One of the duties of the pastoral office, which is of the highest importance to the spiritual interests of the faithful, is to instruct them on Christian prayer; the nature and efficacy of which must remain unknown to many, if not taught by the pious and faithful diligence of the pastor. To this, therefore, should the care of the pastor be directed in a special manner, that his devout hearers may understand how and for what they are to ask God.
Whatever is necessary to the performance of the duty of prayer is comprised in that divine formula which Christ the Lord deigned to make known to His Apostles, and through them and their successors to all Christians. Its thoughts and words should be so deeply impressed on the mind and memory as to be ever in readiness. To assist pastors, however, in teaching the faithful concerning this prayer, we have set down from those writers who are conspicuous for learning and fullness in this matter, whatever appeared to us most suitable, leaving it to pastors to draw upon the same sources for further information, should they deem it necessary.
In the first place the necessity of prayer should be insisted upon. Prayer is a duty not only recommended by way of counsel, but also commanded by obligatory precept. Christ the Lord declared this when He said: We should pray always. This necessity of prayer the Church points out in the prelude, if we may so call it, which she prefixes to the Lord's Prayer: Admonished by salutary precepts, and taught by divine instruction, we presume to say, etc.
Therefore, since prayer is necessary to the Christian, the Son of God, yielding to the request of the disciples, Lord, teach us to pray, gave them a prescribed form of prayer, and encouraged them to hope that the objects of their petitions would be granted. He Himself was to them a model of prayer; He not only prayed assiduously, but watched whole nights in prayer.
The Apostles, also, did not omit to recommend this duty to those who had been converted to the faith of Jesus Christ. St. Peter and St. John are most diligent in their admonitions to the devout; and the Apostle, mindful of its nature, frequently admonishes Christians of the salutary necessity of prayer.
Besides, so various are our temporal and spiritual necessities, that we must have recourse to prayer as the best means for communicating our wants and receiving whatever we need. For since God owes nothing to anyone, we must ask of Him in prayer those things we need, seeing that He has constituted prayer as a necessary means for the accomplishment of our desires, particularly since it is clear that there are blessings which we cannot hope to obtain otherwise than through prayer. Thus devout prayer has such efficacy that it is a most powerful means of casting out demons; for there is a certain kind of demon which is not cast out but by prayer and fasting.
Those, therefore, who do not practice assiduous and regular prayer deprive themselves of a powerful means of obtaining gifts of singular value. To succeed in obtaining the object of your desires, it is not enough that you ask that which is good; your entreaties must also be assiduous. Every one that asketh, says St. Jerome, receiveth, as it is written. If, therefore, it is not given you, this is because you do not ask. Ask, therefore, and you shall receive.
Moreover, this necessity of prayer is also productive of the greatest delight and usefulness, since it bears most abundant fruits. When it is necessary to instruct the faithful concerning these fruits, pastors will find ample matter in sacred writers. We have made from these sources a selection which appeared to us to suit the present purpose.
The first fruit which we receive is that by praying we honour God, since prayer is a certain act of religion, which is compared in Scripture to a sweet perfume. Let my prayer, says the Prophet, be directed as incense in thy sight. By prayer we confess our subjection to God; we acknowledge and proclaim Him to be the author of all good, in whom alone we center all our hopes, who alone is our refuge, in all dangers and the bulwark of our salvation. Of this fruit we are admonished also in these words: Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.
Another most pleasing and invaluable fruit of prayer is that it is heard by God. Prayer is the key of heaven, says St. Augustine; prayer ascends, and the mercy of God descends. High as are the heavens, and low as is the earth, God hears the voice of man. Such is the utility, such the efficacy of prayer, that through it we obtain a plenitude of heavenly gifts. Thus by prayer we secure the guidance and aid of the Holy Spirit, the security and preservation of the faith, deliverance from punishment, divine protection under temptation, victory over the devil. In a word, there is in prayer an accumulation of spiritual joy; and hence our Lord said: Ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full.
