Prayer, Its Necessity, Its Power, Its Conditions, Chapter X – The Objects of Our Prayers

cover of the ebook 'Prayer, Its Necessity, Its Power, Its Conditions, by Father Ferreol Girardey'The objects of our prayers are, first, the things or the objects we ask of God, and secondly, the persons in whose behalf we pray to God.

The Objects or Things We Should Ask of God

1. Since our soul, which is the image and likeness of God, is incomparably more noble and precious than our body, and our final end, our principal and only indispensable obligation in this life is to save our soul, we are bound to pray, first of all and before all else, for the wants of our soul, that is, for its salvation, and all the rest is secondary. Such is the command of our divine Saviour: “Seek first,” He says to all men, “the kingdom of God and His justice,” that is heaven, His kingdom, and the means of keeping the commandments of God, which His justice, His sovereign rights over us require us to keep faithfully, “and all the rest,” that is, all that concerns our corporal and temporal welfare, “shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). Our divine Saviour does not wish us to bestow our principal care on our temporal welfare, nor to worry about our material wants; and He promises us that, if we faithfully direct all our aspirations and all our efforts to our salvation, He will Himself supply our earthly wants either directly, or will enable us to do so ourselves without there being any need for us to worry about them or letting them interfere with our salvation. We have a tangible proof of this in the case of those who have given up all their goods for His sake to follow Him and imitate His life and virtues, as is done by the members of the religious orders. So long as they are faithful to their obligations, God Himself provides for their material wants. Let us bear in mind that our divine Saviour does not mean that we should only pray and attend only to the needs of our soul, and not occupy ourselves at all with our bodily wants, for, since the fall, man is condemned to eat his bread in the sweat of his brow, and he must, there fore, work; but he should not worry so about temporal things or labor so as to neglect his salvation. He who conscientiously strives to save his soul, may depend in all safety on God to help him in his material wants.

Which are the needs, the wants of our soul? The forgiveness of our sins and all that is required to obtain it; grace to avoid sin and its occasions, to overcome temptations, to correct our habitual faults and resist our evil inclinations, to keep the commandments, to fulfill the duties of our state or position in life, to bear patiently our crosses, trials, hardships and sufferings, to make the necessary sacrifices our duties demand of us and to persevere until death in the grace and friendship of God. As to those who have not yet entered a state of life, they need light to know to which state God calls them and for which He has fitted them to enable them to save their souls, and also the strength to follow the path God has marked out for them to reach the place He has destined for them in heaven. Those who fail to enter the state of life to which God calls them, and for which He has fitted them, expose the salvation of their souls to great risks. For instance, if he whom God calls to the religious state or to the priesthood, were to neglect God’s call and enter the married state, or vice versa, he would greatly risk his salvation, for he would be in a state for which God had not fitted or intended him. Moreover, one of the principal duties of those who are called to the married state is to choose their partner in life in accordance with the laws of God and His Church and the dictates, not of caprice, fashion or passion, but of sound reason enlightened by faith. These important matters should be the object of their earnest prayers.

2. As for our corporal or material wants we should pray God for our daily bread, according to the injunction of our divine Saviour in the Our Father: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Wherefore, we should pray each day for the corporal necessities of that day, and, as required in all our other prayers, we must, moreover, dolour share to procure these necessaries. For the things that are over and above our necessaries, we may, but are not obliged to pray for them, and if we pray for them, we should do so only conditionally, asking God to grant them to us, provided they will not endanger, hinder or prove fatal to our salvation. Does not experience prove that many who were previously good, practical, virtuous and exemplary Catholics before bettering their material condition, afterwards have gone astray and followed the road of perdition? Hence let us adopt the sentiments of the Wise Man and pray thus: “Lord, give me neither beggary nor riches; give me only the necessaries of life; lest perhaps, being filled, I should be tempted to deny and say: Who is the Lord? or, being compelled by poverty, I should steal and foreswear the name of my God.” (Proverbs 30:8,9)

