Prayer, Its Necessity, Its Power, Its Conditions, Chapter VII – How to Render Our Prayers More Acceptable to God and Increase Their Efficacy

cover of the ebook 'Prayer, Its Necessity, Its Power, Its Conditions, by Father Ferreol Girardey'Worldlings, our divine Saviour remarks, are wiser in their material affairs than the servants of God are concerning their spiritual interests (Luke 16:8). Every week almost we hear of new improvements and inventions in machinery, in comforts, in agriculture, in scientific appliances, etc., tending to increase power, efficiency, durability, productiveness, and to lessen human labor. Should we not, then, in the spiritual life, in the matters and means pertaining to salvation, be as ingenious as worldlings are in the things concerning their temporal welfare? Are not our spiritual interests infinitely superior to all temporal interests? We should, therefore, be ever ready by every means in our power to render our prayers more acceptable to God and more efficacious in obtaining from Him the assistance we so greatly need. The reader will find in this chapter some of the principal means which will surely increase the value and power of our prayers.

1. In the first place, the more pure, the more free from sin, the greater our holiness, the more we are pleasing to God, and the more worthy we are of receiving from Him special graces, favors and benefits, and, consequently, the more powerful and efficacious will be our prayers. Wherefore, let us carefully avoid every willful and deliberate sin, not only grievous sin, but even the slightest venial sin, for “he that fears God, neglects nothing” (Eccles. 7. 19), that may please or displease Him. That is, just as a dutiful son fears even slightly to displease his good father, so should we, as good, loving children of our heavenly Father, fear even slightly to displease Him by a venial fault. If this is our line of conduct, we may be sure that we are greatly pleasing to Him and that we shall more easily obtain from Him what we pray for, because the Psalmist says: ” God will do the will of them that fear Him; He will hear their prayer and save them.” (Psalm 144:19)

2. Whenever we pray, we should imitate our holy Mother the Church, who concludes all her petitions to God with the words: “Through Christ our Lord.” It is only through Jesus Christ, through His merits that her prayers have any value before God, any power to obtain divine graces and benefits, and it is only to prayers offered to the heavenly Father in His name, that Jesus Christ has promised efficacy and success. “Amen, amen I say unto you, whatsoever you shall ask of the Father in My name, He will give it to you.” It is during holy Mass, especially at and after the Elevation, that our prayers possess the greatest influence and power with God, because Jesus is then truly present on the altar and sacrificing Himself and praying for us, in us and with us. We should, therefore, endeavor to hear Mass as often as we can, daily, if possible. To have a Mass or some Masses said for your intention will most powerfully increase the efficacy of your prayers. Prayers said before the Blessed Sacrament, when visiting our divine Saviour therein, or assisting at Benediction, especially during the 40 Hours Exposition, have a peculiar power and efficacy. Happy are those who daily or frequently assist at Mass and often visit the Blessed Sacrament. Dear reader, if it is in your power to receive holy Communion daily or frequently, do not fail to do so with love and fervor, and bear in mind that fervent prayer to Jesus present within you after holy Communion, has a special efficacy to induce Jesus to grant you all you ask of Him. Hence never, not even for the whole world, miss a holy Communion.

3. The power and efficacy of our prayers is greatly increased when we offer them to God in honor of or through the intercession of the saints, or invoke their prayers and assistance in our needs. Let us bear in mind that the angels and saints are God’s friends and favorites, sharing His own happiness, and that He delights in honoring them and their influence with Him, as He has often manifested this by miracles. Hence the Psalmist thus expresses his wonder at what God Himself has done to honor His saints: “Thy friends, O God, are made exceedingly honorable.” (Psalm 138:17) The honor shown even by the Church on earth to the saints of God far surpasses the honor shown to earthly heroes and great men. Who now, on earth, honors, loves Plato, Socrates, Alexander the Great, Caesar and other great men, reputed great heroes? Only few men on earth know their names, and fewer still know anything definite about them, and still fewer care for them. But the saints of God, such as the apostles, the Fathers and doctors of the Church, the martyrs, are well known, admired, honored, revered, loved, invoked and imitated by millions of Christians in every age and nation, for God has always glorified His saints on earth, and has ever been ready to hear their prayers in our behalf. As for the saints themselves, they consider us on earth as fellow-members of the Church of Jesus Christ. They are now secure and enjoy their well-deserved reward in heaven and long to have us to join them in loving and praising God and in sharing their happiness. That they take a lively interest in our welfare is testified by our divine Saviour Himself in His parable of the Lost Sheep, which He concludes with these words: “I say to you, that there shall be joy in heaven upon one sinner that doth penance, more than upon ninety-nine just who need not penance.” (Luke 15:7) Therefore the denizens of heaven take great interest in both the just and the sinners on earth, and will surely help by their powerful prayers all who pray for their assistance.