Nor can we, for a moment, doubt that God in His goodness awaits and is at all times ready to hear our petitions a truth to which the Sacred Scriptures bear ample testimony. Since, however, the texts are easy of access, we shall content ourselves with citing as an example the words of Isaias: Then shalt thou call, and the Lord will hear: thou shalt cry, and he will say, "Here I am"; and again, It shall come to pass, that before they call, I will hear: as they are yet speaking, I will hear. With regard to instances of persons, who have obtained from God the objects of their prayers, they are almost innumerable, and too well known to require special mention.
Sometimes, indeed, it happens that what we ask of God we do not obtain. But it is then especially that God looks to our welfare, either because He bestows on us other gifts of higher value and in greater abundance, or because what we ask, far from being necessary or useful, would prove superfluous and injurious. God, says St. Augustine, denies some things in His mercy which He grants in His wrath.
Sometimes, also, such is the remissness and negligence with which we pray, that we ourselves do not attend to what we say. Since prayer is an elevation of the soul to God, if, while we pray, the mind, instead of being fixed upon God, is distracted, and the tongue slurs over the words at random, without attention, without devotion, with what propriety can we give to such empty sounds the name of Christian prayer?
We should not, therefore, be at all surprised, if God does not comply with our requests; either because by our negligence and indifference we almost show that we do not really desire what we ask, or because we ask those things, which, if granted, would be prejudicial to our interests.
On the other hand, to those who pray with devout attention, God grants more than they ask. This the Apostle declares in his Epistle to the Ephesians, and the same truth is unfolded ill the parable of the prodigal son, who would have deemed it a kindness to be admitted into the number of his father's servants.
Nay, God heaps His favours not only on those who seek them, but also on those who are rightly disposed; and this, not only with abundance, but also with readiness. This is shown by the words of Scripture: The Lord hath heard the desire of the poor. For God hastens to grant the inner and hidden desires of the needy without awaiting their utterance.
Another fruit of prayer is, that it exercises and augments the virtues of the soul, particularly the virtue of faith. As they who have not faith in God, cannot pray as they ought, for how can they call on him, whom they have not believed ? so the faithful, in proportion to the fervour of their prayers, possess a stronger and a more assured faith in the protecting providence of God, which requires principally that in all needs we have recourse to Him.
God, it is true, might bestow on us all things abundantly, although we did not ask them or even think of them, just as He bestows on the irrational creation all things necessary for the support of life. But our most bountiful Father wishes to be invoked by His children; He wishes that, praying as we ought each day of our lives, we may pray with increased confidence. He wishes that in obtaining our requests we may more and more bear witness to and declare His goodness towards us.
Our charity is also augmented. In recognising God as the author of every blessing and of every good, we are led to cling to Him with the most devoted love. And as those who cherish a mutual affection become more ardently attached by frequent interviews and conversations, so the oftener the soul prays devoutly and implores the divine mercy, thus holding converse with God, the more exquisite is the sense of delight which she experiences in each prayer, and the more ardently is she inflamed to love and adore Him.
Furthermore, God wishes us to make use of prayer, in order that burning with the desire of asking what we are anxious to obtain, we may thus by our perseverance and zeal make such advances in spiritual life, as to be worthy to obtain those blessings which the soul could not obtain before because of its dryness and lack of devotion.
Moreover, God wishes us to realise, and always keep in mind, that, unassisted by His heavenly grace, we can of ourselves do nothing, and should therefore apply ourselves to prayer with all the powers of our souls.
The weapons which prayer supplies are most powerful against our bitterest foes. With the cries of our prayers, says St. Hilary, we must fight against the devil and his armed hosts.
From prayer we also derive this important advantage that though we are inclined to evil and to the indulgence of various passions, as a consequence of our natural frailty, God permits us to raise our hearts to Him, in order that while we address Him in prayer, and endeavour to deserve His gifts, we may be inspired with a love of innocence, and, by effacing our sins, be purified from every stain of guilt.
