Prayer, Its Necessity, Its Power, Its Conditions, Chapter VI – Conditions of Prayer

cover of the ebook 'Prayer, Its Necessity, Its Power, Its Conditions, by Father Ferreol Girardey'There is a third class of persons, who complain that their prayers are not heard. To these Saint James says (4:3): “You ask and you receive not, because you ask amiss.” It is not enough for us to pray, but we should pray well, otherwise our prayers are not fit to be heard by God. When we pray, we speak to God and ask favors of Him; and therefore our prayers should be such as to be pleasing to Him, who deserves our deepest homage, reverence, respect and confidence and sees our in most heart. If our prayers and the dispositions of our heart are such as to be displeasing to Him, we need not be astonished, if they fail to obtain any thing from Him. Let us see what are the conditions or qualities of prayer pleasing to God and worthy of being heard.

ATTENTION

To please God our prayer should, in the first place, be said with attention. How many pray and pray much and often, but say their prayers hurriedly, to get soon through with them, or to be able to say many prayers in a short time, and whilst praying they think of everything except of God and the meaning of their words. Such persons resemble the Jews of whom our divine Saviour said: “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me” (Matthew 15:8). Let us bear in mind that it is not the number of our prayers that avail us with God, but the manner in which we say them. One Our Father said with due attention is worth more with God, than one hundred said mechanically, hurriedly, without attention. He who prays without attention does not pray as a rational being, but more like a parrot, a graphophone, or a little child in school reciting his lesson by heart. Attention is, as it were, the soul of prayer; just as the body without the soul is a worthless corpse, so also prayer with out attention is meaningless and worthless. Hence the prayers said whilst willfully allowing our imagination, our mind to run about in every direction, to dwell on everything except on God and on what we are saying to Him, are not pleasing to God, are unfit to be heard, for such prayers are wanting in due respect to God. Suppose a person, whilst speaking to you, looked around in every direction, turned his back to you, paid no attention to you, or to what he was saying to you, you would consider him very disrespectful to you. How much more must not God, who is our Creator, our Father, our greatest Benefactor, be displeased with our prayers said hurriedly, carelessly, without attention, and consequently, refuse to hear them!

HUMILITY

Whose prayer will God surely hear? The humble man’s. Whose prayer will He refuse to hear? The proud man’s. This our Lord Himself tells us in His parable of the pharisee and the publican praying in the temple. God heard not the proud pharisee’s prayer, for in the very presence of God he gloried in himself and his alleged good works, and preferred himself to every one else. But the poor publican, laden with many sins, indeed, humbled himself and implored God for mercy, and his prayer was heard. Hence Saint Peter says: “God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble” (I Peter 5:5). Let us remember, when we pray, that we are poor, wretched sinners craving mercy from God, poor beggars asking for an alms without any merit or claim of our own. Therefore, let us, whenever we pray, most humbly beseech God to supply our great need, to strengthen our great weakness, and this, not because of any merit or claim of our own, but through the infinite merits and mercy of our Saviour Jesus Christ. The more we humble ourselves, the more we feel convinced of our misery and helplessness and of our total dependence on the mercy and bounty of God, the more surely we shall obtain the object of our prayers.

SINCERITY AND EARNESTNESS

Thirdly, our prayer should be sincere, we should mean what we ask of God; we should really wish for, desire it, and should, therefore, do our share to obtain what we pray for. For instance, we pray God to forgive our sins; if we really mean this, we shall not fail to do, on our part, all that is necessary to obtain their forgiveness, for he who wishes the end, must also wish the means of attaining that end. We must, therefore, be sincerely sorry for our sins, firmly resolved to amend our life and avoid all proximate occasions of grievous sins, and make a sincere confession. If we do this, our share, we may be sure of obtaining God’s forgiveness; but if we fail to perform our share, our prayer for forgiveness is not sincere, for God cannot forgive the sins of those who are not truly sorry for them, or not resolved to amend, or to confess at least their mortal sins. In like manner, he who sincerely prays God to grant him the virtue of patience, will also do his share and, therefore, will watch over himself, especially on those occasions in which he is apt to yield to impatience or anger, so that as soon as he is aware that an inward feeling of impatience or anger begins to rise within him, he will endeavor to suppress it, especially by the pious aspiration: “O Jesus, give me patience! Help me to bear this for the love of Thee!” God will help only him who does his share, who alone is perfectly sincere and earnest in his prayer for patience. All this clearly indicates that we must not expect to go to heaven by merely praying to God, without doing our share, without making the necessary efforts to fulfill our whole duty. We must, on our part, do all in our power to keep the commandments, and if we do this manfully, we can be sure that God will do His share and will answer our prayers by giving us the help of His all-powerful grace. In like manner, when we ask God: “Give us this day our daily bread,” we must not imagine that He will dispense us from earning our own living, and supply all our wants without our doing our share, our duty in working for it.