As to crosses and trials, sickness and suffering, we may pray God to free us therefrom, provided this would not endanger our salvation. At the same time we should say to God: “Lord, if these crosses and sufferings are necessary for my salvation, I accept them from Thy loving hand, but deign to grant me patience, resignation to bear them as long as Thou wilt. May Thy holy will be done, and not mine!” Ask Him to grant you the grace to bear them without discontent, without murmur, and beware of the great sin of charging God with injustice or cruelty in permitting you, great sinner as you are, to suffer a little as a penance for your sins, as a means of gaining merit for heaven and returning love for love to Him who died so cruel and shameful a death to save you from the eternal punishment you deserved. Had we a strong, lively faith, we would look on suffering and crosses as real benefits and marks of God’s love for us. Listen to the words our divine Saviour addressed to Blessed Henry Suso in his great trials: “Affliction is a treasure for sinners, for the penitent, for beginners, for the perfect. It is a greater thing to preserve patience in what is opposed to our liking than to raise the dead to life. The cross is so precious a gift, that wert thou to remain for years prostrate on the ground, beseeching Me to grant thee the grace of suffering, thou wouldst not yet be worthy of obtaining it. It is preferable to burn in a fiery furnace for one hundred years than to be deprived of the smallest cross that I could and would give. Ten souls on earth enjoying the sweets of grace will more easily fall into sin than one soul that patiently endures affliction. Satan is powerless against those who lovingly groan under the cross. Wert thou to speak on God even with the language of the angels, thou wouldst be less holy, less lovable to Me than a soul submissive to My crosses. How many would have been damned, had I not loaded them with trials and crosses! Adversity turns away the heart from things worldly and brings it nearer to heaven; it leads to the glory of the saints, to the triumph of the martyrs, and then those who have been tried by sufferings, sing to God in the joy of victory a new canticle, which the angels cannot repeat, for they never had to carry the cross.”

How many, refusing to use the principal means of practising the necessary patience, fortitude and resignation in their trials, sufferings and adversity, which in many cases are the result of the gratification of their inordinate passions, have recourse to suicide, murder or other foul means to escape detection, or the shame of being discovered or the pains and inconveniences of an incurable disease! How many men and women, unwilling to exercise patience and forbearance with the wife, with the husband of their choice, seek remedy, contrary to the divine law, in divorce and its baneful consequences, or even in suicide or murder, and then follow the course of their base passions! Why do not such persons use the proper remedies against such trials in constant and earnest prayer for patience and strength, in visiting our divine Saviour in the Sacrament of His love and laying before Him their troubles, trials and sufferings, in ceasing to sin, in going to confession and holy Communion, in invoking the Blessed Virgin, the Consoler of the afflicted? Were they to act thus, they would experience what our dear Lord promises to those who go to Him: “Come to Me, all you that labor and are burdened (and in trouble) and I will refresh you.” (Matthew 11:28) All who act thus are sure of obtaining what they pray for, and their trials will become bearable and enable them to do penance for their sins, to lay up treasures in heaven, for ever since Jesus Christ, the Son of God, suffered death for our salvation, His cross imparts value to all our trials and afflictions when properly borne. After passing, as it were, through His compassionate Heart, they have become like relics deserving of our veneration and love.

3. Saint Alphonsus earnestly recommends us never to forget asking of God through the merits of Christ and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, these four things necessary to our salvation: the forgiveness of our sins, divine love, the spirit of prayer and final perseverance. We should pray for them every day, morning and evening, whenever we hear Mass, go to confession and holy Communion, visit the Blessed Sacrament. Let us do this faithfully and we shall experience great benefits therefrom.

For Whom We Should Pray

1. First, we should pray for ourselves, as we have just seen. We must pray unconditionally for our spiritual wants and for the necessaries of life; conditionally for what pertains to our temporal welfare.

2. We are bound to pray for the following, whether living or dead: our parents, relatives, benefactors, friends, enemies, all who have injured, pained, persecuted, calumniated us, as our divine Saviour enjoins; all who have recommended themselves or been recommended to us, all for whom we have promised to pray, or who pray for us; we should pray also for our Holy Mother the Church and her needs, for our Holy Father the Pope, for our Bishop, our Pastor, our Confessor, for the welfare and prosperity of our country and those entrusted with its government, for peace among Christian nations, and for the objects designated to us by our ecclesiastical superiors.

3. We ought to include in our prayers the following objects: zeal for the clergy, strict regular observance for religious, perseverance of the just, fervor for the lukewarm, conversion for sinners, unbelievers, heretics, schismatics and pagans, apostates and persecutors, praying that God may give them light to see the truth and strength to embrace it; for all those who are in their agony and are to die this day. Remember that there are not far from one hundred thousand persons that die daily throughout the world, so many of whom are quite unprepared for their final account to their divine Judge; remember also that the day will come, sooner or later, when you, too, will be in your agony; wherefore do not fail to say daily at least once this prayer for those who are in their agony: “Most merciful Jesus, Lover of souls, I pray Thee by the agony of Thy Sacred Heart and the sorrows of Thy immaculate Mother, wash in Thy blood the sinners of the whole world who are now in their agony and are to die this day. Amen. Heart of Jesus, once in agony, pity the dying.”