Finally, as St. Jerome observes, prayer disarms the anger of God. Hence, these words of God addressed to Moses: Let me alone, when Moses sought by his prayer to stay the punishments God was about to inflict on His people. Nothing is so efficacious in appeasing God, when His wrath is kindled; nothing so effectually delays or averts the punishments prepared for the wicked as the prayers of men.
The necessity and advantages of Christian prayer being explained, the faithful should also know how many, and what are the parts of which it is composed; for that this pertains to the perfect discharge of this duty, we learn from the Apostle. In his Epistle to Timothy, exhorting to pious and holy prayer, he carefully enumerates the parts of which it consists: I desire therefore first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men. Although the shades of distinction between these different parts of prayer are delicate, yet the pastor, should he deem the explanation useful to his people, should consult, among others, St. Hilary and St. Augustine.
There are two principal parts of prayer, petition and thanksgiving, and since these are the sources, as it were, from which all the others spring, they appear to us to be of too much importance to be omitted. For we approach God and offer Him the tribute of our worship, either to obtain some favour, or to return Him thanks for those with which His bounty every day enriches and adorns us. God Himself indicated both these most necessary parts of prayer when He declared by the mouth of David: Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.
Who does not perceive how much we stand in need of the goodness and beneficence of God, if he but consider the extreme destitution and misery of man?
On the other hand, all that have eyes and understanding know God's loving kindness toward man and the liberal bounty He exercises in our behalf. Wherever we cast our eyes, wherever we turn our thoughts, the admirable light of the divine goodness and beneficence beams upon us. What have we that is not the gift of His bounty? If, then, all things are the gifts and favours bestowed on us by His goodness, why should not everyone, as much as possible, celebrate the praises of God, and thank Him for His boundless beneficence.
Of these duties of petition and thanksgiving each contains many subordinate degrees. In order, therefore, that the faithful may not only pray, but also pray in the best manner, the pastor should propose to them the most perfect mode of praying, and should exhort them to use it to the best of their ability.
What, then, is the best manner and the most exalted degree of prayer? It is that which is made use of by the pious and the just. Resting on the solid foundation of the true faith, they rise successively from one degree of prayer and virtue to another, until, at length, they reach that height of perfection, whence they can contemplate the infinite power, goodness, and wisdom of God; where, too, they are animated with the assured hope of obtaining not only those blessings which they desire in this life, but also those unutterable rewards which God has pledged Himself to grant to him who piously and religiously implores His assistance.
Soaring, as it were, to heaven, on these two wings, the soul approaches, in fervent desire, the Divinity; adores with supreme praise and thanksgiving Him from whom she has received such inestimable blessings; and, like an only child, animated with singular piety and profound veneration, trustfully tells her most beloved Father all her wants.
This sort of prayer the Sacred Scriptures express by the words pouring out. In his sight, says the Prophet, I pour out my proyer, but before him I declare my trouble. This means that he who comes to pray should conceal or omit nothing, but pour out all, flying with confidence into the bosom of God, his most loving Father. To this the Sacred Scriptures exhort us in these words: Pour out thy heart before him, cast thy care upon the Lord. This is that degree of prayer to which St. Augustine alludes when he says in that book entitled Enchiridion: What faith believes, that hope and charity implore.
Another degree of prayer is that of those who are weighed down by the guilt of mortal sin, but who strive, with what is called dead faith, to raise themselves from their condition and to ascend to God. But, in consequence of their languid state and the extreme weakness of their faith, they cannot raise themselves from the earth. Recognising their crimes and stung with remorse of conscience, they bow themselves down with humility, and, far as they are removed from God, implore of Him with penitential sorrow, the pardon of their sins and the peace of reconciliation.
The prayers of such persons are not rejected by God, but are heard by Him. Nay, in His mercy, He generously invites such as these to have recourse to Him, saying: Come to me, all you that labour, and are heavily laden, and I will refresh you, of this class was the publican, who, though he did not dare to raise his eyes towards heaven, left the Temple, as (our Lord) declares, more justified than the Pharisee.