A pagan fable will illustrate this important point. A teamster had, after a rain, the misfortune of having his heavily loaded wagon caught in a deep rut in the road, out of which his team was unable to extricate it. The unlucky teamster at last got out of the wagon and began to implore Jupiter to get his wagon out of that rut, saying: “Help, O Jupiter; come help me to get my wagon out of this rut!” Thus he prayed for hours, but prayed in vain, for Jupiter neither came nor helped him to get his wagon out of that rut. But the teamster continued to pray the louder and the more earnestly. At last a certain man who was passing by, said to him: “If you really wish Jupiter to help you to get your wagon out of that hole, why don’t you first do something yourself and put your shoulder to the wheel, and then Jupiter will help you.” The teamster, who had not thought of that before, took the advice, put his shoulder to the wheel and ordered his horses to pull, and to his astonishment his wagon was soon out of the rut. This fable should teach us that, when we pray to God for some grace, for His help in our need, we also should do our share and put our own shoulder to the wheel, and not expect God to carry us to heaven without our making any effort, or any sacrifice to get there. He who does all he can, will surely be heard when he prays to God and will then be able to perform what is above his strength, and to do with comparative ease what would otherwise be very difficult. But he who does not do his share, cannot count on God to hear his prayer.

CONFIDENCE

Fourthly, confidence is an essential condition of a good prayer. When you pray, says our divine Saviour, “believe that you will receive, and they shall come unto you” (Mark 2:24). God is our most loving Father; He delights to confer favors upon us, “to do the will of those who fear Him, and He will hear their prayer, and save them” (Psalm 144:19). We should, there fore, pray to Him with a true and simple, childlike confidence. Is He not the best and most loving and liberal of fathers; is He not almighty, infinitely good, Truth itself, and most faithful to His promise? And has He not solemnly promised to hear our prayers? Should not our confidence in God be, therefore, boundless and firm, in God who loves us as His favorite children, who is all-powerful and perfectly able and willing to grant all that we ask properly? He, therefore, who, when praying to Him, wavers in his confidence, “should not think,” says Saint James (1:6), “that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.” We need not, then, be astonished if, when we pray to God without due confidence, our prayers are not granted. The greater our confidence in God, the greater also will be the help, the graces and favors He will bestow on us. Our confidence in God is the measure of the help He will bestow on us; if our confidence is great, great and numerous also will be His gifts to us. If we receive but little from Him, it is a proof that we have but little confidence in Him. Were we allowed to carry away from an immense pile of gold coins as many as we would wish, we would surely not be satisfied with bringing with us only a little satchel, but we would bring as large a bag as possible, in order to get as many gold coins as possible. Let us so strive in all that concerns our spiritual wants, as if our success depended entirely on our own efforts, and, at the same time, so place our whole confidence in God when we pray, as if our success did not at all depend on our efforts, but entirely on God’s assistance. In this manner, we shall do our share, and our confidence in God will most assuredly induce Him to give us all the assistance we may need and many other favors besides.

PERSEVERANCE IS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY

…to the success of our prayer. To show us the necessity of persevering in prayer our divine Saviour related several parables, such as: The man who went to borrow three loaves of bread from his neighbor, the poor widow claiming justice from an unjust judge, and we have also the fact of the Canaanite woman’s persistent pleading with Jesus for the cure of her daughter. These and other examples from the New Testament will be explained further on to show the power of prayer, of perseverance in prayer. God wishes us to appreciate and, in some manner, deserve His graces, His favors. The more they cost us to obtain, the more highly we prize them, and the more apt we are to make a good use of them. “God,” says Pope Saint Gregory, ” wishes to be asked, to be, as it were compelled and overcome by our importunity.” And our divine Saviour Himself says: “The kingdom of God suffers violence, and the violent bear it away” (Matthew 11:12). Moreover, God defers and even seems to refuse to grant our prayers, in order to test our earnestness, our sincerity; if we ask once or twice only, and then cease to pray, it is a proof we do not deserve to be heard, for then we are not in real earnest or very anxious to be heard; he who feels great need of a thing wants it by all means, and will persevere in asking for it and trying to get it, until his efforts are crowned with success. For instance, he who is in downright earnest in wishing to acquire patience, will pray for it incessantly and, at the same time, will do his share by trying his best to control his temper. Such a one will obtain the object of his desires, for then he will do his share and God will bless his earnest efforts and gradually grant him the grace to make progress in that virtue, until he has acquired it. Hence Saint Augustine says to us: “Do not despond and give up praying, for God will surely keep His promise; if He defers granting your prayer, He does not thereby refuse to hear it.” Let us persevere in prayer, and our perseverance will in due time be crowned.