The custom of asking the help of the prayers of our fellow-men, especially of the good, of those whose piety renders them dear to God, is as ancient as the Old Testament itself. The prophet Baruch asks for prayers in these terms, just as we now do: “Pray for us to the Lord our God.” (Baruch 1:13) God Himself commanded the three uncharitable friends of Job in these words: “Go to My servant Job . . . and My servant Job shall pray for you: his face (that is his prayer) I will accept . . . and the Lord accepted the face (prayer) of Job . . . when he prayed for his friends” (Job 42:8-10). This shows that God willingly grants the prayer of a holy person in favor of those who are themselves unworthy of being heard. Saint Paul in his epistles often recommends himself to the prayers of the early Christians, as we can see by a few texts chosen among many. “I beseech you, brethren, through our Lord Jesus Christ and by the charity of the Holy Ghost, that you help me in your prayers for me to God.” (Romans 15:30) “Brethren, pray ye for us.” (I Thessalonians 5:25) “We cease not to pray for you.” (Colossians 1:9)

We may even invoke the prayers of the souls in purgatory, who, although unable to help themselves whilst expiating their slight faults, are the friends of God soon to be admitted to enjoy His presence as their reward, and are therefore very dear to Him and able to intercede with Him for us. Saint Catharine of Genoa, when desirous of obtaining some special grace or favor from God, invoked the aid and prayers of the souls in purgatory and was immediately heard. Among the saints to whom we should specially have recourse is Saint Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus Christ, of whose great power and influence with God there can be no doubt. Saint Teresa was wont to testify that she never invoked his assistance without being graciously heard. We should often pray to our Patron Saint and to our holy Guardian Angel, for we have a special claim to their help.