A third degree of prayer is that which is offered by those who have not as yet been illumined with the light of faith; but who, when the divine goodness illumines in their souls the feeble natural light, are strongly moved to the desire and pursuit of truth and most earnestly pray for a knowledge of it.
If they persevere in such dispositions, God, in His mercy, will not neglect their earnest endeavours, as we see verified by the example of Cornelius the centurion. The doors of the divine mercy are closed against none who sincerely ask for mercy.
The last degree is that of those who not only do not repent of their sins and enormities, but, adding crime to crime, dare frequently to ask pardon of God for those sins, in which they are resolved to continue. With such dispositions they would not presume to ask pardon from their fellowman.
The prayer of such sinners is not heard by God. It is recorded of Antiochus: Then this wicked man prayed to the Lord, of whom he was not to obtain mercy. Whoever lives in this deplorable condition should be vehemently exhorted to wean himself from all affection to sin, and to return to God in good earnest and from the heart.
Under the head of each Petition we shall point out in its proper place, what is, and what is not a proper object of prayer. Hence it will suffice here to remind the faithful in a general way that they ought to ask of God such things as are just and good, lest, praying for what is not suitable, they may be repelled in these words: You know not what you ask. Whatever it is lawful to desire, it is lawful to pray for, as is proved by the Lord's ample promise: You shall ask whatever you will, and it shall be done unto you, words in which He promises to grant all things.
In the first place, then, the standard which should regulate all our wishes is that we desire above all else God, the supreme Good. After God we should most desire those things which unite us most closely to Him; while those which would separate us from Him, or occasion that separation, should have no share whatever in our affections.
Taking, then, as our standard the supreme and perfect Good, we can easily infer how we are to desire and ask from God our Father those other things which are called goods. Goods which are called bodily, such as health, strength, beauty and those which are external, such as riches, honours, glory, often supply the means and give occasion for sin; and, therefore, it is not always either pious or salutary to ask for them. We should pray for these goods of life only in so far as we need them, thus referring all to God. It cannot be deemed unlawful to pray for those things for which Jacob and Solomon prayed. If, says Jacob, he shall give me bread to eat and raiment to put on, the Lord shall be my God. Give me, says Solomon, only the necessaries of life.
But when we are supplied by the bounty of God with necessaries and comforts, we should not forget the admonition of the Apostle: Let them that buy, be as if they possessed not, and those that use this world, as if they used it not; for the figure of this world passeth away; and again, If riches abound, set not your heart upon them. God Himself teaches us that only the use and fruit of these things belong to us and that we are obliged to share them with others. If we are blessed with health, if we abound in other external and corporal goods, we should recollect that they are given to us in order to enable us to serve God with greater fidelity, and as the means of lending assistance to others.
It is also lawful to pray for the goods and adornments of the mind, such as a knowledge of the arts and sciences, provided our prayers are accompanied with this condition, that they serve to promote the glory of God and our own salvation.
The only thing which can be absolutely and unconditionally the object of our wishes, our desires and our prayers, is, as we have already observed, the glory of God, and, next to it, whatever can serve to unite us to that supreme Good, such as faith and the fear and love of God, of which we shall treat at length when we come to explain the Petitions.
The objects of prayer being known, the faithful are next to be taught for whom they are to pray. Prayer comprehends petition and thanksgiving. We shall first treat of petition.
We are to pray for all mankind, without exception of enemies, nation or religion; for every man, be he enemy, stranger or infidel, is our neighbour, whom God commands us to love, and for whom, therefore, we should discharge a duty of love, which is prayer. To the discharge of this duty the Apostle exhort: when he says: I desire that prayer be made for all men. In such prayers we should first ask for those things that concern spiritual interests, and next for what pertains to temporal welfare.
