ut nos illud petentes exaudiat, quod ipse nobis expedire cognoscit". We should, then, always Ask-from God, Temporal Favors, on the Condition-that they will be Useful-to the Soul.

But, Spiritual Favors - such as the Pardon-of our Sins, Perseverance-in Virtue, the Gift-of Divine Love, and Resignation-to the Divine Will - ought to be Asked-of God, Absolutely and with a firm Confidence-of Obtaining them. "If you, then, 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, says Jesus Christ, who are so-much Attached-to Earthly Goods, cannot Refuse your Children the Blessings which you have Received-from God, how much more, will your Heavenly Father (Who is in Himself Infinitely (∞) Good, and Who Desires-to give you His Graces, more-Ardently than you Desire-to Receive them) give the Good Spirit - that is, a Sincere Contrition-for their Sins, the Gift-of Divine Love, and Resignation-to the Will-of-God - to those who Ask them? "Quando Deus negabit", says Saint Bernard, "petentibus qui etiam non petentes hortatur ut petant?". How can God Refuse Graces Conducive-to Salvation, to those who Seek them, when He Exhorts even those who do not Pray, to Ask them?

Nor does God Inquire-whether the Person who Prays to Him, is a Just Man or a Sinner; for He has Declared that "Every one that Asketh, Receiveth" - Luke 11:10, "Every one", says the Author-of the Imperfect-Work, "whether he be a Just Man or a Sinner". And, to Encourage us to-Pray and to-Ask with Confidence for Spiritual Favors, He has said: "Amen, Amen, I say to you: If you Ask the Father anything in My Name, He Will give it you" - John 16:23. As if He said: Sinners, though you do not Deserve-to Receive the Divine Graces, I have Merited them for you, from My Father: Ask, then, in My Name - that is, through My Merits - and I Promise that you shall Obtain, whatsoever you Demand.

 

Third point
We must Pray with Perseverance

It is Above-all, Necessary-to Persevere-in Prayer till Death, and never to Cease-to Pray. This is what is Inculcated-by the following Passages-of Scripture:

"We ought always to Pray" - Luke 18:1.

"Watch ye, therefore, Praying at all Times" - Luke 21:36.

"Pray without Ceasing" - 1Thessalonians 5:17.

Hence, the Holy Ghost says: "Let nothing Hinder thee from Praying always" - Ecclesiastes 18:22. These Words imply, not only that we should Pray-always, but also that we should Endeavor-to Remove every Occasion, which may Prevent us from Praying; for, if we Cease-to Pray, we shall be Deprived-of the Divine Aid, and shall be Overcome-by Temptations. Perseverance in-Grace is a Gratuitous Gift, which, as the Council-of-Trent has declared, we cannot Merit. But, Saint Augustine says, that we may Obtain it by Prayer. "Hoc donum Dei suppliciter emereri potest, id est supplicando impetraxi". Hence, Cardinal Bellarmine teaches, that "We must Ask it Daily, in order to Obtain it every Day". If we Neglect-to Ask it on any Day, we may Fall into Sin on that Day.

If, then, we Wish-to Persevere, and to be Saved - for no one can be Saved without Perseverance - we must Pray 'Continually'. Our Perseverance depends, not on One (1) Grace, but on a Thousand Helps, which we Hope-to Obtain-from God during our Whole Lives, that we may be Preserved-in His Grace. Now, to this Chain-of Graces, a Chain-of Prayers on our part, must Correspond: Without these Prayers, God ordinarily does not Grant His Graces. If we Neglect-to Pray, and thus Break the Chain-of Prayers, the Chain-of Graces shall also be Broken, and we shall Lose the Grace-of-Perseverance. If, says Jesus Christ to His Disciples, One of you go during the Night, to a Friend, and say to him: Lend me Three Loaves; an Acquaintance has come to my House, and I have no Refreshment for him. The Friend will Answer: I am in Bed; the Door is Locked; I cannot get up. But, if the Other, Continue-to Knock-at the Door, and will not Depart, the Friend will Rise, and give him as many Loaves as he Wishes, not through Friendship, but to be Freed-from his Importunity. "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. Now, if a Man will Give his Loaves to a Friend, because-of his Importunity, "how much more", says Saint Augustine, "will God Give, Who Exhorts us to Ask, and is Displeased if we do not Ask?" How much more will the Lord Bestow-on us His Graces, if we Persevere-in Praying-for them, when He Exhorts us to Ask them, and is Offended if we do not Ask them?