4. “If it is true that the saints are able successfully to intercede with God in our behalf,” says Saint Alphonsus, “much more is it true of the intercession of Mary, the Mother of God, whose prayers are certainly of greater value in the sight of God than those of all the denizens of heaven together. As we have access to the Father only by means of the Son who is the Mediator of justice, so we have access to the Son only by means of the Mother who is the Mediatress of grace, and obtains for us by her intercession the gifts which Jesus Christ merited for us by His passion and death on the cross.” Her power with God has no limits; she is immediately connected with the divine work of our Redemption, for, in the first place, the Son of God became man only after she had given her consent to become His Mother; secondly, it was at the sound of her voice saluting Elizabeth that the Redeemer sanctified His yet unborn Precursor, thereby performing, as it were, the first act of the Redemption through Mary’s instrumentality; thirdly, it was especially to honor His Mother and show her great influence with Him that Jesus performed His first miracle, as Saint Luke’s narrative of the marriage-feast at Cana clearly proves. “There was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the Mother of Jesus was there; and Jesus also was invited with His disciples. And the wine failing, the Mother of Jesus saith to Him: They have no wine. And Jesus said to her: Woman, what is that to Me and to thee? My hour is not yet come. His Mother saith to the waiters: Whatsoever He shall say to you, do ye. Now there were set there six water pots of stone, according to the manner of purifying of the Jews, containing two or three measures apiece. Jesus saith to them: Fill the water pots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And Jesus saith to them: Draw out now, and carry to the chief steward of the feast. And they carried it. And when the chief steward had tasted the water made wine, and knew not whence it was, but the waiters knew, who had drawn the water; the chief steward called the bridegroom, and said to him: Every man at first sets forth good wine, and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse. But thou hast kept the good wine until now. This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.” (Luke 2:1-11) Every act of Jesus on earth, we should bear in mind, had a definite purpose determined by God from all eternity. The object or purpose of His first miracle was not merely to come to the relief of the married couple and gain the confidence of His first disciples, but principally to manifest His Mother’s kind heart and her so great influence over Him, that He could not refuse to gratify her wishes, as we shall now see. Jesus was just commencing His public ministry, and had already gathered a few disciples. He had not yet begun to preach or work miracles, and behold His Mother again appears on the scene in the Gospel, and this time as Intercessor, as Mediatress with her divine Son, in favor of the needy, for she calls His attention to the lack of wine. But Jesus seems to repulse her, to be unwilling to accede to her wishes. But, in fact, it was no repulse or refusal on His part, for He calls her “woman,” a title of honor in the language of the country, equivalent to our word “lady.” Remember that now He appeared before men, not as an ordinary man, but in His official capacity, as the promised Messias, the Saviour of mankind, and therefore He considered not relation ship or friendship or countrymen, but only the souls of men, just as He had at the age of twelve years, attended, as He said, “to His Father’s business.” Hence the honorable title He gives to Mary, instead of calling her “Mother”; nevertheless, He is ready to show to men how great is Mary’s influence over Him in all that concerns His ministry, the salvation of men. He tells her, indeed, “My hour hath not yet come;” and this was true, for as he had not yet begun to preach in public, it was not yet time for Him to work miracles to prove the truth of His preaching, of His mission. But then why did Jesus fulfill His Mother’s wish? Since, as we have just seen, it was not to prove His mission, it must have been principally to show how great an influence His Mother possessed over Him, and how easily she could obtain from Him all that she wished, even if she asked for miracles. The sequel proves not only this, but also that Mary felt certain that Jesus would grant all she asked. Hence she simply told the waiters to get their orders from Jesus, and we know the result from the Gospel narrative.

Finally, when Jesus was about to accomplish His mission as the Saviour of mankind by dying on the cross, He gave us as our spiritual Mother His own Mother, and made us her spiritual children. She is, therefore, most desirous to see God loved and served by all men, to see all men saved, for whom her divine Son suffered and died. She possesses greater influence and power with God than all the saints and angels combined. The saints are only God’s servants and friends; but Mary is the Mother of God, and God cannot refuse the prayers of His Mother. Therefore, we have every reason to place all our confidence in her intercession in our behalf. God is the source of all graces, of all favors, and Mary is the ordinary channel through which we receive them. Just as God gave us our Saviour through Mary, so also God gives us the fruits of the Saviour’s Redemption through Mary. Hence Mary’s loving and tender benevolence shown at Cana, is continued in heaven, where she reigns over all the saints and angels, and is honored by God far above them all in favor of those who invoke her help, and always with success. Let us, then, always have recourse to Mary, the Mother of Jesus and our Mother, in all our wants, and we shall experience the effects of her love for us and of her boundless power with God.