Before all others the pastors of our souls have a right to our prayers, as we learn from the example of the Apostle in his Epistle to the Colossians, in which he asks them to pray for him, that God may open unto him a door of speech, a request which he also makes in his Epistle to the Thessalonians. In the Acts of the Apostles we also read that prayers were offered in the Church without intermission for Peter. St. Basil, in his work On Morals, urges to a faithful compliance with this obligation. We must, he says, pray for those who are charged with preaching the word of truth.
In the next place, as the same Apostle teaches, we should pray for our rulers.
Who does not know what a singular blessing a people enjoy in public officials who are just and upright? We should, therefore, beseech God to make them such as they ought to be, fit persons to govern others.
To offer up our prayers also for the good and pious is a practice taught by the example of holy men. Even the good and the pious need the prayers of others. Providence has wisely ordained it so, in order that the just, realising the necessity they are under of being aided by the prayers of those who are inferior to them, may not be inflated with pride.
The Lord has also commanded us, to pray for those that persecute and calumniate us. The practice of praying for those who are not within the pale of the Church, is, as we know on the authority of St. Augustine, of Apostolic origin. We pray that the faith may be made known to infidels; that idolaters may be rescued from the error of their impiety; that the Jews, emerging from the darkness with which they are encompassed, may arrive at the light of truth; that heretics, returning to soundness of mind, may be instructed in the Catholic faith; and that schismatics may be united in the bond of true charity and may return to the communion of their holy mother, the Church, from which they have separated.
Many examples prove that prayers for such as these are very efficacious when offered from the heart. Instances occur every day in which God rescues individuals of every condition of life from the powers of darkness, and transfers them into the kingdom of His Beloved Son, from vessels of wrath making them vessels of mercy. That the prayers of the pious have very great influence in bringing about this result no one can reasonably doubt.
Prayers for the dead, that they may be liberated from the fire of purgatory, are derived from Apostolic teaching. But on this subject we have said enough when explaining the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Those who are said to sin unto death derive little advantage from prayers and supplications. It is, however, the part of Christian charity to offer up our prayers and tears for them, in order, if possible, to obtain their reconciliation with God.
With regard to the execrations uttered by holy men against the wicked, it is certain, from the teaching of the Fathers, that they are either prophecies of the evils which are to befall sinners or denunciations of the crimes of which they are guilty, that the sinner may be saved, but sin destroyed.
In the second part of prayer we render most grateful thanks to God for the divine and immortal blessings which He has always bestowed, and still continues to bestow every day on the human race.
This duty we discharge especially when we give singular praises to God for the victory and triumph which all the Saints, aided by His goodness, have achieved over their domestic and external enemies.
To this sort of prayer belongs the first part of the Angelic Salutation, when used by us as a prayer: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women. For in these words we render to God the highest praise and return Him most gracious thanks, because He has bestowed all His heavenly gifts on the most holy Virgin; and at the same time we congratulate the Virgin herself on her singular privileges.
To this form of thanksgiving the Church of God has wisely added prayers and an invocation addressed to the most holy Mother of God, by which we piously and humbly fly to her patronage, in order that, by her intercession, she may reconcile God to us sinners and may obtain for us those blessings which we stand in need of in this life and in the life to come. We, therefore, exiled children of Eve, who dwell in this vale of tears, should constantly beseech the Mother of mercy, the advocate of the faithful, to pray for us sinners. In this prayer we should earnestly implore her help and assistance; for that she possesses exalted merits with God, and that she is most desirous to assist us by her prayers, no one can doubt without impiety and wickedness.
That God is to be prayed to and His name invoked is the language of the law of nature, inscribed upon the human heart. It is also the doctrine of Holy Scripture, in which we hear God commanding: Call upon me in the day of trouble. By the word God, we mean the three Persons (of the adorable Trinity).
We must also have recourse to the intercession of the Saints who are in glory. That the Saints are to be prayed to is a truth so firmly established in the Church of God, that no pious person can experience a shadow of doubt on the subject. But as this point was explained in its proper place, under a separate head, we refer the pastor and others to that place.