We ought to pray God to give protection to the innocent, the forsaken and the persecuted; the divine assistance to those who are tempted, or in danger of being led astray, to the children that they may properly be reared and brought up in our holy faith, to those who are in danger of either soul or body, to parents in bringing up their children, help to the poor, relief for the sick, consolation to the afflicted, the spirit of charity to the rich, means of salvation to the abandoned, grace to know and follow their vocation to all who have not chosen their state of life, and fortitude and confidence to the despairing.

4. We ought daily to pray for the souls in purgatory, not only for those mentioned in No. 2 above, but also for the following: the souls that have just entered purgatory, those that have been the long est therein, those that suffer the greatest pains, those nearest to their release and the most abandoned. Although we all hope and expect to go to heaven after our death, we can hardly expect to go there without previously passing a long time in purgatory for our neglect in avoiding little faults, in doing adequate penance for our sins. Oh, how we shall then long for the prayers of the living, that our pains may be diminished and the time we shall have to spend in purgatory be shortened! He who is merciful towards the souls in purgatory during his life, may with right expect that when he shall be of the number of the suffering souls, he will also experience help and relief from the prayers and good works of charitable souls on earth. For with what measure we measure unto others, it shall be measured unto us again, as our divine Saviour Himself declares (Luke 6. 38). One of the very best means of helping the suffering souls is the Heroic Act. They who make it are allowed to apply to these suffering souls all the indulgences they are able to gain. This Act may be made in favor of all the souls in purgatory, or only of one or several individual souls, and is not binding under pain of sin.

The Heroic Act

O my dearest Lord, Thou see my sincere and ardent desire to withdraw from the flames of purgatory the souls of my fellow-men and to open to them the gate of heaven, in order to procure fresh glory to Thy adorable Majesty, to testify to Thee, my Sovereign Benefactor, my most heartfelt gratitude, to repair as best I can the offenses I have committed against Thee by my numberless sins, and finally, to render a very pleasing service to Jesus Christ, Thy only-begotten Son, to the Blessed Virgin, His Mother, to Saint Joseph and to all the saints. Wherefore, I offer Thee, in behalf of all these suffering souls (or of . . .), not only all my prayers and good works of this day, or all the prayers and good works offered this day for my benefit, but also all those offered by me or for me during my whole life, and all those which will be offered for me after my death. To these suffering souls I yield and transfer the right I may possess to said prayers and good works, as much as Thou will and accept, and as much as it may contribute to Thy greater glory. Amen.

Various Thoughts and Sayings on Prayer

1. Whether we pray vocally or mentally, it is our heart that should speak to God. – Saint Augustine of Hippo

2. Prayer is the food of our soul, for on it depends our preservation in the state of grace and our eternal life in heaven.

3. Prayer protects us from temporal misfortunes, brings down heavenly blessings on our labors and relief and consolation in sufferings and trials; it partly frees us from temptations and partly strengthens us to combat them, and puts the devils to flight. It obtains for us the virtues we need and enables us to practise them.

4. Nothing is sweeter or more cheering than a fervent prayer. (Saint Bernard) Try it often.

5. What is more glorious or more delightful than to speak to God (Salvian).

6. Thus should we pray: “Lord, if it please Thee, grant me . . .” (Imitation of Christ).

7. When praying for temporal benefits, pray with moderation and timidity, saying to God: “Lord, if it be beneficial to me, grant me . . . but refuse it, if it be hurtful” (Saint Augustine).

8. Prayer is to the Christian what weapons are to the soldier (Saint Eligius).

9. As moisture is necessary to keep plants from withering, so is prayer necessary to keep Christians from damnation (Saint Chrysostom).

10. Prayer is to man what the root is to the tree and the foundation to a building (Saint Chrysostom).

11. As water extinguishes fire, so does prayer extinguish the fire of passion (Saint Chrysostom).

12. As wax is bleached in the sunlight, so is the soul purified in communing with God, the Eternal Light (Saint Augustine).

13. Prayer is a capital drawing interest (Saint Augustine).

14. Prayer is a ladder that enables us to ascend to heaven (Saint Augustine).

15. Prayer is the key of heaven and of its treasures (Saint Augustine).

16. The most favorable time for obtaining the benefits we need is after receiving holy Communion, in which Jesus gives Himself to us and we become most intimately united to Him. Having given Himself to us, there is nothing which He can refuse us, if it promotes or contributes to our salvation; He is ready to grant all we ask. Let us then enliven our faith in His presence within us, and dilate our hearts with a boundless confidence in His goodness and in His love for us, and ask Him with a firm childlike confidence for all the needs of our soul, for strength to overcome temptation, to correct our defects, to enable us to practise meekness, patience, humility and the other virtues of which we are so deficient, to grant us the forgiveness of our sins, the gift of His love, of prayer and perseverance. Were we to do this with fervor and earnestness after every holy Communion, the good results would soon manifest themselves in the improvement of our conduct.