Let us bear well in mind that, although God can work miracles without number, He, nevertheless, works them only exceptionally, when they contribute in a special manner to His glory. But if God would always immediately grant our prayers as we desire, He would have to work a miracle almost every time we pray, as we shall presently see. Let us also remember that when the Saviour promised to grant us all we would pray for, He restricted His promise to all we would ask in His name, that is, to all that may be conducive to our salvation, for, since He is our Saviour, what we ask in His name must have some connection with or reference to Him as our Saviour, and must be therefore conducive to our salvation. But what do we need for our salvation? Chiefly the graces to overcome our temptations and passions, to obtain the forgiveness of our sins, to keep the commandments and practise the Christian virtues. Temptations which we do not overcome lead us into sin and are dangerous to our salvation. If we overcome them, they are occasions of gaining merit and acquiring and practising the Christian virtues and keeping the commandments. When we are tempted, we need only to pray at once and earnestly to God for His help to overcome the temptation, and so long as we thus pray during a temptation, we shall surely overcome it, and thus keep from sin. If the temptation re turns, we have only to pray again as before and strive to turn our attention to other matters, and God’s grace will enable us to overcome it altogether. He who has thus prayed when beset by temptations, however violent and protracted they may be, may rest assured that he has not yielded to them, but has overcome them, for in such dangers of salvation, when immediate help is needed, God never defers hearing our prayers.

As to the Christian virtues which we are obliged to practise, such as humility and patience, we can depend on our prayers being heard by God for the help, the graces necessary to practise them. But we cannot expect God to grant them in their full perfection at once, for in the ordinary course of things, this would be a miracle. And why? Because the virtues are habits regulating our conduct. Naturally no habit can be acquired without oft-repeated acts during a longer or shorter period of time, which is usually many years; and a habit, even when already acquired, is still perfectible, that is, it can become always more and more perfect. Let us, for instance, take the virtue of patience. By self-examination we have found out that we easily and frequently feel irritable and give way to impatience, and thus commit sin, failing against charity, etc. Wherefore, knowing our weakness, we have recourse to God and beseech Him to give us the necessary virtue of patience. Now, if God were at once so to impart to us the virtue of patience, that we would no longer yield to irritability, to impatience, it would be as great a miracle, as if God were at once to make a young music pupil become a perfect musician, or make a seven year old child in school a perfect mathematician, or a perfect mechanic, or a first-class chemist! All trades and sciences and arts, like all habits, are naturally acquired by repeated acts performed for years, and so are all the virtues. It takes years to learn a trade, a science, an art perfectly, and even after years there is also plenty of room to become more and more perfect therein. We must say the same of the virtues. The saints made every exertion and prayed very much for the virtue of patience, and it took saints, like Saint Francis de Sales, Saint Alphonsus and others, 20, 30, 40 or more years to acquire this virtue; and yet most of us, without any great efforts on our part, pretend that God should bestow on us the virtue of patience in its highest perfection after we have more or less earnestly prayed a few days or a few weeks for it! If God were to gratify us, it would, indeed, be a miracle! To all these persons we say: ” As you pray God every day to give you your daily bread/ and you nevertheless labor to earn it yourselves, so you should also pray daily to God to give you patience and, at the same time, exert yourselves in all earnestness to watch over yourselves to overcome yourselves to practise patience, and God will surely help you gradually to make daily some progress in practising patience and acquiring that necessary virtue. Whilst praying for what is necessary for your salvation, be sure to do your share and in due course of time success will crown your efforts and your prayers.”

As to prayers for the conversion of a sinner, of a non-Catholic, the usual course of divine Providence will be explained further on.