To remove, however, the possibility of error on the part of the unlearned it will be found useful to explain to the faithful the difference between these two kinds of invocation.
We do not address God and the Saints in the same manner, for we implore God to grant us blessings or to deliver us from evils; while we ask the Saints, since they are the friends of God, to take us under their patronage and to obtain for us from God whatever we need. Hence we make use of two different forms of prayer. To God, we properly say: Have mercy on us, Hear us; but to the Saints, Pray for us. Still we may also ask the Saints, though in a different sense, that they have mercy on us, for they are most merciful. Thus we may beseech them that, touched with the misery of our condition, they would interpose in our behalf their influence and intercession before God.
In the performance of this duty, it is strictly incumbent on all not to transfer to any creature the right which belongs exclusively to God. For instance, when we say the Our Father before the image of a Saint we should bear in mind that we beg of the Saint to pray with us and to obtain for us those favours which we ask of God, in the Petitions of the Lord's Prayer, in a word, that he become our interpreter and intercessor with God. That this is an office which the Saints discharge, St. John the Apostle teaches in the Apocalypse.
In Scripture we read: Before prayer, prepare thy soul, and be not as a man that tempteth God. He tempts God who prays well but acts badly, and while he converses with God allows his mind to wander.
Since, then, the dispositions with which we pray are of such vital importance, the pastor should teach his pious hearers how to pray.
The first preparation, then, for prayer is an unfeigned humility of soul, an acknowledgment of our sinfulness, and a conviction that, when we approach God in prayer, our sins render us undeserving, not only of receiving a propitious hearing from Him, but even of appearing in His presence.
This preparation is frequently mentioned in the Scriptures: He hath had regard to the prayer of the humble, and he hath not despised their petitions; the prayer of him that humbleth himself shall pierce the clouds. Many other passages of the same kind will suggest themselves to learned pastors. Hence we abstain from citing more here.
Two examples, however, at which we have already glanced in another place, and which are apposite to our purpose, we shall not pass over in silence. The publican, who, standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his eyes toward heaven, and the woman, a sinner, who, moved with sorrow, washed the feet of Christ the Lord, with her tears, illustrate the great efficacy which Christian humility imparts to prayer.
The next (preparation) is a feeling of sorrow, arising from the recollection of our past sins, or, at least, some sense of regret, that we do not experience that sorrow. If the sinner bring not with him to prayer both, or, at least one of these dispositions, he cannot hope to obtain pardon.
There are some crimes, such as violence and murder, which are in a special way obstacles to the efficacy of our prayers, and we must, therefore, preserve our hands unstained by outrage and cruelty. Of such crimes the Lord says by the mouth of Isaias: When you stretch forth your hands, I will turn away my eyes from you; and when you multiply prayer, I will not hear, for your hands are full of blood
Anger and strife we should also avoid, for they have great influence in preventing our prayers from being heard. Concerning them the Apostle says: l will that men pray in every place lifting up pure hands, without anger and contention.
Implacable hatred of any person on account of injuries received we must guard against; for while we are under the influence of such feelings, it is impossible that we should obtain from God the pardon of our sins. When you shall stand to pray, He says, forgive, if you have aught against any man; and, if you will not forgive men, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you your offences.
Hardness and inhumanity to the poor we should also avoid. For concerning men of this kind it was said He that stoppeth his ear against the cry of the poor, shall also cry himself, and shall not be heard.
What shall we say of pride? How much it offends God, we learn from these words: God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. What of the contempt of the divine oracles? He that turneth away his ears, says Solomon, from hearing the law, his prayer shall be an abomination.
Here, however, we are not to understand that we are forbidden to pray for the forgiveness of the injuries we have done, of murder, anger, insensibility to the wants of the poor, of pride, contempt of God's word, in fine, of any other sin.