Men feel Annoyed at-being Frequently and Importunately asked-for a Favor. But, God Exhorts us to Pray Frequently; and, instead-of being, Dissatisfied, He is Pleased-with those who repeatedly-Ask His Graces. Cornelius-a-Lapide says, that "God Wishes us to Persevere in Prayer, even to Importunity". Saint Jerome says: "This Importunity with the Lord is Reasonable". That God is Pleased-with Frequent and Persevering Prayer, may be Inferred-from the Words-of Jesus Christ - "Ask, and it shall be Given you; Seek, and you shall Find; Knock, and it shall be Opened to you" - Luke 11:9. It was not Enough to have said Ask; but He added, Seek, Knock; in-order-to Show, that, during our Whole Lives, we should be as Importunate in Supplicating the Divine Graces, as Beggars are in asking Alms. Though they should be Refused, they do not Cease-to Cry-out, or to Knock-at the Door; they Persist-in Asking Relief, till they Obtain it.

If, then, we Wish-to Obtain-from God, the Gift-of Perseverance, we must Ask Him for it Continually, and with-Importunity. We must Ask it when we Rise-in the Morning, in our Meditations, in hearing Mass, in our Visits-to the Blessed Sacrament, in Going-to Bed at Night, and particularly when we are Tempted-by the Devil to Commit any Sin. Thus, we must always have our Mouths-open, Praying-to God, and saying: Lord, Assist me; give me Light; give me Strength; keep Thy Hand upon me, and do not Abandon me. We must do Violence-to the Lord. "Such Violence", says Tertullian, "is Agreeable to God". The Violence which we Offer-to God, by Repeated Prayers, does not Offend Him: on the Contrary, it is Pleasing and Acceptable-in His Sight. "Prayer", according-to Saint John-Climacus, "Piously offers Violence to God". Our Supplications compel Him, but in a manner Grateful-to Him. He takes Great Complacency in seeing His Mother Honored, and therefore Wishes, as Saint Bernard says, that all the Graces we Receive, should Pass through Her Hands. Hence the Holy Doctor Exhorts us, "to Seek Grace, and to Seek it through Mary, because she is a Mother, and her Prayer cannot be Fruitless". When we Ask Her to-Obtain any Grace for us, She Graciously Hears our Petitions, and Prays-for us; and the Prayers of Mary are never Rejected.

 

Prayer to the Blessed Virgin

Most Holy, Immaculate Virgin Mary, my Mother, I, the most Miserable-of Sinners, Kneel before you, the Advocate, the Hope, and the Refuge-of Sinners. I Venerate you, Great Queen, and I thank you for the many Favors you have already Obtained-for me, especially for having Saved me from Hell, which I have so-often Deserved. I Love you, most Amiable Lady, Worthy-of all Love. And because I Love you, I Promise to Serve you always, and to do Everything-in my Power, to make others Serve you also. In you I Hope; I Place my Salvation in your hands. Accept me for your Servant; Receive me under your Mantle, Mother-of Mercy. You are all-Powerful with-God. Free me, then, from all Temptations, or at-least Obtain-for me the Strength to Conquer them, as-long-as I Live. From you, I Seek a Genuine Love-of Jesus Christ. With your Help, I Hope to Die a Good Death. I Beseech you, Mother, to Help me always, but especially-at the Last Moment-of my Life. Do not Leave me until you see me Safe-in Heaven, Blessing you and Singing your Mercies for all Eternity.

Amen

 

Prayer to Obtain Constancy in Prayer

Eternal Father, for the Love-of Jesus Christ, let me never Fail-to Recommend myself to You, whenever I am Tempted. I know You always Help me when I have Recourse-to You; but my Fear is that I may Forget-to Recommend myself to You, and so my Negligence will be the Cause-of my Ruin. By the Merits-of Jesus Christ, give me Grace to Pray-to You. But Grant me such an Abundant Grace, that I may always Pray, and Pray as I ought! My Mother Mary, whenever I have had Recourse-to you, you have Obtained-for me the Help which has kept me from Falling! Now I come-to Beg you to Obtain a still Greater Grace, that of Recommending myself always, to your Son and to you, in all my Times-of Need. My Queen, you Obtain all you Desire from God, by the Love you Bear-for Jesus Christ. Obtain-for me now this Grace, which I Beg-of you: to Pray always, and never to-Cease Praying until I Die.

Amen