5. The performance of good works and the acts of self-restraint and self-denial impart a wonderful efficacy to our prayers and enable us to obtain special graces and benefits from God. In the first place, almsgiving has special power together with prayer to induce God to grant favors. It was to his alms and his prayers that the first pagan who became a Christian owed his vocation to the true faith. “There was,” we read in the Acts of the Apostles, “a certain man in Caesarea, named Cornelius, a centurion of that which is called the Italian band; a religious man and fearing God with all his house, giving much alms to the people, and always praying to God. This man saw in a vision manifestly . . . an angel of God coming in unto him, and saying to him: Cornelius. And he, beholding him, being seized with fear, said: What is it, Lord? And he said to him: Thy prayers and thy alms are ascended for a memorial in the sight of God. And now send men to Joppe, and call hither one Simon, who is surnamed Peter. . . . He will tell thee what thou must do” (Acts 10:1-6). When King Nabuchodnosor was about to be most severely punished for his sins, the Prophet Daniel told him how he could escape such punishment, saying: “Redeem thy sins with alms and thy iniquities with works of mercy to the poor” (Daniel 4:24). And we need not wonder at the power of acts of charity towards our neighbor, for does not our divine Saviour expressly declare that “as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to Me?” (Matthew 25:40). Secondly, as we shall see further on, the (pharisees or) chief Jews who came to ask Jesus to cure the centurion’s servant, urged Him to do so, saying: “He is worthy that Thou shouldst do this for him (the centurion), for he loveth our nation; and he hath built us a synagogue” (Luke 7:4,5). In like manner, he who is generous, according to his means, to the Church, towards the support of his pastor, of his parish church and the other good works of the parish and the wants of the Church in general, has reason to believe that God will more easily hear his prayers than those who neglect this Christian duty. Thirdly, since self-denial is the first duty of him who wishes to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ, as He Himself declares: “He who wishes to come after (follow) Me, let him deny himself” (Matthew 16:24), we cannot expect our prayers to be easily heard, unless we practise self-denial both interiorly and exteriorly. Interiorly, by bearing our crosses and trials patiently, by overcoming our impatience, aversion, suspicions, rash judgments against our neighbor, our evil habits; exteriorly, by keeping the abstinence and fasts prescribed by the Church and denying ourselves from time to time the gratification of our curiosity, certain games and amusements, certain delicacies. The more these acts of self-denial cost you, the greater influence will your prayers possess with God. But some people do not know how to practise these little acts of self-denial, which are so pleasing to God. Here is what some good Catholic men would do especially in Lent, on Fridays, and when they were bent on obtaining some divine favor: they would give up smoking, or smoke only once or twice a day, abstain from going to some game, from reading the papers, from some article of food or drink of which they were very fond. Certain good Catholic women in Lent and at other special times would abstain from fruit, sweetmeats, from eating and drinking between meals, from some finery, from light reading and the like. This self-denial, though not very agreeable to nature, nevertheless, imparted to them greater peace of mind and contentment. Try it earnestly, and it will render you more pleasing to God. Fourthly, making a Novena is also an efficacious means of obtaining graces and favors from God. A Novena is a nine days prayer or supplication. A Novena is generally made thus: A certain prayer or certain prayers for a certain specified object are said for nine consecutive days and, after a good confession, holy Communion is received on the tenth day. What prayer or prayers we should say are left to our choice; for instance, we may recite daily nine Hail Marys, or a decade or five decades of the rosary, a litany, hear holy Mass, make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, etc. To the prayers we recite we may join a certain alms, a certain act of self-denial, or some other good work, according to our devotion or to the circumstances in which we are placed. But our prayers, our good works should be performed with earnestness and fervor. Our Novena will be still more efficacious, if we have the Sacrifice of the Mass offered for our intention once or oftener during the Novena. If in our power, it would be well, if we would request others, especially good and pious souls, to join us in our Novena. Novenas may be made, for in stance, in honor of or to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in honor of the Blessed Virgin, of Our Lady of Mercy, of Good Counsel, of Lourdes, of Perpetual Help, to Mary Refuge of sinners, in honor of Saint Joseph, Saint Gerard Majella, etc. Prayers and Novenas may be addressed privately to persons who have died in the odor of sanctity, especially if the Cause or Process of their Beatification has already been introduced, as for instance, Sister Therese of the Infant Jesus and the Holy Face. The reason is that God, when He wants to have persons honored as saints by the Church, grants to that end many wonderful favors and even miracles to prove their sanctity. A Novena may be made for the benefit of the souls in purgatory to obtain a grace or favor through their intercession. Moreover, they who make a Novena for a certain grace, usually promise to God some prayer or good work as a thanksgiving, if their prayer is granted. For instance, if their prayer is granted they will hear Mass daily, or every Saturday for a year or more, or will go weekly to confession and holy Communion, or abstain from certain delicacies or beverages for a stated time, or from certain comforts or amusements, or perform certain penances, etc. Beware of promising too much, or of undertaking certain rigorous penances without your confessor’s special permission. And if your prayers have been granted, show your gratitude to God by thanking Him from your inmost heart, and faithfully performing your promises. If your prayers have not been heard in the manner you desired, do not murmur or complain, but be resigned to God’s holy will, and feel confident that He has given or will give you something else more necessary or useful to you, for never is a true and sincere prayer lost.