Faith is another necessary quality for this preparation of soul. Without faith, we can have no knowledge of the omnipotence or mercy of the supreme Father, which are the sources of our confidence in prayer, as Christ the Lord Himself has taught: All things whatsoever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive. St. Augustine, speaking of this faith, thus comments on the Lord's words: Without faith prayer is useless.
The chief requisite, therefore, of a good prayer is, as we have already said, a firm and unwavering faith. This the Apostle shows by an antithesis: How shall they call on him whom they have not believed? Believe, then, we must, both in order to pray, and that we be not wanting in that faith which renders prayer fruitful. For it is faith that leads to prayer, and it is prayer that, by removing all doubts, gives strength and firmness to faith. This is the meaning of the exhortation of St. Ignatius to those who would approach God in prayer: Be not of doubtful mind in prayer; blessed is he who hath not doubted. Wherefore, to obtain from God what we ask, faith and an assured confidence, are of first importance, according to the admonition of St. James: Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.
There is much to inspire us with confidence in prayer. Among these are to be numbered the beneficence and bounty of God, displayed towards us, when He commands us to call Him Father, thus giving us to understand that we are His children. Again there are the numberless instances of those whose prayers have been heard.
Further we have as our chief advocate, Christ the Lord, who is ever ready to assist us, as we read in St. John: If any man sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the just; and he is the propitiation for our sins.' In like manner Paul the Apostle says: Christ Jesus, that died, yea, that is risen also again, who is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. To Timothy he writes: For there is one God, and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus; and to the Hebrews he writes: Wherefore, it behoved him in all things to be made like unto his brethren, that he might become a merciful and faithful highpriest before God. Unworthy, then, as we are, of obtaining our requests, yet considering and resting our claims upon the dignity of our great Mediator and Intercessor, Jesus Christ, we should hope and trust most confidently, that, through His merits, God will grant us all that we ask in the proper way.
Finally, the Holy Ghost is the author of our prayers; and under His guiding influence, we cannot fail to be heard. We have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry, "Abba, (Father)." This spirit succours our infirmity and enlightens our ignorance in the discharge of the duty of prayer; nay, even, as the Apostle says, He asketh for us with unspeakable groanings.
Should we, then, at any time waver, not being sufficiently strong in faith, let us say with the Apostles: Lord, increase our faith; and, with the father (of the demoniac): Help my unbelief.
But what most ensures the accomplishment of our desires is the union of faith and hope with that conformity of all our thoughts, actions, and prayers to God's law and pleasure. If, He says, you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask whatever you will, and it shall be done unto you.
In order, however, that our prayers may have this power of obtaining all things from God, we must, as was previously served, forget injuries, cherish sentiments of good will, and practice kindness towards our neighbour.
The manner of praying is also a matter of the highest moment. Though prayer in itself is good and salutary, yet if not performed in a proper manner it is unavailing. Often we do not obtain what we ask, because, in the words of St. James, we ask amiss. Pastors, therefore, should instruct the faithful in the best manner of asking well and of making private and public prayer. The rules of Christian prayer have been formed on the teaching of Christ the Lord.
We must, then pray in spirit and in truth; for the heavenly Father seeks those who adore Him in spirit and in truth. He prays in this manner whose prayer proceeds from an interior and intense ardour of soul.
This spiritual manner of praying does not exclude the use of vocal prayer. Nevertheless, that prayer which is the vehement outpouring of the soul, deservedly holds the first place; and although not uttered with the lips, it is heard by God to whom the secrets of hearts are open. He heard the silent prayer of Anna, the mother of Samuel, of whom we read, that she prayed, shedding many tears and only moving her lips. Such was also the prayer of David, for he says: My heart hath said to thee, my f ace hath sought thee. In reading the Bible one will meet many similar examples.
But vocal prayer has also its advantages and necessity. It quickens the attention of the mind, and kindles the fervour of him who prays. We sometimes, says St. Augustine, in his letter to Proba, animate ourselves to intensify our holy desire by having recourse to words and other signs; filled with vehement ardour and piety, we find it impossible at times not to express our feelings in words; for while the soul exults with joy, the tongue should also give utterance to that exultation. And surely it becomes us to make to God this complete sacrifice of soul and body, a kind of prayer which the Apostles were accustomed to use, as we learn from many passages of the Acts and of the Apostle.
There are two sorts of prayer, private and public. Private prayer is employed in order to assist interior attention and devotion; whereas in public prayer, which has been instituted to excite the piety of the faithful, and has been prescribed for certain fixed times, the use of words is indispensably required.
This practice of praying in spirit is peculiar to Christians, and is not at all used by infidels. Of these Christ the Lord has said: When you pray, speak not much, as the heathens; for they think that in their much speaking they may be heard. Be not ye, therefore, like to them, for your Father knoweth what is needful for you before you ask him.
But though (our Lord) prohibits loquacity, He is so far from forbidding continuance in prayer which proceeds from the eager and prolonged devotion of the soul that by His own example He exhorts us to such prayer. Not only did He spend whole nights in prayer, but also prayed the third time, saying the selfsame words. The inference, therefore, to be drawn from the prohibition is that prayers consisting of mere empty sounds are not to be addressed to God.
Neither do the prayers of the hypocrite proceed from the heart; and against the imitation of their example, Christ the Lord warns us in these words: When ye pray, ye shall not be as the hypocrites that love to stand and pray in the synagogues, and corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Amen I say, to you they have received their reward. But thou, when thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber, and having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret; and thy Father who seeth in secret will repay thee. Here the word chamber may be understood to mean the human heart, which we should not only enter, but should also close against every distraction from without that could deprive our prayer of its perfection. For then will our heavenly Father, who sees perfectly our hearts and secret thoughts, grant our petitions.
Another necessary condition of prayer is constancy. The great efficacy of perseverance, the Son of God exemplifies by the conduct of the judge, who, while he feared not God, nor regarded man, yet, overcome by the persistence and importunity of the widow, yielded to her entreaties." In our prayers to God we should, therefore, be persevering.
We must not imitate the example of those who become tired of praying, if, after having prayed once or twice, they succeed not in obtaining the object of their prayers. We should never be weary of the duty of prayer, as we are taught by the authority of Christ the Lord and of the Apostle. And should the will at any time fail us, we should beg of God by prayer the strength to persevere.
The Son of God would also have us present our prayers to the Father in His name; for, by His merits and the influence of His mediation, our prayers acquire such weight that they are heard by our heavenly Father. For He Himself says in St. John: Amen, Amen, I say unto you, if you ask the Father any thing in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto you have not asked any thing in my name: ask and you shall receive, that your joy may be full; and again: Whatsoever you shall ask the Father in my name, that will I do.
Let us imitate the fervour of the Saints in prayer; and to petition let us unite thanksgiving, imitating the example of the Apostles, who, as may be seen in the Epistles of St. Paul, always observed this salutary practice.
To prayer let us unite fasting and almsdeeds. Fasting is most intimately connected with prayer. For the mind of one who is filled with food and drink is so borne down as not to be able to raise itself to the contemplation of God, or even to understand what prayer means.
Almsdeeds have also an intimate connection with prayer. For what claim has he to the virtue of charity, who, possessing the means of affording relief to those who depend on the assistance of others, refuses help to his neighbour and brother ? How can he, whose heart is devoid of charity, demand assistance from God unless, while imploring the pardon of his sins, he at the same time humbly beg of God to grant him the virtue of charity ?
This triple remedy was, therefore, appointed by God to aid man in the attainment of salvation. For by sin we offend God, wrong our neighbour, or injure ourselves. The wrath of God we appease by pious prayer; our offences against man we redeem by almsdeeds; the stains of our own lives we wash away by fasting. Each of these remedies, it is true, is applicable to every sort of sin; they are, however, peculiarly adapted to those three which we have specially mentioned.